December 29, 2022

#08-270: The Luck of Roaring Camp

Buildings of the former Roaring Camp in Calaveras County, CA (Wikipedia)

Note: A little boy is born in a rough mining camp, and the miners believe he brings them luck. Turns out, he's not so lucky himself.

Get Ready: Do you believe that luck is a real thing? Or at least, that people's belief in luck change things?

Today's story is "The Luck of Roaring Camp" by Bret Harte, author of "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," which we read before (see Lesson #08-113). That story, like this one, is set in the California gold mining camps of the 1850s, amongst the rough men and a few women known as the "'49ers."

As the story begins, a prostitute named Cherokee Sal--the only woman in Roaring Camp (named for the constant noise the men make)--is giving birth to the first child born in that place. (The men were uncharacteristically quiet on this solemn occasion.)

A man named Stumpy--who was believed to have been the "head of two families" back in "the 'States"--was chosen to act as midwife and surgeon. About a hundred men waited quietly around a campfire outside the rough cabin, smoking their pipes and awaiting news.

Eventually they began placing bets: on whether Sal would survive, or the infant, or both, or neither; on the child's gender; etc. Their conversation was interrupted by "a cry unlike anything heard before in the camp"--that of a newborn baby! A few pistols were fired in celebration.

Alas, Sal did not survive the birth. The question now arose: how to raise a baby without even one woman in camp? It was pointed out that a female donkey--a "jenny"--was nursing a foal at the time, and her milk would do to feed the human baby.

So Stumpy became, as it were, the little boy's "father," and the jenny his "mother." Stumpy then opened the cabin's front door and the men came through single-file, removing their hats as they greeted the babe. Some threw contributions into the hat next to him--including a "silver tobacco box"; an "embroidered lady's handkerchief"; a diamond pin and ring; a slingshot; a Bible; a silver teaspoon; and "about $200 in loose gold and silver coin," among other items. The well-wishers then filed out the back door to make room for more.

One man, named "Kentuck," reached toward the child and it grabbed his finger. Kentuck repeatedly declared it had "rastled [wrestled] with his finger," and he blushed when he said it.

A change came over the camp. They named the boy "Tommy Luck," and civilization began to take hold. The men began to bathe more often, dress decently, behave better, and even plant flowers around their newly-cleaned-up cabins. The child truly had brought the camp "luck," as the gold yield rose that summer, too.

Sadly, that winter a storm swept away the camp, including the cabin where Stumpy and the boy lived. Luck was found in a boat, dead in the arms of Kentuck, who shortly thereafter "drifted away into the shadowy river that flows forever to the unknown sea."


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. blushed
  2. foal
  3. gender
  4. midwife
  5. prostitute
  6. single-file
  7. solemn
  8. thereafter
  9. uncharacteristically
  10. well-wishers

  1. a woman (usually) who assists at birthing a baby
  2. people saying "congratulations"
  3. after that
  4. turned red in the face
  5. in a line, one by one
  6. a horse, donkey, etc. less than a year old
  7. a person who has sex for money
  8. serious
  9. in an unusual way
  10. sex (male or female, usually)

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 29, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. f; 3. j; 4. a; 5. g; 6. e; 7. h; 8. c; 9. i; 10. b