Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 683
In an isolated California mining camp during the gold-rush days, the whole camp is astounded and intrigued at the birth of a baby to a sinful woman named Cherokee Sal, who died at the child’s birth. Only such a novel event could involve so completely all the fugitive residents of Roaring Camp, men with questionable pasts and common gold fever. Their tenderness and solicitude for the child is extraordinary and quite out of character for them. These roughs come to pay homage to the babe and to bestow such gifts as they have on this miracle—a silver tobacco box, a navy revolver, a gold specimen, a lady’s handerchief, a diamond breastpin, a diamond ring, a Bible (contributor undetected), and money, among other gifts. As a miner named Kentuck bends over the baby, “the little cuss” by chance grasps his finger, an act that causes the man to be overwhelmed by emotion. From then on, the rugged Kentuck is especially attached to the newcomer.
Full of new responsibility, the members of the camp debate what shall be done with the baby. They do not want to part with him by sending him to Red Dog, a camp where there are decent women to care for a child. Nor do they believe it possible to import a decent woman to take charge, and “they didn’t want any more of the other kind” of woman. This last consideration is the first spasm of propriety that the camp has known. They vote en masse to adopt and rear the child themselves. Stumpy, because he has two wives (the reason for his flight to Roaring Camp), is chosen to be caretaker of the baby. They send for the best of things that the child will need; they feed the baby on ass’s milk; they lavish interest on their charge. Because of their care, or perhaps in spite of it, the child thrives—the nature of the Sierra foothills probably making up for the clumsiness of the men.
At one month the child is given the name Tommy Luck, for it is believed that he has brought luck to the camp. Indeed, “the Luck” has brought rehabilitation, for Stumpy’s cabin has been cleaned and tidied, and the men have gathered there about the child rather than at Tuttle’s Grocery, where they had been accustomed to gambling and fighting. Even all the shouting that gave the camp its name has been stilled within a distance of the Luck’s residence. In short, the miners become pacified and dignified in respect to their Luck. On fair days, the boy is taken out to the digging gulch to lie nearby under the painted blossoms of “Las Mariposas” beneath the beneficial breezes, the center of all attention. To the men, Luck assumes a mystical air of seeming to commune with nature and talk to the birds.
The summer following Luck’s birth is golden to the men of Roaring Camp. Flush times of generous gold yield give them not only trust in the Luck but also a protective air, so that they discourage any newcomers from immigration and preempt lands to both sides of the camp as their domain. According to the expressman’s glowing report, the camp is trim and bedecked with flowers, and the men wash themselves twice a day. It is also reported that they worship “an Ingin baby.” Indeed, with its prosperity Roaring Camp proposes to erect a hotel the next spring and to invite one or two decent families to move into town, for the sake of the Luck.
However, in the winter of 1851, the floods come disastrously to Roaring Camp. Suddenly the river at North Fork leaps its banks and inundates the triangular area of the camp, washing away Stumpy’s cabin. The Luck is missing. A relief boat from down the river brings in Kentuck, however, badly bruised and crushed. In his arms is the Luck, dead. Kentuck dies too, declaring the Luck is taking him with him: “Tell the boys I’ve got The Luck with me now.”
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