’Bret Harte’s Gold Rush’ by Bret Harte

Ridge Writers on Books Review By Anthony Becker

’Bret Harte’s Gold Rush’ by Bret Harte“Bret Harte’s Gold Rush” is a collection of 15 short stories from the historic California writer.

Comparable to Mark Twain in wit, style, and subject, Bret Harte is the godfather of Gold Rush fiction and by extension of the Western television and film genre.

A native of New York, Harte found himself in California at the age of 18, having moved here with his family in the year 1854 at the height of the California Gold Rush. His experiences as a young man in this rambunctious frontier are reflected in the colorful characters and scenarios each of his stories portrays.

The introduction to the collection, written by Reuben H. Margolin, gives us a brief look at the life of the author during his time in California, his subsequent return to the East Coast and his final years living in England. The collection reflects this division of time, taking a selection of writings from each of these periods of Bret Harte’s life.

Including such classics as “Outcasts of Poker Flat” and “The Luck of Roaring Camp,” “Gold Rush” is a treat. In “Outcasts,” a professional gambler by the name of John Oakhurst finds himself in the company of two ladies and a drunk, each ostracized by the town of Poker Flat. On their journey to Sandy Bar, a neighboring camp, they wake up one morning to find that they are trapped in a snowstorm. Only time will tell which of them survive.

“The Luck of Roaring Camp” tells the tale of one gold rush town’s attempt to raise an orphan baby whose mother died in childbirth. After an uproar breaks out over how to raise the child, the rough men of Roaring Camp name the child Tommy Luck and entrust him to a man named Stumpy, who acted as midwife to Luck’s mother. The men of the town then undergo a period of reform as they discover what it means to raise a child in a gold-rush town.

Readers will find themselves in the company of outlaws, bandits, and men of the law. The stories of Bret Harte defined a genre.

For anyone who feels patriotism for California, or who is interested in the Gold Rush and Old West history, or who has a hankering for a good old yarn, this book is an essential. It is an excellent read for teens and older.

This weekly column is written by members of the Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the Califor-nia Writers Club. Meetings are held the first Wednesday evening of each month at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church and free programs are offered throughout the year.

Ridge Writers’ book “Planet Mojave: Visions From a World Apart” is available at Carriage Inn, Jawbone Station, the Historic USO Building, the Maturango Museum, Red Rock Books and online from the official website, www.planetmojave.com

Story First Published: 2013-06-05