Where the Red Fern Grows is a love story about Billy Coleman and two redbone coonhounds during the Great Depression. Ten-year-old Billy was consumed by a desire to possess such hounds and hunt the Illinois River bottoms for Mr. Ringtail near his home in northeastern Oklahoma. Just any old dog would not do. They had to be good redbone coonhounds. Since his parents were unable to grant his request for dogs, Billy prayed and felt God surely would help him and give him heart, courage, and determination. He found an ad for the kind of dogs he wanted in a sporting magazine left at a campsite by some fishermen. He dug a K. C. Baking Powder can out of the trash and cleaned it up to use as a bank for his money and set about earning the necessary fifty dollars, a nickel and a dime at a time. He caught crawdads and minnows, dug worms, and gathered vegetables, which he sold to the fisherman who drove into the Ozarks to vacation and fish. In berry season, he picked berries and sold them to his grandfather for his general store for ten cents a bucket. In the winter he trapped small animals and sold their skins.
Billy's mother was concerned for her children growing up with no formal schooling, only what she provided for them at home. She was dismayed at the thought that they would feel out of place among people in town and longed to move so her children would grow up with the benefits of an education.
After two years, Billy had the necessary money to...
(The entire section is 896 words.)
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Chapter 1 Summary
The narrator exits his office on a beautiful afternoon, contemplating the perfection of the day. He whistles a tune that expresses his peace of mind and contentedness. Suddenly, his calm is disturbed by the sound of a vicious dogfight. Before he can react, a throng of dogs rushes toward him from an alley, and he takes refuge near the edge of the sidewalk. As the dogs move past him, he realizes that a single dog is being attacked by the horde of others. He fears that the lone dog will be killed by the pack if he does not intervene or call for help. As he considers his decision, the dog under attack makes a stunning impression upon him. He rises from the midst of the throng, courageously fighting against the other dogs and gaining a strategic position underneath some shrubbery. With his back to the tree and facing the other dogs, the narrator gets a glimpse at him. He is astonished to see that the courageous dog that has braved this fierce battle is a red hound.
One after another, the dogs in the pack swiftly attack the hound. The succession of defeats by the hound is equally swift. After the hound decisively defeats several of the dogs, the narrator intervenes. First he screams and thunders at the dogs in an attempt to scare them away. When these efforts fail, he uses his jacket to smack the dogs away and disperse the throng. Once the dogs have scattered, the narrator approaches the hound and coaxes him from beneath the bushes.
The narrator is moved with pity when he sees that the dog is filthy and malnourished. He examines the dog’s paws and realizes that the dog has traveled a great distance and is likely far from home. He takes the animal to his home, where he tenderly bathes and generously feeds him. He allows the hound to rest for the entire night and most of the next day. That night, however, the animal becomes so restless that the narrator mercifully sets him free. Surprisingly, the act of freeing the animal brings the narrator to tears.
As he releases the hound, the narrator considers the dog’s probable history. He believes that the dog, whose collar was inscribed with the name Buddie, is probably in search of his home. He speculates that the dog is determined to find his way back to his home and the owner who must love him.
The narrator re-enters his house in a contemplative mood. He prepares to lounge in his rocker in front of a warm fire. As he strikes a match to light his...
(The entire section is 472 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
The narrator’s recollections begin with experiences when he was ten years old. He remembers the beginnings of an intense desire that was the strongest of his young life: he wanted dogs. He recalls the first time he petitioned his father for them. With good-natured patience and understanding, his father considers his request. Then he speculates that one of their neighbors, whose dog was expecting a litter, might give him a puppy. The narrator adamantly rejects the suggestion, informing his father that he must have two dogs and that he only wants hounds—hunting dogs.
Sadly, the narrator’s father explains, hunting dogs are expensive and the family cannot afford such a luxury. Although the narrator understands his father’s response, he does not accept it. Rather, he approaches his mother and begs her for the two hounds. Unlike his father, whose only objection was cost, his mother dislikes the idea entirely. She thinks he is too young to hunt and reminds him that he will not even be allowed to use a gun until he is at least twenty-one years old.
His hopes dashed, the narrator is further disheartened to observe that his home is perfectly situated for hunting. He notes that his home is seated snugly in a fertile area near a forest, a river, and a mountain range. He also marvels that the sheer variety of plant and animal life near their home is too tempting to resist. In fact, he feels that he was born to hunt. He studies tracks of the various animals that inhabit the area near his home, especially those of raccoons. The more he sees, the more difficult it becomes for him to be without dogs. He simply cannot quench his longing for hounds and the hunting experience, so he approaches his parents again. Again, he fails.
This time the narrator is crushed, and his inward disappointment is reflected in his outward manner. He loses his appetite; becomes less active; and suffers conflicting feelings because, as badly as he wants the hounds, he realizes that his family is too poor to afford them. He makes a concession and asks his father to buy him only one hound. His father is moved by his effort because he understands how difficult it is for his son to limit his request to only one hound. Still, he patiently explains to his son that the purchase of even a single hound is simply not possible because the family does not have the money. The narrator understands his father’s decision and he accepts it. Yet he despairs...
