Synopses & Reviews
We called him Old Yeller. The name had a sort of double meaning. One part meant that his short hair was a dingy yellow, a color that we called "yeller" in those days, The other meant that when he opened his head, the sound he let out came closer to being a yell than a bark.
He came in the late 1860's, the best I remember. Anyhow, it was the year that Papa and a bunch of other Salt Licks settlers formed a "pool herd" of their little separate bunches of steers and trailed them to the new cattle market at Abilene, Kansas.
This was to get "cash money," a thing that all Texans were short of in those years right after the Civil War. We lived then in a new country and a good one. As Papa pointed out the day the men talked over making the drive, we had plenty of grass, wood, and water. We bad wild game for the killing, fertile ground for growing bread corn, and the Indians had been put onto reservations with the return of U.S. soldiers to the Texas forts.
"In fact," Papa wound up, "all we lack having a tight tail-bolt on the world is a little cash money. And we can get that at Abilene."
Well, the idea sounded good, but some of the men still hesitated. Abilene was better than six hundred miles north of the Texas bill country we lived in. It would take months for the men to make the drive and ride back home. And all that time the womenfolks and children of Salt Licks would be left in awild frontier settlement to make out the best they could.
Still, they needed money, and they realized that whatever a man does, he's bound to take some risks. So they talked it over with each other and with their women and decided it was the thing to do. They told their folks what to do in case the Indians came off the reservation or the coons got to eating the corn or the !)cars got to killing too many hogs. Then they gathered their cattle, burned a trail brand on their hips, and pulled out on the long trail to Kansas.
Papa got through loving up Mama and Little Arliss and mounted his horse. I looked up at him. He motioned for me to come along. So I walked beside his horse down the trail that led under the big liveoaks and past the spring.
When he'd gotten out of hearing of the house, Papa reached down and put a hand on my shoulder.
"Now, Travis," he said, "you're getting to be a big boy; and while I'm gone, you'll bethe man of the family, I want you to act like one. You take care of Mama and Little Arliss. You look after the work and don't wait around for your mama to point out what needs to be done. Think you can do that?"
"Yessir," I said.
"Now, there's the cows to milk and wood to cut and young pigs to mark and fresh meat to shoot. But mainly there's the corn patch. If you don't work it right or if you let the varmints eat up the roasting ears, we'll be without bread corn for the winter."
"Yessir," I said.
"All right, boy. I'll be seeing you this fall."
Suddenly I remembered and went running down the trail after him, calling for him to wait.
He pulled up his horse and twisted around in the saddle. "Yeah, boy," he said. "What is it?"
"That horse," I said.
"What horse?" he said, like he'd never heard me mention it before. "You mean you're wanting a horse?"
"Now, Papa," I complained. "You know I've been aching all over for a horse to ride. I've told you time and again."
"What you're needing worse than a horse is a good dog."
"Yessir," I said, "but a horse is what I'm wanting the worst...
A stray dog is befriended by a family of poor farmers in 1869 Texas.
When a novel like Huckleberry Finn, or The Yearling, comes along it defies customary adjectives because of the intensity of the respouse it evokes in the reader. Such a book, we submit, is Old Yeller; to read this eloIquently simple story of a boy and his dog in the Texas hill country is an unforgettable and deeply moving experience.
The big, ugly, yellow dog showed up out of nowhere one night and stole a whole side of hanging pork, and when Travis went for him the next morning that dog started yelling like a baby before he was touched. Then he got into the spring water with five-year-old Arliss, Travis took an easy hate to Old Yeller, as they started to call him; in fact, he would have driven him off or killed him if it hadn't been for brother Arliss' loud and violent protests, So Yeller stayed, and Travis soon found he couldn't have got along without him.
Pa and Ma and Travis and Arliss lived on Birdsong Creek in the Texas hill country. It wasn't an easy life, but they had a snug cabin that Pa had built himself, and they had their own hogs and their own cattle, and they grew most of what else they needed. The only thing they and the rest of the settlers lacked that year in the late 1860's was cash, so the men decided to get together and drive all the cattle up to the new market in Abilene, Kansas, more than six hundred miles away.
Travis was only fourteen, but he was proud of his new role as man of the family and determined to live up to his responsibility. It was hard work, too, plowing until his legs ached, chopping wood until his hands were raw and his head was spinning, weeding the garden in the hot sun, toting the heavy buckets tip from the spring, and trying to keep his mischievous little brother in line.
But there were pleasant moments, too: his Ma treating him like a man, and deer hunting in the early-morning stillness, and hot summer nights out in the corn patch under the stars with Old Yeller, trying to keep the coons and skunks out of the winter food supply. And there was plenty of excitement, like the fight between the two bulls, and the time Arliss nearly got mauled by the bear, and trying to catch and mark the new hogs. Here the suspense and excitement reach a peak, only to be topped a few pages later when the crazy-sick loafer wolf goes for Ma. Both times it is Yeller who saves them, only the second time it is not lucky for Yeller, as Travis comes to find out. And in finding out, Travis learns just how much he has come to love that big ugly dog, and he learns something about the pain of life, too.
Old Yeller is a story that will be read and treasured by many thousands for years to come. In a shorter form, this has appeared as a three-part serial in Collier's.
About the Author
With Old Yeller,
Fred Gipson secured his place as one of the finest novelists in America. The book was published to instant acclaim and has become one of the most beloved children's classics ever written. Since its publication in 1956, Old Yeller
has won countless awards, including the 1957 Newbery Honor. Mr. Gipson's other works include both fiction and non-fiction. He grew up in the Texas hill country and died in 1973.
With Old Yeller,Fred Gipsin secured his place as one of thr finest novelists in America. The book was published to instant acclaim and has become one of the most beloved children's classics ever written. Since its publication in 1956, Old Yellerhas won countless awards, including the 1957 Newbery Honor. Mr. Gipson's other works include both fiction and non-fiction. He grew up in the Texas hill country and died in 1973.