Tennessee's Partner Summary
by Bret Harte

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Tennessee's Partner Summary

Bret Harte's 1869 short story centers on the friendship of two men in the American West. They remain loyal buddies even after both are betrayed by a woman, who is an unfaithful wife to one and mistress to the other.

Tennessee, a gambler and thief, has a friend who is known as Tennessee's Partner. Such nicknames are used for newcomers in the town. (The judge called "Lynch" is another example.) After the woman rejects first one and then the other man, their friendship resumes.

When Tennessee is apprehended while fleeing after committing a robbery, Partner testifies at his friend's trial, but he then makes a mistake dealing with the judge, trying in vain to give him a bribe. Following the judge's sentence, Tennessee is hanged.

Tennessee's Partner takes his friend's body and buries it in a grave he dug outside his cabin. Eventually, Partner falls ill and dies, calling out to his friend from his deathbed.

Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The unnamed narrator explains that the real name of Tennessee’s Partner has—in accordance with Sandy Bar’s quixotic practice of rechristening new arrivals—never been known in the mining town. The locals have dubbed the man “Tennessee’s Partner” because he teamed up with Tennessee, a wholly disreputable character whose own real name has been similarly obliterated from communal memory.

The narrator goes on to relate the story of Tennessee’s Partner’s search for a bride. A year earlier, in 1853, the man set out for San Francisco from Poker Flat but got no farther than Stockton, where he was attracted by a waitress in a hotel. During a courtship, the waitress broke a plate of toast over Tennessee’s Partner’s head, then agreed to marry him before a justice of the peace. With his new bride in tow, the man returned to Poker Flat, and then went to Sandy Bar, where the couple took up residence with Tennessee.

Some time after his partner’s return, Tennessee began making indecent advances to the new bride until she ran off to Marysville. He then followed her there and set up housekeeping without the aid of a justice of the peace. A few months later their relationship ended; the woman took up with yet another man and Tennessee returned to Sandy Bar. To the disappointment of the townspeople, who gathered to witness a shooting, Tennessee’s Partner was the first man to shake Tennessee’s hand, and he greeted him with affection. With no trace of bitterness, and without apology, Tennessee and his partner resumed their former relationship as if the woman had never existed.

The narrator goes on to explain that the residents of Sandy Bar suspect that Tennessee—already known to be a gambler—is also a thief. These rumors are confirmed when Tennessee is caught red-handed after robbing at gunpoint...

(The entire section is 703 words.)