(The entire section is 748 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
The narrator—Billy—finds temporary solace by working alongside his father on his family’s farm. He still longs for hound pups but fears that his family will always be too poor to afford them. Just as he is coming to terms with his disappointment, he finds reason to hope.
Billy’s family farm is located adjacent to a river. One day, as he is performing his chores in the field, he notices the remains of a fishermen’s camp. Even before completing his chores, he rushes to the abandoned camp to see what the fishermen may have left behind. He excitedly explores the site, hoping to find discarded or forgotten treasures. To his surprise and delight, he finds that the campers have discarded a sporting magazine. Within the pages of the magazine is an advertisement for hound pups. In the advertisement, a kennel in Kentucky is offering two hound pups for fifty dollars. Although Billy does not have the money, he is determined to find a way to earn it.
Finding the means to purchase the hounds in the advertisement begins to preoccupy Billy’s thoughts. As he considers the cost of the pups, the he realizes that although he does not have the money, he possesses the earning potential. He can harvest and sell vegetables, wild berries, and fishing bait. He can also trap animals and sell the hides at his grandfather’s store. He immediately puts his plan into action. He begins by finding an old baking powder can and depositing twenty-three cents into the can. This is the money he has already saved. All summer, he works tirelessly to earn more. His grandfather is curious about why he works and earns yet never spends, so he asks him about his plans for the money. He explains that he is saving fifty dollars to buy two hound pups. He asks his grandfather to help him make the purchase once he saves the money. His grandfather agrees to do so and to keep his plan a secret from the boy’s parents.
After two years, Billy’s industrious efforts pay off. He finds that he has earned the fifty dollars he needs to buy the hound pups. The next morning, Billy gathers his money and rushes to his grandfather’s store. When he arrives, he patiently waits until his grandfather assists his customers. Once they are gone from the store, he approaches the counter and pours the coins into a mound in front of his grandfather. His grandfather is completely surprised and asks the narrator how he obtained this mountain of money. He reminds his...
(The entire section is 641 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
The baking soda can finally contains the fifty dollars Billy needs to buy the hound pups, and his grandfather has written to the kennel in Kentucky to see if the pups are still available and if they still cost fifty dollars. Billy races to his grandfather’s store day after day to see if the kennel has written in response to their inquiries. Again and again, he is disappointed to find that they have received no response.
Then one day, his grandfather gives him good news. The kennel has finally responded and the pups are available. Furthermore, the kennel had reduced the price from twenty-five dollars per pup to twenty dollars each. But there is still one obstacle: Billy will have to travel to the distant town of Tahlequah to retrieve the hound pups.
At dinner that evening, Billy impulsively asks his father how far the state of Kentucky is from their home. His father is puzzled by the question and his sisters tease him. The question reignites his mother’s concern for his seemingly declining health and for his long, unkempt hair, which is badly in need of a cut. Billy reassures his mother that he will get a haircut as soon as possible and he halts his father’s and sister’s jesting by telling them that he heard someone mention Kentucky during a visit to his grandfather’s store.
Two weeks after sending the money, Billy’s grandfather informs him that the pups have arrived in Tahlequah. Moreover, he has arranged for one of Billy’s neighbors to drive him to Tahlequah to take possession of the dogs. His grandfather announces that the puppies will belong to him in only one week. Armed with this good news, Billy feels that he must now tell his father what he has accomplished.
After dinner, Billy tries to summon the courage to tell his father about the pups. Nevertheless, his dream of actually owning the pups is so precious and dear that he cannot bring himself to disclose that he has nearly attained it. In fact, although he is supposed to be sleeping in bed, Billy is so anxious to get his hound pups that he hastily decides to walk more than thirty miles to Tahlequah. Without requesting or waiting for permission from his parents, he stealthily gathers a few provisions and begins his journey.
Billy walks for miles and miles, stopping only as dawn approaches to build a fire and prepare a simple meal. As he enters the town of Tahlequah, he is a little timid because he has never been in a...
(The entire section is 822 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Billy decides it is time to collect his puppies, so he walks to the depot. Upon arriving, he looks inside and sees the stationmaster at work. He becomes very anxious and paces back and forth along the platform. The stationmaster notices him and comes out. To break the ice, the stationmaster strikes up a casual conversation with Billy about the weather. Then he scans the boy’s appearance and asks him where he lives. When the narrator tells him, he informs him that he is waiting for a boy from that area named Billy Colman to take delivery of two hound pups. He answers that he is Billy Colman. Then the stationmaster takes him inside the depot to get his puppies.
When the stationmaster shows Billy his puppies, he feels paralyzed with excitement. The puppies walk up to him, and he embraces them for a few minutes. Then he cuts two holes in the sack he is carrying and places the puppies’ heads through the holes so they can breathe as he carries them home. He leaves the station and begins his journey home. As he exits the town, several boys gather around him and corner him in a doorway. One after the other, the boys fight Billy. Although he defeats three of them, he realizes that he cannot win the fight because there are simply too many of them. The boys overwhelm him and beat him until the town’s sheriff arrives and chases them away.
The sheriff helps Billy up from the ground and takes him into one of the marvelous shops for a strawberry soda. As Billy enjoys the first soda he has ever had, the sheriff asks him a few questions. When he realizes that Billy has walked more than thirty miles to retrieve his puppies, the sheriff is concerned that it is an unsafe distance to travel alone. Billy reassures him that he is very familiar with the territory and that he can travel the distance safely. He gathers his pups and the gifts he purchased for his family and leaves the town.
