The Luck of Roaring Camp

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"The Luck of Roaring Camp" is a short story by American author Bret Harte. It was first published in the August 1868 issue of the Overland Monthly and helped push Harte to international prominence.[1]

The story is about the birth of a baby boy in a 19th-century gold prospecting camp. The boy's mother, Cherokee Sal, dies in childbirth, so the men of Roaring Camp must raise it themselves. Believing the child to be a good luck charm, the miners christen the boy Thomas Luck. Afterwards, they decide to refine their behavior and refrain from gambling and fighting. At the end of the story, however, Luck and a villager, Kentuck, perish in a flash flood that strikes the camp. The flood theme may have come from the Great Flood of California, witnessed by Harte in 1862, which resulted from weeks of torrential rains throughout the entire state, combined with warming temperatures in mid January that melted the snowpack. In addition to the melt-waters, according to the Sacramento Union newspapers of the day, six to ten feet of rain fell in some mining areas near Grass Valley. The real Roaring Camp is located in Amador County on the Mokelumne River, which is currently a privately owned mining settlement south of Pine Grove.

Plot summary[edit]

The story takes place in a small struggling mining town located in the foothills of the California mountains at the time of the gold rush. The camp is suffering from a long string of bad luck. With only one woman in their midst, it seems as though the miners have no future. However, the tide turns when a small boy is born. "Thomas Luck" is the first newborn the camp has seen in ages; things are looking up. The miners become cheerful, foliage begins to grow, and there is talk of building a hotel to attract outsiders. Unfortunately, the hope is wiped out by the sudden death of Luck in a flood. Water brought gold to the gulches, giving miners their first glimmer of hope. And water takes away what seems their last glimmer—Luck.


Thomas Luck
Newborn child thought to be the savior of the camp
A rugged prospector who tries to save Thomas Luck's life in the flood
Cherokee Sal
Mother of Thomas Luck; only woman on camp
Guardian of Thomas Luck
A gambler who gives Thomas Luck his name. It is possible that he is the same John Oakhurst in Harte's other short story, "The Outcasts of Poker Flat.".


There have been several adaptations of this work by Bret Harte:

  • Thomas Edison Motion Picture Company's 1910 The Luck of Roaring Camp is adapted and directed by character actor Frank McGlynn, Sr. and featured his son Thomas as Tommy Luck.
  • Paramount's 1916 Roaring Camp is an adaptation by Will Rogers that stars Carl de. V. Hundt, L. Frank Baum
  • Edison's 1917 The Luck of Roaring Camp is an adaptation by Edward H. Griffith that stars Ivan Christy and Eugene Field
  • RKO's 1937 The Outcasts of Poker Flat is an adaptation by John Twist that stars Virginia Weidler and Si Jenks
  • Monogram Pictures' 1937 The Luck of Roaring Camp is an adaptation by Harvey Gates that stars Byron Foulger and Ferris Taylor.[2]
  • Schick Sunn's 1981 California Gold Rush is an adaptation by Thomas C. Chapman that stars Ken Curtis and Robert Hays[3]


  1. ^ "The Printed Word.". Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 - 1954) (Perth, WA: National Library of Australia). 12 March 1911. p. 13. Retrieved 28 January 2012. 
  2. ^ The Luck of Roaring Camp (1937) at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ Hischak, Thomas S. (2012). American Literature on Stage and Screen. NC, USA: McFarland. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-7864-6842-3. 

External links[edit]