What is a synopsis of Old Yeller by Fred Gipson?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Old Yeller is a children's book written by Fred Gipson. It involves the touching relationship between a dog named Old Yeller and a boy, Travis Coates, who grows to love him. As he says at the beginning of the book, "He made me so mad at first that I wanted to kill him. Then, later, when I had to kill him, it was like having to shoot some of my own folks" (page 1). 

Travis lives in Salt Licks, Texas, in the 1860s. His father goes on a cattle drive to Abilene, Kansas to earn money. Travis, who is 14, is left to watch over his mother and his little brother, Arliss, who is then 5. After Travis's father leaves, Old Yeller shows up, who Travis describes as a "big ugly slick-haired yeller dog." Old Yeller is a mangy, thin creature who is missing one ear and part of his tail. Travis wants to scare the dog off, but his mother makes him keep the dog as a pet for Arliss. 

As the book goes on, Travis gains confidence in himself as he is able to watch over his family's farm, and Old Yeller proves himself a worthy pet. For example, he saves Little Arliss from a bear cub and catches a wild turkey that Travis nearly loses. The dog also keeps coons from attacking the corn. Old Yeller's former owner, Burn Sanderson, shows up, but he is willing to give the dog to Arliss in return for a home-cooked meal. In the end, however, Travis has to shoot Old Yeller when he fears the dog has become infected with rabies after killing a wolf. Eventually, Travis and his family take in one of Old Yeller's pups and begin to love their new pet. 

Read the study guide:
Old Yeller

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