Billy walks out of the town and through the hills and forests on the way home. At nightfall, he makes camp in a cave, where he and the puppies will spend the night. He builds a fire and feeds his puppies. Then he eats his evening meal. As he watches his puppies, he notices that the boy pup and the girl pup manifest differences in personality. The boy pup is courageous and impetuous, while the girl pup is deliberate and shrewd. Billy continues to watch them until he falls asleep.
During the late hours of the night, the boy and the...
(The entire section is 512 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
At daybreak, Billy is pleased to find that the mountain lion has given up and gone away. He prepares his breakfast and eats. Then he feeds his pups and resumes his walk homeward. He realizes that he has yet to name the puppies and begins to consider a catalogue of possible names for his dogs. His thoughts are so preoccupied by his task that he does not realize he is almost at home. He sees a tree where someone has etched two names within a heart. He names his pups Dan and Ann, the two names carved in the center of the heart.
Satisfied that he has chosen well, Billy surveys his surroundings and is astonished to find that he is at the fishermen’s campsite where he discovered the advertisement for the puppies. While he is relieved to be so close to home, he is beset with anxiety because he knows that he must face his parents and their disapproval. Therefore, he remains at the campsite and plays with his puppies. He does not go home until after nightfall.
When Billy enters his house, his family is pleased to see him. His mother cries with relief. His father explains that he is happy to see he has gotten his puppies but that his decision to leave home without permission was very unwise. He further explains that his mother has been worried for his safety and well-being. Billy listens respectfully to his father’s short lecture and then he gives his family the gifts he purchased for them in Tahlequah. His family is overjoyed with the gifts.
Billy regales his family with stories about the town. He tells them about the stares he received from the residents and about the goods and products in the town’s stores. His younger sisters are enchanted when he tells them about the sparkling flavor of strawberry soda. Overall, he explains, the town was inhospitable and unappealing. His father cautions him not to make hasty generalizations about life in town because he hopes that his children will someday attend public school there. Again, Billy listens respectfully. His father reminds his children that it is time for bed, so Billy puts his puppies outside to sleep.
The next day, Billy makes a doghouse for his puppies, and his father gives him leather straps to use as collars. Billy carefully etches their names into the straps and gingerly placed them around the puppies’ necks. That night, Billy humbly confesses to his mother that he prayed for the puppies. He also tells her that he coincidentally found names for...
(The entire section is 463 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Billy’s puppies are equipped with proper collars and a proper home. Now he needs to teach them to hunt. To teach them properly, he will need a coonskin, so he renews his efforts to capture Mister Ringtail. For three weeks, despite his dogged efforts, the crafty raccoon eludes him. Perplexed and annoyed, Billy goes to his grandfather’s store to ask for advice.
Billy’s grandfather offers him straightforward and simple advice for catching the large raccoon. He instructs Billy to use a brace and bit to drill a hole into a sturdy, hollow log. Then he should bait the raccoon by placing a shiny object into the log. Finally, he needs to drive several nails into the log around the area where he has drilled the hole. He explains to Billy that the raccoon will reach into the log and grasp the shiny object, and the nails will pierce and entangle his paw. For a moment, Billy is excited to learn this trick. Then he accuses his grandfather of teasing him. He reasons that the raccoon can free himself by simply releasing the shiny object and withdrawing his paw. His grandfather assures him the trick will work because the raccoon will never release the shiny object.
Billy returns home and discusses this plan with his father. The next day, Billy sets several traps in the area near the river. Early the next morning, Billy races to his traps to see if he has captured any raccoons. Finding all of his traps empty, he asks his father if he made any mistakes when he fashioned the traps. His father speculates that the animals might be averse to human scent. Billy decides to be patient until his scent dissipates from the area near the traps. Each morning, he hurriedly runs to the river to check his traps. Each morning he is disappointed and aggravated. After a week, he is despondent and refuses to get out of bed.
Billy’s mother is again concerned by his fluctuating emotions and asks his father to talk to him. His father understands that Billy is downhearted because he has not captured a raccoon, and he explains to Billy that it typically takes a week for human scent to dissipate. The traps have been set a week, so he encourages Billy to check them again.
After breakfast, Billy checks his traps. His task begins with disappointment because his first traps are empty. Then, as he approaches his third trap, he hears the cries of a trapped raccoon. His dogs excitedly attack the animal and the animal strikes back. The raccoon...
(The entire section is 654 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
The first day of hunting season finally arrives and Billy is ecstatic. He spends the seemingly endless daylight hours preparing for the night’s hunt. His father understands his excitement and tells him that, during hunting season, he is excused from his daily chores. Billy graciously thanks him, noting that his nightly hunts will likely leave him exhausted during daylight hours. His father tells him that his mother is still apprehensive about allowing him to hunt alone at night. Therefore, he tells Billy that it is important to tell them where he will be each night. Billy agrees. When his father leaves, Billy proudly reflects that his father speaks to him as if he were a grown man rather than a young boy.
