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Where the Red Fern Grows
Where the Red Fern Grows is a 1961 children's novel by Wilson Rawls about a boy who buys and trains two Redbone Coonhound hunting dogs.
When leaving work in Idaho's Snake River Valley, Billy Colman sees a pack of dogs attacking a stray coonhound. He takes the stray home to feed it. Once it has rested, Billy sets it free, knowing that it will return home.
The experience reminds Billy of his childhood in the Ozark Mountains of Oklahoma. He wants a dog, and his parents offer to get him a mongrel from a neighbor. He wants two coonhounds, but his parents cannot afford them. Billy finds a magazine ad for a Kentucky kennel which breeds Redbone Coonhounds and sells them for $25 each. He goes to work performing odd jobs and saves the $50 he needs with the help of his grandfather. Since it takes two years to do so, his grandfather writes to see if the kennel will honor the ad. They do, and the price has dropped so the two puppies only cost $40.
Billy's dogs are delivered to the freight depot in Tahlequah. His family does not have transportation, so he finds his own way to get to the depot and walks through the hills. He picks up his puppies, which are a male and a female. He buys a gift for each member of his family with his extra $10 before heading back home.
On the way back home, he spends the night in Robber's Cave in the Sparrow Hawk Mountains. There he builds a fire and plays with the puppies. While trying to sleep, he hears a noise that he realizes is the cry of a mountain lion. In the morning, he continues on. He comes to a sycamore tree with the names Dan and Ann carved inside a heart in the bark and decides to name the puppies Old Dan and Little Ann.
To train Old Dan and Little Ann, Billy traps a raccoon with the help of his grandfather and uses its pelt to teach them to hunt. During their training, their personalities become apparent: Old Dan is brave and strong, while Little Ann is very intelligent. Both are very loyal to each other and to Billy.
On the first night of hunting season, Billy takes Old Dan and Little Ann out for their first hunt. He promises them that if they tree a raccoon, he will do the rest. They tree one in a large sycamore. As he tries to call them off, they look at him sadly and he cuts the tree down, though it takes two days and costs him blistered hands. In the end, when he's about to give up his effort, Billy offers a short prayer for strength to continue. A strong wind starts to blow and the tree falls.
Billy and his hounds go hunting almost every night and become well-known in the Ozarks. Billy and his grandfather make a bet with Rubin and Rainie Pritchard that Old Dan and Little Ann can tree the elusive "ghost coon". It leads them on a long, complicated hunt, and Rubin and Rainie want to give up. When they finally have the raccoon in a tree, Billy refuses to kill it. Rubin then lets his dog, Old Blue, attack Billy's, and Rubin starts to beat Billy. Billy helps Little Ann, and together they injure Old Blue; Rubin runs to attack them with an axe, but he trips, falls on it and dies.
Billy's grandfather enters him into a championship coon hunt, putting him against experienced hunters and the finest dogs in the country. Before it starts, he enters Little Ann into a conformation contest, where she wins the silver cup. On the fourth night of the hunt, Old Dan and Little Ann tree three raccoons, making it to the final round. The sixth night, they tree one before a blizzard hits. Billy, his father, grandfather, and the judge lose sight of the dogs. When they finally find them, Billy's grandfather sprains his ankle. They build a fire, and when Billy's father chops down a tree, three raccoons jump out. Old Dan and Little Ann take two of them down, and chase the third to another tree. In the morning, the hunters find them covered with ice circling the tree. That raccoon wins them the championship, gold cup, and $300 of jackpot money.
One night Old Dan and Little Ann tree a mountain lion, and it attacks. Billy enters the fight with his axe, hoping to save his dogs, but they end up having to save him. Eventually, they kill the mountain lion, but Old Dan is badly wounded, and he dies late that night. Billy is heartbroken, and Little Ann loses the will to live, stops eating, and dies of grief a few days later on Old Dan's grave. Billy's father tries to tell him that it is all for the best, because with the money they received from winning the championship hunt, they can move to town. He goes to visit Old Dan and Little Ann's graves and finds a giant red fern between them. According to Native American legend, only an angel can plant one. He feels ready to move on.
The novel was made into a 1974 film starring Stewart Petersen, James Whitmore, Beverly Garland, and Jack Ging. It was followed by a sequel in 1992, which starred Wilford Brimley, Chad McQueen, Lisa Whelchel, and Karen Carlson. The film was remade in 2003 and starred Joseph Ashton, Dabney Coleman, Ned Beatty and Dave Matthews.
Although sales of the novel began slowly, by 1974 over 90,000 copies had been sold. In 2001, Publishers Weekly estimated that it had sold 6,754,308 copies. Today Where the Red Fern Grows is required reading in many American schools. One critic said it will please adults as well as children.
There is a statue of Billy and his dogs at the Idaho Falls Public Library.