“I was walking along whistling when I heard the dogfight”, Billystarts the story.
He rescued an old redbone hound dog and took it home. Thisbrought memories back to his mind. It all happened over 50 years ago. This is astory 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 longstraw-colored hair that was shaggy. He wore patched and faded coveralls. Billydid not wear shoes during the summer. He was a good boy and worked hard to helphis mother and father.
His family lived in a farm on a Cherokee land because hismother was part Cherokee Indian. Billy’s mother taught Billy reading, writingand arithmetics. They lived in a log house near the Illinois river. Billy lovedthe nature and roamed the hill and river bottoms. He knew every game trail andevery 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 huntedlizards, rats, frogs and other animals. He wanted to have dogs but his mom anddad did not have the money. A pair of coon hound would cost $ 75. Billy’s fatherbought him three small steel traps. He took them to bed with him.
Billy startedto trap the next morning and caught their cat Samie. Very soon the cat waslimping with all four legs. After he caught his mom’s chicken he had to set thetraps in the forest. He caught opossums, skunks, rabbits and squirrels, but hewanted to have a coonskin. One day he went to Shannon Ford where the fishermencamped.
He found things the fishermen left behind. He had found a knife and afishing pole and other stuff. Now he found the magazine. In the magazine was asmall ad: Registered Redbone Coonhound Pups Twenty-five Dollars Each Billyremembered a passage from the bible that said: “God helps those who helpthemselves ” and slowly saw the plan began to form. He could sell stuff tofishermen and save money. Billy had 23 cents which he put in an old can andstarted to work.
He caught crawfish and minnows, and trapped opossum, squirrelsand skunks. He picked up blackberries. A good hide would sell for 25 cents and abucket of berries for 10 cents. It took him one year to save twenty-sevendollars and forty-six cents. Billy worked another year and had his fiftydollars. He took the money to his grandfather who had a store and asked him tobuy the coonhounds.
Billy’s grandpa loved Billy very much. He was very fair andhardworking. Billy waited for days. Then they got the message that the dogs werein depot in a near by town. Billy did not want to wait for a week when aneighbor went to town.
He packed a bag and started walking. The town was 20miles away and it took Billy all night to get there. He got the pups and walkedback. On his way back he spent a night in a cave and was scared by a mountainlion. He stopped at the camping ground he had found the magazine. He saw twonames carved on a tree: Dan and Ann and decided to name his dogs Old Dan andLittle Ann.
Billy wanted to train his pups to hunt coons but he needed to have acoonskin to train them. His grandpa taught him a trick to catch a coon. It tookhim a week to get the coon. He taught his dogs every trick he knew.
Billy gotmost of his ideas from the stories the coon hunters would tell at his grandpa’sstore. 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. Hewould pull the skin up a tree and swing it twenty or more feet away from thetree as the coons would try to trick the dogs. He trained them all summer andwaited the hunting season to open. He was almost fourteen.
Little Ann is thebrain of the team. A smart old coon would climb a tree jump far away from thetree. This move would trick many dogs, but Little Ann would find the trail onceagain. She was small. Her head was delicate and her legs and body short.
Old Danis the muscles of the team, once Billy got down the coon Old Dan would kill thering-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 bethe 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 dogstreed a coon on the biggest sycamore tree around called the Big Tree. The coontried every trick but Little Ann did not loose him. Billy was ready to give upbut his dogs did not.
Billy decided to cut down the tree even if it “takesa whole year”. He chopped the tree all night. In the morning his fathercame 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 nogood himself”.
He kept on chopping the tree all day. In the evening hisgrandfather came and showed him a trick that would keep the coon in the tree soBilly could sleep the next night. They build a scarecrow. The next day Billychopped as long as he could. His hands were full of blisters and he was ready togive up. He prayed God to give him strength to finish the job.
Then somethingodd happened. A breeze started and a wind cut the tree. The dogs took care ofthe coon. Billy’s mother made a cap out of the coon hide.