Once Billy has made preparations for the night, he has a talk with his puppies. He tells them that he is proud of their labors, and he explains that they will put all their training to use this night. He feels that Little Ann understands him even if Old Dan does not. That evening, after sharing dinner with his family, Billy gathers his hunting supplies and embarks on his first hunting adventure.
Billy leads his puppies to an area near the river to begin the hunt. Immediately, they begin searching for the scent of raccoons. Soon they detect the scent and, without delay, they are on the trail of their prey. Billy screams with excitement, yelling, “Whoo-e-e-e,” the characteristic yell of raccoon hunters. He proudly watches as his puppies pursue the raccoon and remain on the trail despite the raccoon’s attempts to elude them. Little Ann in particular trails the prey with precision. However, the raccoon finally shakes them off its trail, and Billy is prepared to move to another area to continue hunting.
Before Billy leaves the area, both Old Dan and Little Ann begin to howl at the base of a tree. Astonished, Billy follows them and discovers that Little Ann has found the raccoon nesting in the hollow of a great sycamore tree. Although Billy is thrilled that his puppies have treed a raccoon, to capture his prey he will have to either climb the tree or chop it down. But he is dismayed by the size of this tree, and neither task seems plausible. Billy’s eager puppies have trapped a raccoon in one of the biggest trees in the forest. In fact, he has long referred to this tree as “the big tree” because it towers above all of the other trees in the area. Billy estimates that the lowest limb on the tree is at...
(The entire section is 769 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Billy continues to chop away at the tree, taking only momentary breaks to rest his hands and gather his breath. As night approaches, he is weary and fatigued. He is determined to chop down the big sycamore and capture the raccoon; nonetheless, he has spent one night in the woods and is not eager to do it again. Just as he feels that his physical and mental energy has been completely drained, his grandfather arrives.
Billy is relieved to see his grandfather and confesses that he is ready to surrender. He tells him that the big tree will take days to chop down and that he is simply too exhausted to continue. His grandfather first rejects the notion of giving up, telling him that he must never begin anything he cannot finish. Billy counters that he does not want to give up but that the task is impossible because it will take days to chop down the tree. Furthermore, he says, if he leaves the tree, the raccoon will escape.
Billy’s grandfather listens attentively to his complaints and then offers a solution. Using clothes, a stocking cap, leaves and sticks, he helps Billy construct a scarecrow. Billy skeptically suggests that the raccoon is too smart to believe that the scarecrow is a real person. His grandfather reassures him that it will take days before the raccoon realizes that the scarecrow is inanimate. He reminds Billy that he only needs a good meal and a good night’s rest before he can resume the task. He promises that the raccoon will still be in the tree in the morning. Billy’s mood improves immediately, and he and his grandfather share a laugh. Once the scarecrow is in place, Billy has to persuade his puppies, especially Old Dan, to leave the tree.
Billy and his grandfather arrive at his house and enjoy a meal with the family. After dinner, Billy’s mother massages his sore muscles and soothes them with ointment. Then Billy goes to bed and immediately fell asleep. The next morning, just as he sits down to breakfast, his father enters the room and tells him that he was awakened several times during the night by a howling dog. He says it sounded like Old Dan. Billy goes outside to check on his dogs.
Billy finds Little Ann in the yard, but he cannot locate Old Dan. Remembering how tenacious Old Dan was concerning the sycamore tree, Billy decides to look for him there. When he arrives at the tree with Little Ann, they find Old Dan howling at the raccoon. Billy strokes the puppy’s head and...
(The entire section is 901 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
Billy’s mother makes him a coonskin cap from the raccoon he captured in the big sycamore tree. Following his first triumph, Billy and his hounds spend every night in the woods hunting raccoons. He credits his hound pups for his success. Old Dan and Little Ann use their combined hunting skills to track even the most cunning raccoons, and Billy proudly displays the hides on the wall of the smokehouse.
Billy’s grandfather speculated earlier that raccoon hides would increase in value as people begin to use them to make coats and other fashions. Billy profits from the rising prices as his grandfather predicted. As Billy amasses the coonskins, he sells them at his grandfather’s store. His grandfather does not give his earnings to him but to his father. Billy has no qualms with this arrangement; he was only interested in hunting.
Billy develops a habit of visiting his grandfather’s store only when necessary. Other hunters frequent his grandfather’s store, and their dogs often attacked Billy’s hounds, especially Old Dan. To prevent these affrays, Billy makes strenuous efforts to leave his dogs at home when he goes to his grandfather’s store to sell his hides. Unfortunately, his hounds watch him carefully and trail him to the store despite his efforts to elude them.
Most hunters frequent the store on Saturday, so Billy often takes his load of hides to the store on that day. He enjoys listening to the hunters’ tales of their adventures in the woods. However, now that he has hunting experience, he can share his own stories with the men at the store. He most enjoys boasting about Old Dan’s courage and Little Ann’s cleverness. Although the men enjoy his entertaining stories, they often tease him about the size of his hounds, especially Little Ann, who is much smaller than the average hound. Billy is offended by the insults and reminds the hunters that his hounds have had more success than any of the others. The hunters reluctantly acknowledge his point.
