Where The Red Fern Grows “I was walking along whistling when I heard the dogfight”, Billy starts the story. He rescued an old redbone hound dog and took it home. This brought memories back to his mind. It all happened over 50 years ago. This is a story about friendship between two coon hounds and a boy named Billy Colman.
Billy is ten years old and lives in the Ozark Mountains. He had long straw-colored hair that was shaggy. He wore patched and faded coveralls. Billy did not wear shoes during the summer. He was a good boy and worked hard to help his mother and father.
His family lived in a farm on a Cherokee land because his mother was part Cherokee Indian. Billy’s mother taught Billy reading, writing and arithmetics. They lived in a log house near the Illinois river. Billy loved the nature and roamed the hill and river bottoms. He knew every game trail and every animal track.
He was most fascinated by the tracks of a river coon. “I was a hunter from the time I could walk”, he tells. He hunted lizards, rats, frogs and other animals. He wanted to have dogs but his mom and dad did not have the money. A pair of coon hound would cost $ 75.
Billy’s father bought him three small steel traps. He took them to bed with him. Billy started to trap the next morning and caught their cat Samie. Very soon the cat was limping with all four legs. After he caught his mom’s chicken he had to set the traps in the forest.
He caught opossums, skunks, rabbits and squirrels, but he wanted to have a coonskin. One day he went to Shannon Ford where the fishermen camped. He found things the fishermen left behind. He had found a knife and a fishing pole and other stuff. Now he found the magazine.
In the magazine was a small ad: Registered Redbone Coonhound Pups Twenty-five Dollars Each Billy remembered a passage from the bible that said: “God helps those who help themselves ” and slowly saw the plan began to form. He could sell stuff to fishermen and save money. Billy had 23 cents which he put in an old can and started to work. He caught crawfish and minnows, and trapped opossum, squirrels and skunks. He picked up blackberries.
A good hide would sell for 25 cents and a bucket of berries for 10 cents. It took him one year to save twenty-seven dollars and forty-six cents. Billy worked another year and had his fifty dollars. He took the money to his grandfather who had a store and asked him to buy the coonhounds. Billy’s grandpa loved Billy very much.
He was very fair and hardworking. Billy waited for days. Then they got the message that the dogs were in depot in a near by town. Billy did not want to wait for a week when a neighbor went to town. He packed a bag and started walking.
The town was 20 miles away and it took Billy all night to get there. He got the pups and walked back. On his way back he spent a night in a cave and was scared by a mountain lion. He stopped at the camping ground he had found the magazine. He saw two names carved on a tree: Dan and Ann and decided to name his dogs Old Dan and Little Ann.
Billy wanted to train his pups to hunt coons but he needed to have a coonskin to train them. His grandpa taught him a trick to catch a coon. It took him a week to get the coon. He taught his dogs every trick he knew. Billy got most of his ideas from the stories the coon hunters would tell at his grandpa’s store. Billy tied his first coon hide to a string and drag it around the forest.
He would drag it through the water, and walk up and down the river bank. He would pull the skin up a tree and swing it twenty or more feet away from the tree as the coons would try to trick the dogs. He trained them all summer and waited the hunting season to open. He was almost fourteen. Little Ann is the brain of the team.
A smart old coon would climb a tree jump far away from the tree. This move would trick many dogs, but Little Ann would find the trail once again. She was small. Her head was delicate and her legs and body short. Old Dan is the muscles of the team, once Billy got down the coon Old Dan would kill the ring-tail.
He was eager to fight. Billy ground his ax and cleaned his lantern. He greased his booths with hog lard. He told his dogs that “this will be the real thing, so remember everything I taught you and I’m depending on you. Just put one up a tree and I’ll do the rest”. The first night the dogs treed a coon on the biggest sycamore tree around called the Big Tree. The coon tried every trick but Little Ann did not loose him.
Billy was ready to give up but his dogs did not. Billy decided to cut down the tree even if it “takes a whole year”. He chopped the tree all night. In the morning his father came to see him. Billy told his father he had to cut the tree down for his dogs. His father understood and said: “If a man’s word isn’t any good, he’s no good himself”.
He kept on chopping the tree all day. In the evening his grandfather came and showed him a trick that would keep the coon in the tree so Billy could sleep the next night. They build a scarecrow. The next day Billy chopped as long as he could. His hands were full of blisters and he was ready to give up.
He prayed God to give him strength to finish the job. Then something odd happened. A breeze started and a wind cut the tree. The dogs took care of the coon. Billy’s mother made a cap out of the coon hide.
