The Outcasts of Poker Flat Questions and Answers
by Bret Harte

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Why do Oakhurst and the others avoid telling the young couple the truth about why they were not in Poker Flat?  

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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After the selfish, malevolent Uncle Billy steals the party's supplies and absconds with their horses, John Oakhurst takes careful inventory of their remaining rations and discovers that they only have enough food to last them for ten more days. Mr. Oakhurst recognizes that they are snowed in and agrees with the Duchess and Mother Shipton to not disclose their real reason for leaving Poker Flat. John Oakhurst, the Duchess, and Mother Shipton sympathize with Tom "The Innocent" and his young wife, Piney, and do not want to frighten them. The outcasts fear that revealing their identities and crimes will cause the newlyweds to panic and attempt to leave the camp immediately. Tom and his wife are completely unaware that Mr. Oakhurst, the Duchess, and Mother Shipton are considered reprehensible criminals who have been banished from Poker Flat. Despite their terrible reputations and unfortunate situation, John Oakhurst, the Duchess, and Mother Shipton are actually benevolent, caring individuals who risk their lives attempting to save and comfort the newlyweds.

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"They'll find out the truth about us all when they find out anything," he added, significantly, "and there's no good frightening them now."

John Oakhurst tells Mother Shipton and Duchess to keep their expulsion from Poker Flat quiet in order to not scare Piney and Tom Simson.  Tom is also known as "the innocent." The name is a solid fit, because he can't even recognize that Duchess and Mother Shipton are prostitutes.  In fact, Tom thinks that Duchess is John Oakhurst's wife.  

When John asks the two women to keep their expulsion a secret, it is after Uncle Billy has stolen the horses and everybody has been snowed in.  Oakhurst knows the situation is not good and will quickly turn dire if immediate actions are not taken.  By not telling Tom and Piney the truth, Oakhurst is trying to keep them calm.  Oakhurst does not want Tom and Piney panicking over the fact that they are snowed in with a bunch of moral degenerates that have been cast out of a nearby town.  

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