National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Through his short stories and essays Bret Harte presented many Americans with their first taste of the society that the California Gold Rush had produced. In stories such as "The Luck of Roaring Camp" and "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," Harte brought to life a colorful assortment of gamblers, miners, and other adventurers who, like him, had settled in California. Returning to the East in 1871, he found himself lionized as the West's signature writer. But Harte never felt any real kinship with the crude world he portrayed, and his later western stories paled in comparison to the crisply narrated tales that had made him a celebrity. By 1878 Harte was sailing for Europe, where even his lesser works continued to find an appreciative audience. There he remained for the rest of his life, grinding out hackneyed variations of his original themes and settings.