Billy went out after the ringtails every night. A good hide was now worth four to ten dollars. He gave all the money to his father. When coon hunters at his grandpas shop were kidding him about his dogs, Billy told them: “Let’s all go to the store and see who has the most of the hides in there”. Billy was the best coon hunter.
Billy’s grandpa was so proud of Billy that he bragged about him all the time. “As in most small country communities, there is one family that no one likes. The Pritchards were it”. They were like Ewell’s in the Mockingbird. They were thieves, bootleggers and just all-round no-goods.
Rubin was sixteen-year old. He had mean eyes and rugged face. Rainie was about fourteen. He was mean because nobody liked him. He always wanted to bet.
The Pritchard boys challenged Billy to hunt down a coon that was called a ghost coon because nobody was able to hunt it down. Billy’s dogs treed the coon, but Billy did not want to kill the coon. Rubin went crazy and started to fight with Billy. Billy’s dogs were fighting with Rubin’s and Rainie’s dog and Rubin grabbed Billy’s ax and darted to kill Billy’s hounds. Rubin fell and the ax entered his stomach.
He died. Billy laid flowers on his grave. Billy’s grandfather felt real bad about the bet and death. He wanted Billy to forget the whole thing. He showed Billy a newspaper add that said: Championship Coon Hunt To Be Held All his life the grandpa had wanted to go to one of these big hunts but never had good dogs. He had already paid the entry fee.
Billy and the grandfather decided to take Billy’s father with them to the competition. Billy had never seen so many people or dogs at one gathering. People were friendly. When Billy walked around the camp site he heard people speaking about him and his dogs. They were famous. 25 sets of the best dogs had entered the competition.
The next day was a contest for the best- looking dog. Billy chose Little Ann because Old Dan was so scarred of all the fight with coons. He borrowed his grandpas hairset and with homemade butter brushed Little Ann until she shined. Little Ann won the competition and Billy got a silver cup. It took a couple of days before Billy got to hunt. In the day he had to wait, he meet with some people and told them a poem he had made up about his dog, Little Ann: “You can swim the river, Old Mister Ringtail.
And play your tricks out one by one. It wont any good, Old Mister Ringtail. My Little Ann knows everyone.” The first night Billy treed three coons. The last coon tried every trick but Little Ann found it anyway. The judge said to Billy: “I’ve been hunting coons and judging coon hunts for forty years, but I’ve never seen anything like that”.
Billy’s dogs were that good. The elimination’s left three pair of dogs to the runoff. The winner would win the gold cup. The two big Walker hounds had won four gold cups. The hunters collected three hundred dollars for the winner.
Little Ann found a trail fast and the dogs killed the first coon. A storm started to built up. The air turned cold and soon they lost the dogs. It started to rain and the men were giving up. It was too cold to continue the hunt.
The grandfather broke his ankle and they spent the night trying to stay warm. The dogs had treed three coons in one hollow tree and Billy’s pa chopped it down. The dogs had stayed with the coon despite the blizzard and being covered with ice. Nobody has seen dogs like that. Billy won the gold cup and the money. He gave cups to his sisters and the money to his mother.
Billy kept on hunting every night. One night a mountain lion attacked them. Old Dan attacked first. Little Ann went to help. Billy hacked and chopped the mountain lion. The battle raged on for a long time.
Finally Billy hit his ax to the “eye in the back of the devil cat”. The fight was over. Old Dan was badly hurt. He was bleeding to death. Billy’s mother tried to sew up the dog. Just before Old Dan died he opened his eyes and looked Billy.
Billy made a box and buried Old Dan on the hill side. Little Ann did not eat after Old Dan died. Billy found her lying on her stomach on Old Dan’s grave. She was dead. Billy’s father told Billy that because of his dogs he was able to go to school. The family was moving to the city.
The following spring they left. Billy wanted to see the graves last time before he left. The hill side was growing wild brush and Billy took out his knife, intending to cut it down. Then he saw something he could not believe. Between the graves of Old Dan and Little Ann “a beautiful red fern had sprung up from the rich mountain soil”. Billy had heard the old Indian legend about the red fern. How a little Indian boy and girl were lost in a blizzard and frozen to death.
When their bodies were found, a beautiful red fern had grown up between their two bodies. Only an angel could plant a red fern. The spot was sacred. Billy’s mother could not believe her eyes. She had never seen a red fern.
His pa said: “Wonderful indeed is the work of our Lord”. Billy said: “Good-bye Old Dan and Little Ann. I’ll never forget you”.