Billy is proud that his hounds work as a team. However, he is surprised to learn that Old Dan will not hunt without his partner, Little Ann. When Little Ann injures her paw, Billy treats the wound, bandages her foot, and locks her in the corncrib for safety. He decides to continue to hunt. He gathers his supplies and takes Old Dan into the woods in search of raccoons. Shortly after they arrive in the woods, Billy notices that Old Dan is nowhere...
(The entire section is 705 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
Despite his passion for hunting, Billy has to discontinue his nightly pursuits when an unexpected winter storm hits the area. For nearly a week, the ice, sleet, and snow prevent him from hunting with his hounds. Once the storm passes, his parents give him permission to resume his hunting if he promises to be especially careful. He does as they wish, covering his ax blades with leather sheaths and promising to beware of the sheet of ice that lies beneath the three inches of snow.
After being caged for several days, Billy’s hounds are eager to hunt and begin the chase as soon as they enter the woods near the river bottom. Billy also feels liberated, and he yells excitedly to his hounds as they chase the raccoon over the snow-covered ground. The snowy ground makes it difficult for the raccoon to conceal itself or its tracks. Consequently, Billy feels certain that his hounds will trap the raccoon quickly. He listens to the yelps of his dogs as they progress through the chase. He eagerly cheers his hounds onward. He is overjoyed when the chase takes the raccoon near his home, and he hears his family on the porch, cheering his hounds as well. After a few minutes, however, he no longer hears his hounds howl. He listens attentively for the sounds that will indicate their location, but he hears nothing.
With his lantern in his hand, Billy begins searching for his dogs. When he hears a wail from Old Dan, he rushes to the location. He sees his male hound, but Little Ann is nowhere to be seen. Still, Old Dan is wailing rather than howling, so Billy panics and begins calling out to Little Ann. When she whimpers a response, he sees her. She is in the icy water, clinging to the embankment. The river water is rushing over her body and she is in a precarious, life-threatening position.
As Billy, horrified, contemplates a rescue, he realizes what the crafty raccoon has done: Desperate to escape, it ran to the river and over the frozen surface ice. Then, as it neared the other bank, it leaped over to the other side. Old Dan raced behind the raccoon, ascending the bank only seconds behind it. But when Little Ann attempted the same feat, she fell short and slid backwards into the icy waters of the river.
Billy attempts to walk over the ice to save his dog, but the surface ice begins to crack from his weight. He considers running home to get a rope or to ask his father for help, but he dismisses the idea quickly because...
(The entire section is 867 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Billy and his hounds have a celebrated reputation in the area near his home. They capture more raccoons than any other team of hunters. His grandfather proudly sells the hides at his store. He also takes pride in boasting about Billy’s hunting skills, at times even exaggerating his successes. Billy patiently tolerates his grandfather’s embellishment of his hunting adventures.
One day, Billy takes a bag of corn into town to have it ground into meal for his family. When he arrives at his grandfather’s store, his grandfather is too busy to grind the corn immediately. As Billy waits for his grandfather to serve his customers, he sees two young boys approach. Rubin and Rainie Pritchard are mean-spirited bullies. Rubin is big and aggressive; Rainie is malicious and bad-tempered. The entire Pritchard family has a widespread reputation as unfriendly, lazy, and corrupt. Rubin is two years older than Billy is, and Rainie is close to his age. This day, they order chewing tobacco. When Billy’s grandfather objects to boys their age using tobacco, they say it is for their father. Then they chew it in front of him.
Billy typically avoids the Pritchard boys because they try to provoke him into fighting. Although he does not like them, his mother has instructed him to treat them kindly. When they approach him, he dreads the coming confrontation. The Pritchard boys have heard about Billy’s hounds and their expertise in trapping raccoons. The boys argue that the stories are too difficult to believe. They wager that their dogs can hunt better than Billy’s. Billy laughs at the mere suggestion and tells them his grandfather can verify his successes. When Rainie questions his grandfather’s honesty, Billy is prepared to fight.
Billy’s grandfather intercedes and asks the Pritchard boys what they want. They explain that they want to make a wager. Rubin stakes two dollars on a bet that Billy’s hounds cannot capture an elusive raccoon they refer to as the “ghost coon.” Billy knows the Pritchard boys cannot be trusted and he refuses the bet. When Rainie calls him a coward, both Billy and his grandfather take offense. Billy’s grandfather accepts the bet on Billy’s behalf and gives Billy two dollars as security for his portion of the wager.
Because he knows that the Pritchards can be cruel and dishonest, Billy’s grandfather warns them that if they harm Billy in any way, then he will see that they land...
(The entire section is 520 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Just as Rainie and Rubin Pritchard predicted, Billy’s hounds chase the raccoon to the tree where it usually loses the hounds. Moreover, when Billy and the Pritchards reach the tree, the raccoon is nowhere in sight. Old Dan is at the base of the tree, barking wildly. Little Ann, on the other hand, is still following the raccoon’s scent along a fence near the tree. The Pritchard boys, who have seen the raccoon evade capture many times, ask Billy to concede his loss and pay the bet.
Billy is not convinced that his hounds have completed the hunt, especially because Little Ann has not barked “treed.” He climbs the tree to see if the raccoon is hiding in a hollow or on the limbs. He cannot find the raccoon and returns to the ground. Billy reluctantly pays Rubin the two dollars, conceding his loss.
