The story takes place in Alabama, as Sam tells us in the second sentence of "The Ransom of Red Chief."
We were down South, in Alabama--Bill Driscoll and myself--when this kidnapping idea struck us.
The fact that Sam and Bill plan "to pull off a fraudulent town-lot scheme in Western Illinois" shows that these two men must have to do a lot of traveling by horse and buggy in their profession as confidence tricksters. They are apparently always on the lam. Alabama is in the Deep South, while Illinois is up north. Although they sound like middle-aged men, Sam and Bill have only managed to accumulate six hundred dollars with all their schemes. Thus, from the very beginning, the story illustrates the moral "Crime does not pay."
Sam and Bill intend to kidnap a boy in the town of Summit, which appears to be a typical farm town. Sam tells us that the country all around Summit is perfectly flat, so it is an irony that the people have named the town Summit. The two men have a spot picked for hiding with their victim after they get one:
About two miles from Summit was a little mountain, covered with a dense cedar brake. On the rear elevation of this mountain was a cave. There we stored provisions.
Much of the action in this story takes place at or near that cave on the rear of the little mountain. Sam has to do a lot of running around in connection with trying to collect the ransom money. Meanwhile, Bill is stuck with the little demon they have kidnapped, a ten-year-old boy who calls himself Red Chief. The two kidnappers and their victim sleep on blankets on the ground and cook over an open campfire. Red Chief finds the experience exciting, but Sam and Bill find it just the opposite.
Summit itself appears to be a sleepy little town where the local men spend a great deal of their time sitting around the post office while they are waiting for their crops to grow. Sam and Bill have picked this town for their kidnapping venture because it seems like such a quiet, backward place:
We knew that Summit couldn't get after us with anything stronger than constables and, maybe, some lackadaisical bloodhounds and a diatribe or two in the Weekly Farmers' Budget.
The entire setting--town and country alike--is peaceful and quiet. This setting serves to make their captive seem more wild by contrast. Red Chief craves excitement. And if he can't find it, he will create it. In the end, the two kidnappers are happy to pay $250 to Ebenezer Dorset, Red Chief's father, just to get rid of the boy and to get as far away as possible from Summit.