Where the Red Fern Grows

Where the Red Fern Grows Summary and Analysis of Chapters XI-XV

Chapter XI Summary:

Billy goes hunting after a five-day snowstorm. The dogs track a coon, who runs back by Billy's house and along the partly frozen river. Billy sees that Little Ann has not been able to clear an unfrozen part on the river and has fallen into the icy waters. Billy is too heavy to step onto the ice.

Billy prays to God, and the sound of his lantern's wire handle falling and hitting the metal frame interrupts him. Billy gets an idea. He unhooks and straightens the lantern's handle, then attaches it to the end of a cane pole. Wading into the water, he hooks it to Little Ann's collar. He fishes her out, but her muscles are frozen and she cannot move. Billy's legs are frozen, too. Billy manages to get out and he builds a fire. In some time, Little Ann and he are restored to health. Billy thanks his lantern, and on the way home he silently gives thanks to God.

Billy gets a cold and is bed-ridden for a few days. Mama tells him that God answers only prayers that are from the heart.


Billy's ingenuity as a hunter is demonstrated as he smartly uses the lantern to save Little Ann. However, he once again receives help immediately after praying to God. So long as Billy prays from the heart, as his mother says, some mystical force seems to aid him.

This is the first occasion of true life-and-death matters. There will be many more throughout the book, and Billy, Little Ann, and Old Dan all take turns as the victim and the savior.

Chapter XII Summary:

The reputation of Billy's dogs spreads. Grandpa brags, and sometimes exaggerates, about Billy's exploits. One day at Grandpa's store, Billy runs into Rubin and Rainie Pritchard, two mean, violent brothers. Rubin is older and quieter, while Rainie is Billy's age, violent and nervous. They start up trouble with Billy and Grandpa, then propose a bet. There is a coon in their part of the country nicknamed the "ghost coon" for seemingly disappearing once he is treed; their blue tick hound has treed him many times only for him to vanish. They bet Billy his hounds cannot tree the ghost coon. Grandpa spots Billy the two dollars and warns the Pritchard boys not to mess with Billy.

Billy does not tell his family about the bet. He meets the Pritchard boys the next night and they work their way along the river. The dogs soon track the ghost coon. After a while, the dogs bawl at a hole in a sycamore tree that has fallen in the water. But the ghost coon does not appear to be inside. Little Ann investigates the hollow log and surrounding area some more, and she flushes out the ghost coon from under a bank.

The dogs give chase, and the coon eventually runs right between the boys and past them. The dogs, then the boys, chase after him. The coon runs to the tree it always ends up in, the one from which it always disappears.


The Pritchards are the opposite of Billy. Rude, violent, and disrespectful, they also differ in another major way: they are not as determined as Billy. Although they keep telling Billy to give up to break his own will, they have probably told themselves the same thing many times while hunting the ghost coon.

Rawls spices up the coon-hunting scenes with ones such as this, which are exceptional in some way. By giving Billy two antagonists here - the Pritchard boys and the ghost coon - we are doubly hopeful he will tree the ghost coon.

Chapter XIII Summary:

Billy and the Pritchards approach the isolated short, broad tree in which the ghost coon is treed. Billy climbs the tree, but cannot find the ghost coon and comes back down. The dogs keep searching, but after Billy climbs the tree again and still cannot find the coon, they all give up. Billy pays Rubin the money for the bet.

Just before they leave, Little Ann catches the scent in the breeze. She bawls by a nearby large gatepost, and Old Dan joins in. Billy gets on Rubin's shoulder and sees the post is hollow. He sticks a switch into the post and hits the coon. It jumps out, and the dogs fight him. The coon is elusive and scrambles up the original tree. Billy climbs up, and the coons cries - it knows its end is coming.

Billy decides not to kill it, and climbs down. Rubin cannot believe it. He climbs up the tree, intending to scare off the coon so the dogs can kill it. As he starts to climb the tree, the Pritchards' big, ugly hound, Old Blue, comes over. It has gnawed through the rope that held it. Rubin is satisfied, since now Old Blue can kill the coon. Billy does not want to see this happen, so he asks Rubin to return the money and he will leave. Rubin refuses, arguing the bet was over whether Billy's dogs could kill, not tree, the coon. Billy reminds him about his grandfather's threat, and Rubin pins Billy and threatens to knife him if he says anything to his grandfather.

Old Blue and Old Dan start fighting. Little Ann joins in and the two attack Old Blue. Rubin takes the ax and goes for Billy's dogs, but a stick pops up from the ground and trips up Rubin. Billy runs past him and with difficulty pries his dogs off Old Blue, who is nearly dead.

Rubin is motionless, and Rainie runs away in fear. Rubin has fallen on the ax, and the blade has buried itself in his stomach. Rubin whispers for Billy to remove it from him. Billy does as blood gushes out, but it is too late, and Rubin quickly dies. Billy leads his dogs away and goes home.

Billy tells his parents the whole story. His mother cries, and his father tells him to alert some neighbors. Papa goes to tell the Pritchards and Grandpa. He returns in the afternoon with their mule, wet and exhausted. He later tells Billy that they brought Rubin's body to the Pritchards' place. Rainie had been too dazed to explain what happened, but they knew something was wrong. Papa told them, and though the news had an impact on Old Man Pritchard, none of the men in the family cried. Papa tells Billy not to see the Pritchards anymore.

