The Luck of Roaring Camp

by Bret Harte

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Bret Harte’s short story “The Luck of Roaring Camp” is the tale of a town of gold prospectors who take care of an infant, named Thomas Luck, after his mother dies in childbirth. Things start turning around in the camp after Luck’s birth, which is how the child earns his name (“Luck”). The prospectors begin to treat Luck as a sign of fortune and attempt to remodel their town to make it a better environment for him. Tragically, a flood sweeps through the town, killing Luck and a prospector named Kentuck who tries to rescue him. Below are some key quotations from the story.

Gamblers and adventurers are generally superstitious, and Oakhurst one day declared that the baby had brought “the luck” to Roaring Camp.

The men of Roaring Camp are convinced almost immediately that good luck has arrived in their town. A man named Stumpy takes the boy in, and the men christen the child and finally gave him a full name: Thomas Luck. The town sees foliage returning, and life is being revitalized nearby, which gives them the idea that the boy is somehow a harbinger of good luck and vitality for their mountain settlement.

Profanity was tacitly given up in these sacred precincts, and throughout the camp a popular form of expletive, known as “D—n the luck!” and “Curse the luck!” was abandoned, as having a new personal bearing.

The camp is beginning to change as a result of the boy’s arrival. The men, hardened gold prospectors, are beginning to cease using coarse language. Additionally, the market in the camp begins importing rugs and mirrors, and people go to Stumpy’s house more often than they go to his shop because Stumpy takes care of the boy. They make their homes more inviting and clean than they were before, making for a comfortable town. The short story shows that people will rally and change their ways when they deeply care about someone or something, no matter how hardened they were to begin with.

A smile lit the eyes of the expiring Kentuck. “Dying!” he repeated; “he’s a-taking me with him. Tell the boys I’ve got The Luck with me now.”

This heartbreaking end to the story shows Kentuck jumping into the river to save Luck from the flood that sweeps through the camp. As he is dying, he smiles, knowing that he will be with “the Luck.” For Kentuck, joining the child in death is better than surviving without him.

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