Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2012Type
of Work and Style
......."Tennessee's Partner" is short story centering on
the friendship between two men at the gold-mining
settlement of Sandy Bar, California, in the middle of
the nineteenth century. In this tale and other short
stories, such as “The
Outcasts of Poker Flat,” Hart emphasizes character
development while presenting life in California's gold
camps with realism and humor. The humor enables the
author to avoid sentimentality and melodrama. His
dialogue captures the colorful patois of the
prospectors, and his descriptions detail their habits,
idiosyncrasies, manner of dress, prejudices, and
rough-hewn system of justice.
......."Tennessee's Partner" first
appeared in the October 1869 issue of The Overland
Monthly, a San Francisco magazine.
.......The action takes place at
Sandy Bar, a settlement established by gold miners in
Calaveras County, California, in the mid-nineteenth
Tennessee's Partner: California gold miner who
lives in a cabin at Sandy Bar.
California gold miner and best friend of the title
character. Tennessee gambles and drinks heavily. He
stands trial on a robbery charge.
Lynch: A man who claims that Tennessee robbed
him. Lynch later presides as judge at the trial of
Jack Folinsbee: A miner.
Attendant: Person who watches over Tennessee's
Partner during his fatal illness.
Point of View
narrator presents the story in first-person point of
view. However, he pieces together most of his account
from what others tell him.
tone is lighthearted, with a touch of poignancy at the
.......Everyone in the mining camp at Sandy
Bar calls each other by nicknames, such as Dungaree
Jack, the Iron Pirate, Boston, or Jay-bird.
.......The narrator then tells the story of
one of the men from the camp, Tennessee's Partner.
.......In 1853, Tennessee's Partner travels
to Stockton and comes back with a wife, a waitress he
met in a hotel restaurant. The man who lives with them,
Tennessee, one day makes a pass at her, and they run off
to Marysville. There, they take up residence without
first getting married. By and by, someone else smiles at
her one day, and she runs off with him. Tennessee then
returns to camp, and Tennessee's Partner greets him
cordially. The other fellows at the camp are
disappointed, for they had been expecting a shootout.
.......As time goes on, Tennessee's
activities come under the scrutiny of the men of the
camp. They know that he gambles and suspect that he
steals. If he is a thief, probably his partner is too,
the men believe. One day, stranger reports that
Tennessee robbed him of his money, knife, and pistols on
the road to Red Dog. Men from both Sandy Bar and Red Dog
then conduct an all-out manhunt for Tennessee. When they
close in on him, he runs through Sandy Bar, firing his
gun at a crowd outside the Arcade Saloon. When he
reaches Grizzly Canyon, a stranger waylays him,
threatens him with two pistols and a knife, and takes
him into custody.
.......The evening is very warm. In a loft
above the express office, Judge Lynch—Tennessee's
captor—presides at his jury trial. Tennessee's Partner—a
short, stout man with a sunburnt face—comes in wearing
trousers soiled with red earth. After he sets down a
carpetbag and mops his face with a handkerchief, the
judge asks him whether he wants to speak on behalf of
.......“I come yar as Tennessee's pardner,”
he says. “"It ain't for me to say anything agin' him.
And now, what's the case? Here's Tennessee wants money,
wants it bad, and doesn't like to ask it of his old
pardner. Well, what does Tennessee do? He lays for a
stranger, and he fetches that stranger. And you lays for
HIM, and you fetches HIM.”
.......When the judge asks the prisoner
whether he has anything to ask his friend, Tennessee's
Partner interrupts to continue his testimony.
.......“Tennessee, thar, has played it pretty
rough and expensive-like on a stranger, and on this yer
camp,” he says.
.......To make things right, Tennessee's
Partner offers compensation of $1,700 in gold and a
watch, which he dumps onto a table from his carpetbag.
Others in the courtroom vehemently object, some reaching for
weapons and another crying out, “Throw him from the
.......The judge brings the courtroom to
order. Tennessee laughs. Tennessee's Partner is then
made to understand that he cannot buy Tennessee's
freedom. After Tennessee's Partner restores his
offerings to the carpetbag, the judge asks him whether
he has anything to say to the prisoner. Tennessee's
Partner says, "I just dropped in as I was passin' to see
how things was gettin' on.” Then he leaves the
.......The judge, meanwhile, regards the
offer of gold and a watch for Tennessee's freedom as a
bribe. He could have none of that. So, at dawn the next
morning, Tennessee is marched off to Marley's Hill and
hanged from a tree. Tennessee's Partner is waiting
nearby with a donkey cart carrying an oblong box to
claim the body for a funeral and burial. After the
witnesses to the execution give him the corpse, he pulls
a canvas over it, climbs into his seat, and coaxes the
.......As the cart rolls along, the men tag
along. One of them, Jack Folinsbee, pretends to play a
trombone. After the road narrows, the men walk in twos
behind the cart. Folinsbee ceases his imaginary trombone
solo when he fails to gain notice from his fellow
marchers. As the procession passes through Grizzly
Canyon between rows of redwood trees, a hare sits up at
attention while squirrels observe from the trees. When
the cortege reaches Sandy Bar, it halts at a freshly dug
grave in front of the cabin of Tennessee's
.......Declining offers of help, Tennessee's
Partner takes the coffin onto his back and delivers it
to the shallow grave. There, he nails the lid shut,
stands on a mound of dirt, and launches into a speech
while the other men seat themselves on stumps and
boulders. After noting that he has brought Tennessee
home from his wanderings, he says, "It ain't the first
time that I've packed him on my back, as you see'd me
now. It ain't the first time that I brought him to this
yer cabin when he couldn't help himself . . . And now
that it's the last time, why—you see it's rough on his
.......He picks up a shovel, saying the
funeral is over, and thanks the men for their trouble.