As the boys prepare to leave the tree, the wind begins to blow and Little Ann gains the raccoon’s scent again. She directs her attention to a gatepost. Upon investigation, Billy discovers that the post is hollow. He uses a long, slender tree branch to force the raccoon out of the hollowed post. Billy’s hounds attack the prey as soon as it exits the post. The experienced old raccoon, fighting for its life, escapes from the hounds and returns to the tree.
Billy’s hounds immediately circle the tree, and Billy agrees to climb the tree and force the old raccoon out. When he reaches the limb, however, the raccoon emits a plaintive cry that touches his heart. He tells Rubin and Rainie that he does not want to kill the raccoon. When Rubin threatens to climb the tree and force the raccoon to the ground, Billy unyieldingly informs him that he will not allow Old Dan and Little Ann to kill the creature. The Pritchards tell Billy they will beat him up if he does not allow his hounds to kill the raccoon.
As the boys argue over the fate of the ghost coon, the Pritchards’ blue tick hound appears, having gnawed through the rope that bound him. The dog is dragging a sizable limb from the tree to which it was fettered. As the dog enters the area, it begins to circle Old Dan, growling threateningly. Billy warns Rubin and Rainie that Old Dan will not tolerate an attack from the blue tick hound.
The Pritchards tell Billy that they do not need him or his hounds. They say Rubin will climb the tree and force the raccoon off the limb. Then their own dog will kill it. Billy realizes he cannot save the ghost...
(The entire section is 903 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
A few days after Rubin Pritchard’s death, a young neighbor brings Billy a message that his grandfather wants him to visit him at the store. Billy loves his grandfather but he dreads the visit, presuming that his grandfather wants to discuss Rubin’s accidental death. The memories of that night incessantly haunt Billy, and he wants to forget the entire episode.
The next day, Billy begins his trip to town. He scolds his hounds for trying to follow him. Eventually, however, he relents, and the hounds contentedly accompany him to town. When he reaches the store, Billy’s grandfather asks him to recount the events on the night of Rubin’s death. Billy explains everything that happened. His grandfather states that he feels responsible for the accident because he accepted the wager. Billy contends that no one was at fault for the accident. In fact, he tells his grandfather, the Pritchards took his money even though he won the bet. His grandfather’s mood lightens a little, and he tells Billy to forget the whole ordeal.
Billy’s grandfather says he wants to show him something. He shows him a newspaper advertisement announcing a ’coon hunting competition. He tells Billy that he has never won such a competition but has long wanted to do so. Billy is excited by the advertisement but does not initially realize that his grandfather wants to enter his hounds into the competition. When he becomes aware that his grandfather is willing to pay the registration fees for Old Dan and Little Ann to enter the competition, Billy is overwhelmed with pride and joy. His grandfather explains that he has logged every hide Billy has sold during hunting season and that he has reported the totals to the competition coordinators. The competition is scheduled to be held in six days, and Billy’s grandfather has made arrangements to travel by buggy to the hunting grounds.
Billy’s family is excited by the news, and his youngest sister makes him promise that he will give her the gold cup if he wins. Because his father plans to accompany him and his grandfather, Billy works hard to stockpile supplies for his mother and sisters in their absence. On the morning of their departure, Billy and his father walk to his grandfather’s store. Along the way, they discuss Billy’s hounds, commenting on their skills as hunters and the way they work as a team.
When they arrive at the store, the buggy is already loaded with groceries and...
(The entire section is 525 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
Billy is traveling with his father and his grandfather so his hounds can compete in a regional competition. They journey all day and stop at night to rest. They make camp and prepare an evening meal. Billy’s grandfather insists that he feed his hounds corned beef hash rather than the corn meal mush they ordinarily eat.
Sitting before the campfire with his grandfather, Billy and his father share stories about the hounds. For instance, Billy explains that Old Dan will not eat before Little Ann has the opportunity to do so. Billy’s father recounts an incident in which two biscuits had been thrown from the house into the yard. Rather than eat the biscuits, Old Dan picked them from the ground and carried them around the house to the dog house. Then he growled an alert to Little Ann, who came out of the dog house. Each dog ate one biscuit. Billy’s grandfather thinks the stories are remarkable and evidence a strong bond between the dogs.
As the conversation continues, Billy moves away from his father and grandfather to enjoy a singular experience. His grandfather had prepared coffee, and he gave Billy a cup of the strong brew. At home, Billy is never allowed to drink coffee. He feels that his grandfather’s gesture signals his approaching manhood. He sits near a tree stump to treasure the moment.
Billy is restless and has difficulty sleeping through the night. At one point, he thinks he hears the cries of two screech owls. According to local superstition, hearing two screech owls is a bad omen. The next morning at breakfast he tells his grandfather, who dismisses the belief as irrational. They clean up the camp area and continue their journey.
When they arrive at the official hunting grounds, Billy is astounded to see the number of contestants and the fine animals that have come to compete. The hunters are arrayed in fashionable sporting gear, and the dogs are beautifully groomed and primped for the event. Initially even Billy’s grandfather is taken aback by the numbers. To ease his anxiety, Billy strolls around the camp, observing all. He feels better when he hears a hunter comment on him and his hounds; he is proud that his reputation precedes him.
