Pulling Goodenow out from the pool of blood, the Bedwetters rinse off in a nearby pond. In the darkness they have difficulty understanding the layout of the pens and the gates. Cotton tells the other five boys that someone will have to crawl down the catwalk to scope out the pens. While the boys argue over who should cross the narrow catwalk, with the intimidating buffalo below, they suddenly realize Lally two has disappeared, and cite his tendency to escape from such situations. However, much to their surprise, he has already scaled the ladder and started to inch across the catwalk. Cotton also decides to climb up to the catwalk, and the others follow him, as they usually do when he sets an example. In the view afforded by a break in the clouds, the boys see the buffalo in their enormous magnificence. Cotton thinks aloud about the process of releasing the buffalo, and attempts to motivate the petrified Bedwetters to action. Cotton releases the gates and attempts to channel the animals through and out of the pens; however, rather than escaping out the door, they rush back into their original pen, leaving Cotton extremely frustrated.
While the group becomes discouraged and whiny, Cotton calls for "bump time" to attempt to formulate a new plan of action. He proposes that they throw their flashlights, radios, and hats to scare and encourage the buffalo in the right direction and out of the pens, reassuring Lally two that they will run away from, not toward, the boys. They once again release the bolts, and follow up by throwing objects toward the buffalo. The buffalo escape the pens. While the boys watch in awe and wonder, the buffalo run free across the fields.
Ecstatic about their accomplishment, the Bedwetters celebrate the freeing of the buffalo. Cotton, having saved three little bottles of whiskey from the flight on the airline in the beginning of the summer, shares them now with the five boys. Despite the horrible taste, all six Bedwetters prove their ability to drink the whiskey. Shecker begins to perform a "buffalo dance," and the others, whether as a result of their high spirits, the whiskey, or some combination of the two, follow suit. Cotton, however, remains still and in thought. He realizes the futility of their accomplishment, as the buffalo have remained nearby, where the shooters could easily catch them once again. Mobilizing the boys to action, he adopts a plan to use hay to lure the buffalo toward the "Judas truck," which had been initially used to bring them to the preserve, and, with Teft at the wheel, to drive them over to Mogollon Rim to release them to true freedom.
With the beginning of Chapter 13, Swarthout brings the reader back to the present circumstances, after having shifted between present and past several times. These shifts allow Swarthout to insert italicized passages expanding upon each character's personality and background. Because each of the Bedwetters has such distinct and complex emotional problems, these passages provide information essential to an understanding of their behavior in the novel. Swarthout also employs this technique for dramatic effect, and introduces the novel with Cotton's dreams about the killings leaves the reader curious about this powerful account. Swarthout then works backward to inform you of the details of the plot. Confusing at times, the appeal of this style lies in its similarity to a puzzle in which the pieces gradually and powerfully fall together. Critics often say that Swarthout's style often borders on the cinematic. Certainly this novel's structure, tone, and descriptions may translate well to on-screen flashbacks, Western scenery, and dialogue.
Swarthout continues to use darkness and light to mark important moments in the Bedwetters' mission. When they enter the pens, for example, and hover above the beasts on the catwalk, complete darkness surrounds them. When some light does in fact enter the shelter, the beautiful, massive buffaloes come into view. The boys halt their activities and gaze in awe and reverence at the creatures. Thus light comes to signify truth and awakening not only to violence, but also to beauty and respect.
In Chapter 13, as the Bedwetters enter the preserve, they comment on the silence of the night. Swarthout writes, "The next day's shooters slept well. From far out on the preserve an eerie requiem went up, and they got goosebumps. It was coyotes, howling soul." As he has in other chapters of the book, Swarthout here draws a distinction between the Bedwetters' outcry at the injustice of such a practice and the shooters', and the larger society's, lack of moral conscience. That the shooters slept well implies that they found no problem with, and experienced no hesitation about, the killings, while the Bedwetters had become physically ill and emotionally disturbed as a result of witnessing them. Swarthout also hints at man's particular cruelty by writing of the coyotes' "eerie requiem." He implies that the Bedwetters and the other creatures of nature have a far greater understanding of the preciousness of a buffalo's life than does the society at large.
Of the many personal and collective transformations the Bedwetters undergo in the course of the novel, the characters' tendency to work as a team becomes one of the most important. While at the beginning of the novel, the boys complain and fight about whom must perform certain duties, by the end, they fight over their profound desire to contribute to the group, each eager to demonstrate his ability and commitment to the group. This change in behavior has resulted in large part because of Cotton's approach to the adventure. For example, Lally two's behavior at the buffalo preserve represents the pinnacle of his transformation as a character. Tentative, insecure, and needy throughout the story, Lally two never volunteers his efforts until this scene, in which he scales the catwalk as soon as Cotton mentions the need for the completion of that task. The other Bedwetters, automatically assuming Lally two has taken off to run and escape from the situation, become quite shocked to see him high in the air instead.