Synopsis of the Play
Forrest Tucker stars as John Oakhurst in the
recorded National Public Radio production.
During late November of 1850, in the town of Poker Flat, California, a
vigilante committee round up some "undesirables" and banish them from
their town. The "undesirables" are John Oakhurst, a gambler; Uncle
Billy, a thief; and two women—Duchess, a prostitute, and Mother Shipton, her
madam. The banished are told that if they attempt to return to Poker Flat, they
may be hanged. They have mounts but no food. They decide their best move is to
go to Sandy Bar, a small town over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The route to Sandy Bar is a long day’s ride. They make it part way, but
Duchess becomes exhausted and needs to rest. While they are deciding whether or
not to make camp, Tom Simson and his girl Piney Woods arrive. The two young
people have run off together to be married. Earlier, Oakhurst had returned the
money that Tom had lost in a poker game, making Tom a grateful friend. Tom and
Piney have plenty of food and offer to share it with the others. They find an
old cabin and decide to stay there for the night.
It snows during the night, and they discover that Uncle Billy has stolen
their mounts and deserted. They expect the snow will stop soon and they will
attempt to make it the rest of the way to Sandy Bar. The snow doesn’t let up,
food is low, and wood for the fire is hard to find under the snow. Mother
Shipton becomes ill, and Oakhurst discovers that she has been starving herself.
Before she dies she asks Oakhurst to take her stash of food and give it to
Piney. The ground is too hard and they have to bury Mother Shipton in a snow
Oakhurst has made a crude pair of snowshoes, and he convinces Tom that his
only chance of saving Piney is to go to Poker Flat for help. Tom reluctantly
agrees. Oakhurst, promising to return soon, goes part way with Tom. Duchess and
Piney return to the cabin and tend the fire. When the roof of the cabin caves
in, the two women huddle close together for warmth and go to sleep.
When help arrives, the two women have frozen to death. They find the body of
Oakhurst underneath the snow near a big pine tree. He has committed suicide.