Billy’s grandfather encourages him to enter one of his hounds into a beauty contest of sorts. Billy decides to enter Little Ann, and he uses his grandfather’s grooming kit to prepare her for the contest. To his surprise, she wins the...
(The entire section is 567 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
At dusk on Thursday evening, Billy’s hounds finally get the chance to hunt in the fourth round of elimination. The judge accompanies the team to a remote area away from the camp. Billy hopes his hounds will find amply quarry in this area, which has yet to be hunted. Almost in response to his expectation, his hounds immediately find a scent and begin chase.
Billy, his father, his grandfather, and the judge busily clamor to keep with his hounds. Unfortunately, his grandfather becomes entangled in some brush and loses his hat and eyeglasses. The excitement of the hunt is intensified when the hounds chase the raccoon through the campsite. All the hunters yell and scream in support of Billy’s hounds. When the hounds finally tree the raccoon, Billy earns his first hide in the competition. Even the judge is impressed with Old Dan’s and Little Ann’s ability to track the raccoon.
Following their first success, the hounds quickly tree a second raccoon; Billy’s grandfather has another mishap, falling into the icy cold water. After skinning the raccoon, Billy’s grandfather partially disrobes to dry himself before the fire. Before he is completely dry, however, Billy’s hounds begin howling wildly. Again the team strikes out to follow them, but it is nearing daybreak and there is little time left in the elimination round. Billy’s faith in his hounds is rewarded by a third capture and a third hide. The judge is further awed by the tracking ability of Billy’s hounds. They return to the campsite and the tale of Billy’s hounds is spread throughout the camp.
Following the fifth and final night of elimination, Billy learns that his hounds have qualified for the final round of competition. Only three of the twenty-five teams have qualified for the final elimination round, and Billy is both excited and anxious to be included. He knows that his hounds will have to compete against the best hounds in the region. In addition, the hunters have amassed a prize box that contains monetary contributions to be awarded to the winner of the contest. He feels pressured to win.
That night, the hunting begins again, and Billy’s hounds quickly hit the trail of a raccoon. This time, the raccoon was both very old and very experienced, employing many tricks to lose the hounds. After an exhaustive chase and a vicious fight, Old Dan and Little Ann capture and kill the raccoon. Then the dogs lick one another’s wounds...
(The entire section is 429 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
Billy’s hounds are in the final round of competition, and they have secured the first hide of the night. However, as his dogs trail another raccoon, the weather becomes menacing. Billy only has one hide and fears he will lose the competition if he does not collect more. He continues to trail his hounds despite several warnings from his father, his grandfather, and the judge.
As expected, the area is hit by a searing blizzard. The hunters are blinded by the flying snow, and the wailing wind deafens them to the howls of Billy’s hounds. They all realize they are in jeopardy of becoming lost in this unfamiliar territory, so the judge suggests they find the wagon and return to the campsite. However, Billy is unwilling to leave his hounds in the woods, especially in such wintry conditions.
As they search for the hounds, the blizzard intensifies. Just as Billy’s father convinces him he must leave the hounds and return on their own, Billy hears Old Dan’s cry and renews his pursuit, although the rest of the team is reluctant. The ground is already covered with snow, and the storm is just beginning. In a desperate attempt to locate his puppies, Billy convinces his father to fire the gun, hoping that his dogs will hear it and run to them. His plan succeeds and Little Ann appears out of the driving snow.
Billy leashes Little Ann and follows her the in hope of finding and rescuing Old Dan before he loses his life in the winter storm. The trek is both difficult and dangerous. Gusts of wind and snow still blind the hunters, and any tracks made by the dog are completely covered by the new-fallen snow. Still, Billy treads behind Little Ann, believing that she can lead him to Old Dan. Soon he finds Old Dan in a gully at the base of a tree, bawling the signal that he has trapped a raccoon. Billy busily begins removing ice particles from his dog’s body—but his father and the judge are preoccupied with a different task.
When Billy notices that his father and the judge still seem to be searching for something, he learns that his grandfather has been lost in the storm. Alarmed, Billy begins screaming hysterically and dashes off in search of his grandfather. His father overtakes him and prevents him from leaving the immediate area. Then his father fires the gun again, and Little Ann comes to the rescue one more time.
Little Ann runs ahead of the team and locates Billy’s grandfather. Then she alerts...
(The entire section is 707 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
As daylight approaches, the blizzard subsides and a more peaceful snowfall settles on the area. Billy’s dogs have been outside all night long, and he had no idea where they are. As he listens for them, he hears the sounds of a rescue team that has been combing the woods in search of his team of hunters. Evidently, the horses had broken loose from the wagon during the night and wandered back into camp. Those in the camp realized the hunting team was stranded and organized a search party; the hunters had spent the entire night looking for Billy and his team.
When Billy explains that his hounds are somewhere in the forest stalking a treed raccoon, the hunters are amazed at their tenacity. Then one of them reports that one of the other teams turned in three hides and that Billy will need at least one more to win. While they are talking, another hunter arrives and reports that he has seen Billy’s hounds and that they are “frozen solid.” Upon hearing this startling news, Billy swoons and collapses.
