The Luck of Roaring Camp: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

~''The Luck of Roaring Camp~'' takes us on a journey to a mining camp in the 1800s. There are births, deaths, and men coming together to do something quite impressive. In this lesson, we will take a look at the events of the story and offer an analysis.


The story is set in 1805 and starts with some pandemonium in Roaring Camp, a gold rush settlement in California. Roaring camp is a city of refuge to fugitives or any man looking for a hideaway. Two men named French Pete and Kanaka Joe have just fought over a woman and shot each other dead. The woman's name is Cherokee Sal.

A Birth

Cherokee Sal is described as a ''sinful woman'' who is lacking in femininity. She is also the only woman in the area, making her stand out even more. She has had a rough life and now things are even worse. She is in labor with no other women around to help her. Folks are gathering up outside the cabin. They are excited about the new arrival, but nervous about the actual birthing of the child. A man named Kentuck suggests that Stumpy go help Sal and the rest agree; so he does.

There's the sound of a baby crying and everyone stands and begins to celebrate. Stumpy announces that the child is alive, but the mother has died. All the men join the queue to get a chance to see the new baby boy. Some contribute gifts towards the new orphan: some money, a silver spoon, a bible, a diamond ring, etc. The child needs to feed, but the only other creature lactating is a donkey. The baby grabs on to Kentuck's finger and hurts him. Surprised, Kentuck backs away with embarrassment. He curses under his breath and pretends to hold a slight resentment towards the child.

Raising Luck

The next day, a discussion takes place in the camp as to the future of the child. Some suggest sending him to Red Dog (a nearby camp), while others suggest hiring a female nurse. They finally decide to raise the child on the milk of the donkey. The child flourishes with the simple care offered by Stumpy and his donkey, Jinny. A month later, the people of the camp decide to name the boy Thomas Luck (often calling him ''the Luck''). They have a naming ceremony for the child with a choir, banners, and a church service.

The men gather toys they find around in nature for the child, like flowers, pieces of quartz, and pebbles. They dote on him as much as they can. Stumpy realizes that the child is very complaisant and does not ever cry, not even when he falls over and lands on his head. Kentuck even claims that he saw a jay-bird sitting with the child and they were ''talking'' to each other.

Roaring Camp is flourishing and its inhabitants want to keep it that way. The camp is set between two large hills, making it difficult to find. Somehow, however, the story of the child gets out and rumors spread that the people in the camp worship ''an Ingin baby'' (Indian).

The Flood

Winter comes and, with it, a flood. Red Dog is hit twice before the water makes its way to Roaring Camp. Stumpy's cabin is destroyed and he is found dead. Down the river, members of the camp find Kentuck with the Luck. He is clutching the body of the dead child. He drifts away and drowns, just after he says ''he's a taking me with him, tell the boys I've got the Luck with me now.'' Their bodies float away into the blue yonder.

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