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Jack Burgitt's Honor

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"Jack Burgitt's Honor" is a short story by L. Frank Baum. It was originally published in issue no. 68 of Novelettes, dated 1 August 1905. The story also appeared in the October and November 1905 issues of The Cambrian.


Jack Burgitt and Dick Hamilton are two young men prospecting for gold in the Black Hills of the Dakotas. Their claim yields meager results; after a month they make only $34, which they spend on provisions for another month's work. The gold assayer tries to encourage them with the news that another prospector, an older man named Hawks, has struck a rich claim that is paying him over $1000 a week.

Burgitt and Hamilton are envious; they track Hawks back to his claim, even though the old man tries to disguise his path. The idea of Hawks's wealth preys on both men; they stop working their claim to drink whiskey and brood. Soon, they decide to kill Hawks and steal his gold. They draw straws; Burgitt is selected as the murderer.

Burgitt goes to Hawks's camp, but engages the old man in conversation before taking any action. The old prospector can sense his danger, yet he does not perceive Burgitt as a criminal personality. Hawks decides that it is better to lose his gold than his life; after they share a supper, he asks Burgitt to take his gold to town to the assayer. Burgitt is amazed when Hawks turns over heavy sacks of gold dust, worth roughly $2500.

Burgitt takes the gold back to his claim; he and Hamilton discuss what to do. By treating him as an honorable man, Hawks has played effectively on Burgitt's character; the would-be murderer now acts the honest man's part. They return to gold to Hawks, who offers to take them in as partners on his claim; three is safer than one.

Soon enough, Burgitt and Hamilton can return home with the modest fortunes they have sought.


The fate of "Jack Burgitt's Honor" illustrates the trouble Baum often had in placing his fiction in the periodical market. Baum is thought to have written the Burgitt story around 1897; he placed it with the American Press Association for syndication, yet it did not appear in print for another eight years. Baum's work for adult audiences often met with cool receptions among the editors of his day, even after he had established himself as a successful children's author.

"Jack Burgitt's Honor" was reprinted in The Baum Bugle in 1993.

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