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The Outcasts of Poker Flat

by Bret Harte

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In "The Outcasts of Poker Flat", what happens to the travelers at the camp?

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The short answer to your question is that most of them die. Uncle Billy runs off with the mules and supplies the first night, and Tom Simson walks back to Poker Flat for help on a pair of improvised snow shoes. Everyone else either starves to death or (in the case of Oakhurst) commits suicide.

In a larger sense, what “happens” is that this group of outcasts forms a kind of community. Even though the travelers have been run out of town as undesirables, when they realize their predicament, they band together and care for each other. This is particularly true of Mr. Oakhurst, the detached gambler. He knows from the beginning that the decision of the group to camp in the mountains is a mistake that likely will cost them their lives, yet he does not force them on, nor does he abandon them as Uncle Billy does. It’s as if he decides to embrace his better instincts. As his companions build a fire and soothe themselves with drink, Oakhurst “gazed at his recumbent fellow exiles, [and] the loneliness begotten of his pariah trade, his habits of life, his very vices, for the first time seriously oppressed him.” Rather than “playing the game out” and pushing on, Oakhurst decides that perhaps staying with this group is a better “game.” At any rate, his decision and his care for his companions turns the snowy mountain hut into a much more upright community than the town that had rejected them.

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The shortest answer possible to your question is this: all but two of the travelers die at the camp.  

The travelers that wind up at the camp are John Oakhurst, Mother Shipton, Duchess, Tom Simson, Piney Woods, and Uncle Billy.  John Oakhurst had wanted to push on through the day and make the next town, but the group forced him to rest with them.  That was a mistake, because a storm came up and snowed them all in . . . except Uncle Billy.  During the night, he stole the group's horses and supplies.  After 10 days of being snowed in and starving, John Oakhurst told Tom Simson to take the rest of the supplies and go back to Poker Flat and bring help.  By the time help arrived, Mother Shipton, Duchess, and Piney had either frozen or starved to death.  John Oakhurst shot himself. 

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What happens to the four outcasts at the end of "Outcasts of Poker Flat"?

There are four main outcasts in “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” who end up dying or disappearing throughout the story.  The first outcast to go is Uncle Billy.  On the group’s first night outside of Poker Flat, Uncle Billy leaves the camp and steals their transportation and food.  Mother Shipton dies of starvation half-way through the story.  When the outcasts realize that Uncle Billy has left with their food, they must ration the food.  Mother Shipton decides not to eat anything in order to save the food for the younger girls – Piney (not an outcast) and the Dutchess.  The Dutchess ends up freezing to death while waiting for John Oakhurst to return and John Oakhurst finally kills himself at the end of the story.

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