Billy feels bad about Rubin's death and does not want to go hunting, but his mother explains that they cannot do anything for the Pritchards. At night, Billy goes with the dogs to the Pritchards' place and takes flowers his sisters gave him a while aback. He quietly sets the flowers on Rubin's grave, but as he leaves he dislodges a rock and disturbs Old Blue. The hound bawls, and Mrs. Pritchard comes out and sees the flowers on the grave, though she cannot see Billy. She cries as she enters the house. Billy feels better after paying his respects to Rubin. He promises his dogs they will go hunting later at night.


We see two instances in which Billy displays a sensitive attitude toward death. He respects the ghost coon enough to let it go, while the bloodthirsty Rubin wants to kill it. More importantly, Rubin's death deeply affects Billy. It makes him not want to hunt, and he feels better only after paying his final respects to Rubin.

Rawls does not show his hand about the effect of Rubin's death on Mrs. Pritchard until the end of the chapter. In this manner, he makes the end of the chapter more powerful and shows us how even the death of a person as cruel as Rubin can significantly impact others. We also learn why Rubin is the way he is; his father does not seem to be the most sensitive, loving parent.

Billy perhaps again receives some mystical help when Rubin trips on the stick. Although the end result is unpleasant, at least it saves Billy's dogs from the ax. Rawls foreshadowed the incident with some irony when, in Chapter XII, Rainie made Billy carry his own ax.

Chapter XIV Summary:

A few days after Billy visits Rubin's grave, he gets a message that Grandpa wants to talk to him. He reluctantly takes the dogs with him to the store. He repeats the whole story for Grandpa, who feels guilty for having taken on the bet with Rubin and making the whole incident possible. He urges Billy to try to forget the whole thing.

Grandpa switches gears and tells Billy he has entered Old Dan and Little Ann in a prestigious championship coon hunt that takes place six days from now. Billy comes home in a delightful mood and tell his family about the championship at dinner. Mama, who is pregnant, convinces Papa he can take time off to go with Billy and Grandpa. Billy promises his little sister to give her the gold cup if he wins it.

Billy does extra work at home to prepare for his departure, and the morning before the championship, Billy and Papa head off. Billy tells Papa that Little Ann is gun-shy (afraid of guns being fired). They go to Grandpa's store and get in his buggy. Grandpa has Billy's ax; Billy briefly thinks about Rubin and the accident, but focuses on the hunt. Grandpa also wants Billy to bring a jug of corn liquor from the store, and hide it so Grandma cannot see it. They set off.


In this transitional chapter, we see how Billy further deals with Rubin's death: through coon-hunting and the support of his family.

Obviously, the championship coon hunt is an ideal way to shift Billy's attention to more pleasant activities. But underneath that, his family provides plenty of support. Grandpa, with his mischievous, loving ways, and Papa, with his stable support, have been major characters all along, while Mama has always shown deep love and concern for Billy. We also see Billy express even greater affection than normal for his sisters, and learn that Mama is pregnant. The female characters are even more stereotypical than the male characters - they are either overly worried for Billy's well-being, like Mama, or get excited over candy and city ways, like his sisters. However, they do conform to behavior that was probably more normal when there were highly rigid gender divisions.

Chapter XV Summary:

Billy, Grandpa, and Papa travel and set up camp near Bluebird Creek. They discuss the unselfish, strange ways of Old Dan and Little Ann, how they share food and closely watch Billy. Billy has coffee with them and feels grown-up, and they go to bed. Billy listens to wildlife sounds and thinks he hears two screech owls, a sign of bad luck.

They arrive at the championship the next day. The number of people there amazes them, and the fine hounds intimidate Billy. Grandpa encourages Billy to enter one of his dogs into the contest for best-looking hound, though Billy does not think his dogs have a chance. Still, the next day he grooms Little Ann and enters her in the contest. Little Ann wins, and Billy receives a silver cup.

The twenty-five hunters are told the rules of the championship. Each night, five sets of hunters go out with a judge; the hunter with the most skins at the end of the night qualifies for the championship runoff; hunters after the first night must equal or surpass the number of skins the first night's winner got. Billy draws a card and gets to go out the fourth night.

The first night's winner gets three skins. No one equals that the next night, so all the hunters are eliminated. Billy thinks he should hunt far from where the others have hunted. A hunter on the third night ties the first night's winner. Billy gets restless.


Rawls increases the tension for Billy's hunt, since he not only has to beat the others in his group, but also has to match the first night's winner. Rawls also throws in other things to make us doubt Billy's chances, from the superstition of the screech owls to the majestic, intimidating dogs at the contest.

However, we gain some satisfaction even before the hunt through Little Ann's surprise beauty contest victory. That she ends her victory walk with a hug in Billy's arms confirms their deep love for each other, something Grandpa and Papa comment on briefly at the camp. They keep referring to something "'strange'" about Billy's dogs, foreshadowing the strange event at the end of the novel.