Billy went out afterthe ringtails every night. A good hide was now worth four to ten dollars. Hegave all the money to his father. When coon hunters at his grandpas shop werekidding him about his dogs, Billy told them: “Let’s all go to the store andsee who has the most of the hides in there”. Billy was the best coonhunter. Billy’s grandpa was so proud of Billy that he bragged about him all thetime.
“As in most small country communities, there is one family that noone likes. The Pritchards were it”. They were like Ewell’s in theMockingbird. They were thieves, bootleggers and just all-round no-goods.
Rubinwas sixteen-year old. He had mean eyes and rugged face. Rainie was aboutfourteen. He was mean because nobody liked him.
He always wanted to bet. ThePritchard boys challenged Billy to hunt down a coon that was called a ghost coonbecause nobody was able to hunt it down. Billy’s dogs treed the coon, but Billydid 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 grabbedBilly’s ax and darted to kill Billy’s hounds.
Rubin fell and the ax entered hisstomach. He died. Billy laid flowers on his grave. Billy’s grandfather felt realbad about the bet and death. He wanted Billy to forget the whole thing.
Heshowed Billy a newspaper add that said: Championship Coon Hunt To Be Held Allhis life the grandpa had wanted to go to one of these big hunts but never hadgood dogs. He had already paid the entry fee. Billy and the grandfather decidedto take Billy’s father with them to the competition. Billy had never seen somany people or dogs at one gathering. People were friendly.
When Billy walkedaround the camp site he heard people speaking about him and his dogs. They werefamous. 25 sets of the best dogs had entered the competition. The next day was acontest for the best- looking dog. Billy chose Little Ann because Old Dan was soscarred of all the fight with coons.
He borrowed his grandpas hairset and withhomemade butter brushed Little Ann until she shined. Little Ann won thecompetition and Billy got a silver cup. It took a couple of days before Billygot to hunt. In the day he had to wait, he meet with some people and told them apoem he had made up about his dog, Little Ann: “You can swim the river, OldMister Ringtail.
And play your tricks out one by one. It wont any good, OldMister Ringtail. My Little Ann knows everyone. ” The first night Billy treedthree coons. The last coon tried every trick but Little Ann found it anyway.
Thejudge said to Billy: “I’ve been hunting coons and judging coon hunts forforty years, but I’ve never seen anything like that”. Billy’s dogs werethat good. The elimination’s left three pair of dogs to the runoff. The winnerwould win the gold cup. The two big Walker hounds had won four gold cups. Thehunters collected three hundred dollars for the winner.
Little Ann found a trailfast and the dogs killed the first coon. A storm started to built up. The airturned cold and soon they lost the dogs. It started to rain and the men weregiving up. It was too cold to continue the hunt.
The grandfather broke his ankleand they spent the night trying to stay warm. The dogs had treed three coons inone hollow tree and Billy’s pa chopped it down. The dogs had stayed with thecoon despite the blizzard and being covered with ice. Nobody has seen dogs likethat. Billy won the gold cup and the money. He gave cups to his sisters and themoney to his mother.
Billy kept on hunting every night. One night a mountainlion attacked them. Old Dan attacked first. Little Ann went to help. Billyhacked 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’smother tried to sew up the dog. Just before Old Dan died he opened his eyes andlooked Billy. Billy made a box and buried Old Dan on the hill side. Little Anndid not eat after Old Dan died. Billy found her lying on her stomach on OldDan’s grave. She was dead.
Billy’s father told Billy that because of his dogs hewas able to go to school. The family was moving to the city. The followingspring they left. Billy wanted to see the graves last time before he left. Thehill side was growing wild brush and Billy took out his knife, intending to cutit down. Then he saw something he could not believe.
Between the graves of OldDan and Little Ann “a beautiful red fern had sprung up from the richmountain 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 theirtwo bodies. Only an angel could plant a red fern.
The spot was sacred. Billy’smother 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-byeOld Dan and Little Ann.
I’ll never forget you”.