While the men walk away, Tennessee's Partner begins
shoveling the dirt into the grave. Several moments
later, the men turn around and see Tennessee's Partner
sitting on the filled-in grave holding his red bandanna
to his face. Or is it just his red face they see. At a
distance, they couldn't be sure.
.......In the days after the funeral, an
investigation clears him of any guilt in his partner's
wrongdoing. The men of Sandy Bar then call on him to
expresses condolences and kindnesses. Thereafter, his
health begins to decline. Finally, he becomes bedridden.
.......One evening during the rainy season,
when heavy rain swells the river, Tennessee's Partner
says it's time to hitch up his cart and go for
Tennessee. His attendant stops him from getting out of
bed. However, Tennessee's Partner continues his task
from his bed.
......."There, now, steady, 'Jinny'—steady,
old girl. How dark it is! Look out for the ruts—and look
out for him, too, old gal. Sometimes, you know, when
he's blind-drunk, he drops down right in the trail. . .
. Thar he is—coming this way, too—all by himself, sober,
and his face a-shining. Tennessee! Pardner!"
.......The narrator says, “And so they met.
And so they met. And so they met.”
his partner are in conflict with the other Sandy
Bar miners, who believe Tennessee is a thief and
his partner is his accomplice. The men hang
Tennessee without sufficient evidence but
exonerate his partner.
.......The title character
remains a steadfast friend to Tennessee in
spite of the latter's drinking and other
faults. He is even willing to surrender all
his gold and his watch if the court dismisses
the suit against Tennessee. When he is dying,
his last thoughts are of his friend.
.......Tennessee supposedly stole
pistols and a knife from a stranger on the
road to Red Dog. However, it is the
stranger who reports the alleged theft. There
are no witnesses to verify his report.
Nevertheless, the men of Red Dog and Sandy Bar
assume that Tennessee is guilty and form
search parties to track him down. A stranger
captures Tennessee in Grizzly Canyon after the
two men have the following verbal
.......This passage reveals that
the stranger has two guns and a knife, the same
items that Tennessee was said to have stolen.
But in his confrontation with the stranger,
Tennessee has only one gun. Could it be that
this stranger is the same stranger who reported
the theft of his guns and knife? If so, why does
he still have them? And why does Tennessee have
only a “useless pistol”?
have you got there?—I call," said Tennessee,
quietly. "Two bowers and an ace," said the
stranger, as quietly, showing two revolvers
and a bowie knife. "That takes me," returned
Tennessee; and with this gamblers' epigram,
he threw away his useless pistol, and rode
back with his captor.
.......The reader learns later that
this stranger is the judge in Tennessee's trial,
Judge Lynch. Keep in mind here that one of the
reasons that the men of Sandy Bar look with
suspicion on Tennessee is that he is a gambler.
But Lynch is also a gambler, as indicated by his
use of card-playing lingo—“two bowers and an
.......At this point, one can
speculate that Lynch lied about the theft of his
pistols and knife because he wanted to get even
with Tennessee. Perhaps Tennessee beat Lynch in
a card game—or cheated him. The following
passage describing courtroom proceedings further
implicates the judge in a scheme to undo
Judge appeared to be more anxious than the
prisoner, who, otherwise unconcerned,
evidently took a grim pleasure in the
responsibility he had created. "I don't take
any hand in this yer game," had been his
invariable but good-humored reply to all
questions. The Judge . . . for a moment
vaguely regretted that he had not shot him 'on
sight' that morning.”.......Now here is something else:
Why is the judge named Lynch? The lower-cased
verb lynch means to hang a person who
has not received a fair trial.
.......But even if Tennessee is
guilty of the crime with which he is charged,
the penalty—hanging—is excessive.
climax occurs when Tennessee's partner offers a bagful
of gold and a watch for Tennessee's freedom, an offer
which the judge refuses to accept.
Study Questions and Essay
- Write a page of
dialogue that imitates the way people talk in a
region of the country in which you live.
- To what extent
did Bret Harte base his story on his own
- Write an essay
about life in California's mining communities during
the gold rush between 1848 and 1855.
to reports that the narrator hears,
Tennessee makes a pass at his partner's
wife. She responds to it, the reports say,
and she and Tennessee become lovers in
Marysville. However, Tennessee returns to
Sandy Bar after the woman runs off with
another man. Oddly, though, Tennessee's
Partner greets him cordially; he is not
angry that Tennessee took his wife away from
him. Do you believe that Tennessee,
recognizing the kind of woman his partner
married, lured her away to save his partner
from her wantonness? Is it possible that
Tennessee's Partner asked Tennessee to help
him get rid of her?