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The Outcasts of Poker Flat

by Bret Harte
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 510

Duchess
Duchess, a prostitute, is one of four individuals expelled from Poker Flat when the townspeople there decided to evict the "undesirables." As the group of outcasts are making their way to Sandy Bar, she complains constantly, causing the group to stop short of their destination. When Piney Woods and Tom Simson join the group and they become trapped by the snow, Duchess becomes more cheerful and nurturing toward Piney. When the rescuers finally reach the group, they find Duchess and Piney huddled together, dead, and by then it is impossible to determine "which was she that had sinned."

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Innocent, The
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John Oakhurst
John Oakhurst is one of four individuals who were expelled from Poker Flat when its townspeople decided to run out the "undesirables." Oakhurst is a professional gambler noted for his "coolness, impassiveness, and presence of mind." When young Tom Simson and Piney Woods join the outcasts, the reader learns that Oakhurst once returned to Simson forty dollars that he won from the youth in a poker game, advising him to stay away from cards. When the outcasts are trapped by a snowstorm, Oakhurst assumes leadership of the group. After putting together a makeshift pair of snowshoes, he gives them to Simson, instructing him to go to Poker Flat and bring help. When the rescue party finally arrives, Oakhurst has killed himself, revealing himself to be "the strongest and yet the weakest of the
outcasts of Poker Flat."

Mother Shipton
Mother Shipton, presumably the madam of the prostitute Duchess, is one of four individuals expelled from Poker Flat when the townspeople decided to rid the community of "undesirables." Although she is accused of immorality, Mother Shipton displays her true qualities when the outcasts are trapped in the snowstorm. Hoping to save Piney Woods, Mother Shipton hoards her own share of the food instead of eating it. Shortly before she dies of starvation, she tells Oakhurst to give her rations to the bride-to-be so that she will have a better chance of surviving.

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Tom Simson
Tom Simson is a "guileless youth" who is traveling to Poker Flat with his bride-to-be, Piney Woods, when they encounter the outcasts. On the basis of an earlier encounter with Oakhurst, Simson decides to assist the outcasts, whom he treats with respect, ignorant of their undesirable status. Simson is the lone survivor of the ordeal that ensues.

Uncle Billy
Uncle Billy, a suspected thief and confirmed drunkard, is one of the "undesirables" cast out of Poker Flat. Unlike the others, Uncle Billy scoffs at the innocence of Tom Simson and Piney Woods. During the night he makes off with the group's horses and mules, stranding them as it begins to snow.

Piney Woods
Piney Woods, "a stout, comely damsel of fifteen," is Tom Simson's bride-to-be. Piney has no understanding of the outcasts' unsavory reputations and treats them with courtesy and respect. In response to this kindness, they develop an affection for her that intensifies as they observe her love for Simson. She and Duchess freeze to death before rescuers can reach them.

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