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Where the Red Fern Grows

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Where the Red Fern Grows
First edition hardback cover
AuthorWilson Rawls
GenreChildren's novel
Publication date
Publication placeUnited States
Media typePrint (hardcover)

Where the Red Fern Grows is a 1961 children's novel by Wilson Rawls about a boy who buys and trains two Redbone Coonhounds for hunting.[1] It's a work of autobiographical fiction based on Rawls' childhood in the Ozarks.


In 1961, Adult Billy Colman rescues a redbone hound from neighborhood dogs and takes it home to recover. The incident reminds him of the faithful dogs he owned as a child in the Ozark Mountains.

In 1911, ten-year-old Billy wants nothing more than a pair of redbone hounds for coon hunting. After seeing a magazine ad for coon hounds, he spends the next two years working odd jobs to earn the $50 he needs to buy a pair of pups and walks 20 miles to Tahlequah to retrieve them. As he returns with the dogs, he sees the names "Dan + Ann" carved on a tree and names the pups Old Dan and Little Ann. With his grandfather's help, he trains the dogs to hunt.

On the first night of hunting season, Billy promises Old Dan and Little Ann that if they tree a raccoon, he will do the rest. They do so in a huge sycamore tree, which he believes is far too large to chop down. Remembering his promise, Billy spends the next two days attempting to cut down the sycamore. Exhausted, he prays for the strength to continue, whereupon a strong wind blows down the tree.

Billy, Old Dan, and Little Ann become renowned as the best hunters in the Ozarks. Billy's grandfather bets Rubin and Rainie Pritchard that Old Dan and Little Ann can tree the legendary "ghost coon" that has evaded hunters for years. After a challenging hunt, Old Dan and Little Ann succeed in treeing the ghost coon, but Billy, having seen how old and clever the animal is, decides not to kill it. Billy tries to prevent Rubin and Rainie from killing the ghost coon, and this leads to a brawl with Rubin. During the fight, Rubin's dog attacks Billy, prompting Old Dan and Little Ann to come to his aid. Rubin attempts to scare Old Dan and Little Ann away with Billy's ax, but he falls on the blade and dies. Although Billy is deeply troubled by the tragic turn of events, he does not regret his decision to spare the ghost coon.

Billy's grandfather enters him in a championship raccoon hunt against experienced hunters. The hunt is scheduled during a particularly cold week, and many of the hunters give up. Billy, who is used to harsh mountain winters, can reach the final round. On the last night, Old Dan and Little Ann trap three raccoons in a single tree, but a sudden blizzard forces Billy to take shelter. The following morning, Old Dan and Little Ann are found covered with ice but still circling the tree. All three raccoons are captured and Billy wins the championship and a $300 prize.

One night while the trio is hunting, a mountain lion attacks Old Dan and Little Ann. Billy fights to save them, but the mountain lion turns on him. The dogs kill the mountain lion, saving Billy's life, but Old Dan later dies of his injuries. Over the next few days, Little Ann loses the will to live and finally dies of grief, leaving Billy heartbroken.

Billy's father tries to comfort him by explaining that he and Billy's mother have long wished to move to a town where their children can get an education, but could not afford to do so without the extra money brought in by Billy's hunting. Knowing that Old Dan and Little Ann would suffer in town and that Billy would be devastated to leave them behind, they intended to allow him to remain in the mountains with his grandfather. His father believes that God took Old Dan and Little Ann as a sign that the family was meant to stay together.

On his last day in the Ozarks, Billy visits Old Dan and Little Ann's graves and finds a giant red fern growing between them. Remembering a legend that only an angel can plant a red fern, he also comes to believe a higher power was at work.

Adult Billy closes by saying that although he has never returned to the Ozarks, he still dreams of visiting Old Dan and Little Ann's graves and seeing the red fern again.


The novel was adapted into a 1974 film starring Stewart Petersen, James Whitmore, Beverly Garland, and Jack Ging. A sequel was released in 1992, starring Wilford Brimley, Chad McQueen, Lisa Whelchel, and Karen Carlson. A remake was released in 2003, starring Joseph Ashton, Dabney Coleman, Ned Beatty, and Dave Matthews.[2]


Where the Red Fern Grows Statue at the Idaho Falls Public Library

Although sales of the novel began slowly, by 1974 over 90,000 copies had been sold.[3] In 2001, Publishers Weekly estimated that it had sold 6,754,308 copies.[4]

There is a statue of Billy, Old Dan, and Little Ann at the Idaho Falls Public Library.[5]

Characters in the book[edit]

  • Billy Coleman, a ten-year-old boy who lives in the Ozark Mountains of Oklahoma
  • Old Dan, Billy's male dog
  • Little Ann, Billy's female dog
  • Mama, Billy's mother
  • Papa, Billy's father who buys him the traps and teaches him how to use them
  • Grandpa, Billy's grandfather and owner of the country general store
  • Billy's three sisters
  • Rubin Pritchard, who is killed by an ax injury after he attempts to attack Old Dan and Little Ann
  • Rainie Pritchard, Rubin's younger brother and a troublemaker. He idolized Rubin; when Rubin was killed, he was devastated.
  • The Marshal of Tahlequah
  • Old Man Hatfield, a neighbor of Billy's
  • Mr. Kyle
  • Mr. Benson, another coon hunter
  • Dr. Lathman, another coon hunter

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rozakis, Laurie (July 2003). "Scholastic BookFiles: A Reading Guide to Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls" (PDF). Scholastic Inc.
  2. ^ Shipley, Jonathan (November 20, 2021). "Here Lies Troop". Dog News. p. 90. Retrieved April 10, 2022. Only Coonhounds Need Apply at Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Cemetery in Tuscumbia Alabama
  3. ^ Pearson, Howard (February 16, 1974). "'Ashamed of writing', says author". Deseret News. p. 2D.
  4. ^ "All-Time Bestselling Children's Books". PublishersWeekly.com. Retrieved January 29, 2017.
  5. ^ "Wilson Rawls". Idaho Falls Public Library. Retrieved February 10, 2017.

External links[edit]