Wilson Rawls was born in the Ozark Mountains, which spread out over eastern Oklahoma and Western Arkansas, on September 24, 1913. Like his character Billy, Rawls spent a lot of time during his childhood exploring the nearby hills, accompanied by his hound. He loved to tell hound stories, even though he did not read a proper book until he was in high school. When he grew up, it was only natural for him to write novels. At one point he threw away his manuscripts, but his wife made him write them out again. Rawls was ashamed because he had a poor command of grammar, but his wife edited the books, and both Where the Red Fern Grows (1961) and The Summer of the Monkeys (1976) became great successes. Rawls died in 1984, in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Where the Red Fern Grows concerns a boy who buys and trains a pair of coonhounds. ("Coon" is short for raccoon.) Raccoons are considered pests by farmers, because they steal food; but they are also very clever creatures, and so it became a sport to train hound dogs to catch raccoons. Coon hunting is done at night because raccoons are nocturnal--they sleep during the day and move around at night. The dogs enter the woods and explore until they catch the scent of a coon's trail. They then begin to bark and follow the trail. The coon will try to shake the hounds off its path. To do this, it can jump in a river and cross at any point on the opposite bank. After all, nothing leaves a scent in water. This is only the most common of many ways for a coon to trick a dog.
For a dog to catch a coon, it has to chase the coon until the coon runs up a tree and is stuck. Then the dog makes a special howl that tells its master it has "treed" a coon. The master comes and shoots the coon off the tree or chops down the tree so that the hounds can catch and kill the coon. These actions and others associated with coon hunting were intimately familiar to Rawls, and they form the backbone of Where the Red Fern Grows.
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