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Portrait of Bret Harte 1868 from Overland Mont...

Here is another ‘Have you read’ question. Have you read the short story by Bret Harte called “The Luck of Roaring Camp“? It was written and published in the 1870’s about of group of ‘rough’ men living in a triangular valley nestled between two hills and a river. It is called Roaring Camp because the noise made by the roughians who occupied the camp came close to a roar. It is a quick read – maybe half an hour or so.

Cherokee Sal was the only female occupant of Roaring Camp who became pregnant. She give birth to a little boy with the help of one of the men of the camp but she, unfortunately, dies giving birth. The fate of this baby is now in the hands of a camp full of misfits. Harte further explains how this camp pulls together for the sake of the baby to give him a proper raising. The transformation of the camp shows the heart and tenderness that lies beneath the rough and battered exteriors of the refugees. The transformation not only takes place in the hearts and minds of the camp residents but also in the aestetics of the camp itself.

There is many local details embedded in this short story set in the foothills of the Sierras in 1850. There is mention of the many flowers and shrubs, the mountains, and the donations given for the baby’s care were unique to pan handlers of the time.  Harte uses vivid words to create a clear picture in the readers mind – “rushing water, crashing trees, and crackling timber, and the darkness which seemed to flow with the water and blot out the fair valley.” (Harte, p 332).

Bret Hart was born in Albany, NY later moving to Oakland, CA with his mother, sister, and step-father. He held many jobs – rode shotgun for Wells Fargo, miner, teacher, tutor, pharmacist’s clerk, and in the printing room of the Humboldt Times. He became the assistant editor for Uniontown Northern Californian. He wrote an editorial expressing his outrage over the massacre of 60 Native Americans – mostly women and children. Shortly after he moved to San Francisco where he started writing and contributing poems and short stories.

A collection of Harte’s work – The Luck or Roaring Camp and Other Sketches – was published in 1870 becoming his most famous book. Fellow author, Kate Chopin called Harte’s work “the first resounding note” in the development of a distinctive western American literature. (Baym, p324).

Harte has other stories that are also worth checking out – “Miggles” and “Tennessee’s Partner.” There are many fascinating historical (to readers of today) references and the language is vivid and easy to read.

Have you read the work of Bret Harte? Which stories have you read? What did you like or did not like about his stories. Leave me a comment with your thoughts.

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