Where The Red Fern Grows: Chapter 15,16,17
Summary – Chapters Fifteen, Sixteen and Seventeen
That night they stay over at Bluebird Creek and make a lean-to. Grandpa gives Billy two tins of corned beef to feed the dogs, and notices Old Dan will not eat before Little Ann has been fed too. He asks Billy if he has trained them to do this. Billy explains they have always been like this: “‘They won’t take anything away from each other, and everything they do, they do it as one.’” Billy’s father says he has also seen Old Dan pick up two biscuits that had been thrown by the girls and he took them to Little Ann to share with her. Grandpa says there has always been something ‘strange’ about them and Billy’s father agrees. He also says that the dogs watch every move that Billy makes.
When they reach the campsite, Billy is amazed at the size of it and has never seen so many people in one place. His father and grandfather are also astonished. He has a look around and notices the other dogs are larger than his. He begins to feel doubts about his chances.
His grandfather asks which dog he will enter for the best-looking hound competition and Billy says neither as they are too small. Grandpa remonstrates and Billy says he will decide tomorrow.
He picks Little Ann as she has no scars.G
He brushes her with butter and does so with his grandfather’s hair set. She is entered in the competition and when she is narrowed down to the last two remaining dogs the judges have trouble deciding on the winner. The dogs have to walk to their owners along the table and the other dog jumps down. Little Ann walks to Billy as required and she wins the cup.
After this, the rules of the hunt are explained. Each night five sets of dogs have to hunt and a judge will be with each pair of hounds. The hounds that ‘tree’ the most coons qualify for the championship run-offs. The coon has to be caught and skinned and the hide has to be handed to the judge to count. The entrants have to draw for the day of their hunt and Billy chooses the fourth night.
On the first night, two tick hounds win their round with three coons. The next morning all five sets of dogs are eliminated as they do not catch enough coons. His father asks Billy where he wants to hunt and he says if their judge agrees he would like to go downriver away from where everyone else has been going and his father and grandfather agree. On the third night, two black and tan hounds tie with the leaders and Billy is nervous now about his forthcoming hunt.
Chapter Sixteen is set on the night of Billy’s hunt. His dogs pick up the trail quickly and when they ‘tree’ the coon his father shoots his gun of birdshot and the coon jumps down. The dogs kill it and when it is skinned they quickly move on again.
The next time the dogs ‘tree’ a coon they have to cross the river and they laugh when Grandpa falls in. After they kill the coon, they light a fire and dry him off. The third coon is caught after Little Ann bawls ‘treed’. The judge says to Billy about how there is only one more night of eliminations and thinks he has a good chance of winning the cup.
The other hunters collect money for a jackpot and one hunter comes over to them when they are back at the campsite to let them know. He also says that almost everyone wants Billy to win, but two of the entrants have won four gold cups already.
On the night of the final hunt, which Billy has qualified for, he chooses to go to the swamp area. The first coon they catch fights the dogs in the water. After it is killed, Little Ann licks the blood from Old Dan’s wounds.
Chapter Seventeen begins with them noticing that a storm is approaching. They hear the dogs baying and crying, and the ground is turning white with sleet. The wind is getting louder and they can no longer hear the dogs.
The adults think they should return to camp, but Billy refuses to leave his dogs. He is worried they have ‘treed’ a coon and knows they will not move away from it. His father says he will follow him, and his grandfather and the judge come too.
Because of the noise of the wind, it is difficult to work out the direction of the barking. Billy closes his eyes and says a silent prayer, and hopes for a miracle. They hear a loud crushing sound as a limb falls from a tree and this gives Billy an idea. He asks his father to shoot his gun as this will alert Little Ann as to where they are. His father does so and she comes running to Billy. He ties a lead to her collar and asks her to find Old Dan.
She leads them into the face of the storm and is guided by instinct. She takes them into cane brakes and Grandpa says he thinks they have gone too far. The judge also says that no dog’s life is worth that of three men and adds that they could freeze to death. Billy knows this ‘cold logic’ has an effect on his father and grandfather and kneels down and whispers to Little Ann to bawl one more time. After a short while, they hear Old Dan ‘loud and clear’. They now know the direction and it is apparent that Little Ann has been right all along.
They find him ‘treed’ in a deep gully. Billy goes to him, but when he turns around his father tells him something has happened to Grandpa. Little Ann finds him back in the cane and she lets out a ‘long, mournful cry’. He is laid face down and has twisted his foot. He starts to come to when they sit him up and slap his face. When they take him down to the gully, they light a fire. Billy’s father wants to fetch help, but Grandpa refuses to let him go and says they should wait till daylight. They build the fire up more and Grandpa says they should now catch the coon.
The tree is hollow and Billy’s father says he will chop it down as they will need the wood for the fire anyway. When they push it over finally, Billy lets his dogs go and they are amazed to see three big coons roll out. Each dog chases one of them and Billy throws a stick at the third. This coon turns on him and Billy backs off; this coon disappears.
The dogs kill the other two and when Billy points to the canes as he explains where the third one went, his dogs run in that direction. The judge says it is as though they are able to read his mind. They skin the dead coons as they wait for the dogs to return.
Analysis – Chapters Fifteen, Sixteen and Seventeen
In these chapters, Billy enters into the spirit of the championships and his first success comes when Little Ann wins the best-looking hound competition. By competing in this large arena, the skill of his dogs is heightened as he is seen to measure well against them. Billy’s independence is also notable as he makes the decisions as to where to hunt his dogs. His choice is vindicated by the approval of the older men and thus his maturity is made more evident.