Billy regains consciousness and overhears some of the hunters reprimanding the man who said his dogs were frozen. The man was emphatically trying to explain that he had not meant to suggest that the dogs were dead. He just meant that they were covered with snow and ice from head to foot. Billy is relieved but wants to find his dogs. While some of the hunters create a makeshift gurney on which to carry his grandfather back to camp, Billy and a few other hunters accompany the man to Billy’s dogs.
Billy’s dogs are indeed covered with ice, so the hunters build a fire. They all volunteer to massage the dogs to restore circulation to their bodies. They note that the dogs walked in a continuous circle around the tree so they would not freeze to death during the night. Once the dogs are thawed, one of the hunters fires a shot, and the raccoon jumps from the tree. Billy’s dogs are alert; they attack the raccoon and kill it. This capture gives Billy four hides from this round of the competition and secures his win.
The hunters return to camp and report that Billy has won the competition. Billy’s grandfather refuses to be transported home until he sees Billy receive the golden cup, so the head judge presents Billy with the award. The hunters also give him more than three hundred dollars in prize money, amassed through contributions from all the participating hunters. Billy gives the cash box to his father....
(The entire section is 628 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
After winning the hunting competition, Billy and his hounds fall back into their normal routine. At night, they hunt in the woods near his home. A few weeks after the competition, Billy is hunting with his hounds when they begin to stalk an unusual animal. Based on the animal’s activity, Billy soon realizes they are not stalking a raccoon. He assumes they are chasing a bobcat, but he is terrified to discover that the animal is a mountain lion.
Old Dan is staunchly determined to keep the powerful animal treed, and the mountain lion is irritated by the chase. Billy cautiously approaches the tree, hoping to seize Old Dan’s collar and lead him away from the deadly cat. Before he can reach him, the cat attacks. Old Dan and Little Ann begin fighting for their lives. Billy realizes they are no match for the powerfully vicious animal.
In an effort to save his hounds, Billy readies his ax to strike the cat. He rushes into the fight and begins hacking away at the mountain lion. When the mountain lion realizes Billy is striking it with an ax, it turns its fierce gaze upon him. The mountain lion springs into the air to attack Billy. Instantly, his hounds leap between him and the cat, saving Billy from being mauled. Again the mountain lion and the hounds engage in deadly battle.
Billy knows the mountain lion will likely kill his dogs. Therefore, he retrieves his ax and chops the mountain lion in the head, finally killing it. The fight is over, and Billy examines his dogs for injuries. Little Ann’s wounds are superficial, but Old Dan’s injuries are serious. Leaving his lantern and his ax, he rushes home and awakens his parents. They are alarmed by his report. His mother carefully attends to Old Dan’s wounds, then Billy helps his mother treat Little Ann’s cuts and scratches.
Shortly after receiving medical attention, Old Dan dies. His injuries were too severe to admit recovery. When his dog dies, Billy is inconsolable. He feels embittered and cannot bring himself to pray. Unable to sleep, he sits near the fire alone. Then he hears Little Ann outside the door. She was so accustomed to sleeping next to Old Dan that she cuddled up next to his dead body. This loving act overwhelms Billy; he runs to the riverside and cries for hours.
The next day, Billy chooses a lovely hillside location, digs a grave, and buries Old Dan. Two days later, Billy’s mother informs him that Little Ann refuses to...
(The entire section is 639 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
In the spring after Billy’s hounds died, his family prepares to move to town. His entire family is excited, but his mother is excited more than the others are. Billy’s father is more animated than he has ever been. Once everything is packed and loaded, Billy asks his father if he can visit his dogs’ graves once more before he leaves. His father consents.
When Billy reaches the gravesite, he is astounded to find a beautifully luxuriant red fern growing between the two graves. He remembers an Indian legend he had heard as a child. The story concerns the disappearance of two small children. According to the legend, the children died in a blizzard. Their bodies were discovered during the spring thaw with a beautiful red fern growing between them. The legend says that red ferns were only planted by angels and grew on sacred ground. Billy thinks the presence of the red fern is miraculous.
Billy yells for his mother; she and the rest of the family run up the hill to him. They, too, are startled by the sight of the red fern and believe that it signals sacred ground. His mother tells him she has never seen a red fern before. His sisters believe the plant was placed between the graves by an angel. Billy’s father suggests that God placed the red fern between the graves to help Billy cope with the loss of his dogs. Billy agrees with his father, stating that he finally understands and accepts the deaths.
Billy’s family leaves the graves to return to the wagon and give Billy more time alone. Billy takes one final glance at the graves and notices that both of them are covered with beautiful mountain flowers. He imagines that the blossoms are dancing in the slight breeze that flows in from the mountain. Before he leaves, he removes his hat and says a final good-bye to his dogs.
In Billy’s final expressions of love to his dogs, he assures them that he loves them. He tells them that God will reward them with eternal life in heaven and that he will never forget them. Then he slowly makes his way down the hillside and rejoins his family. As his family drives away, he looks back toward their old home. He sees Samie, the cat who ran away after consistently becoming ensnared in his trap, tramp through the abandoned yard. His gaze covers the entire farm until his mother interrupts his solitude to tell him the red fern is still visible from this distance. Billy turns his head and sees the red fern beautifully...
(The entire section is 521 words.)