TAHLEQUAH — "Where the Red Fern Grows,” a story about a boy and his dogs, was a novel, a movie and more recently served as inspiration for an annual festival that kicks off today in Tahlequah.
"It is a timeless story and appeals to everyone,” said Kate Young Kelly, Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce tourism director. "We should all be proud that one of our native sons authored ‘Where the Red Fern Grows.’” The Red Fern Festival, which won awards in 2007 and 2008 from the state Tourism and Recreation Department and the Oklahoma Travel Industry Association, continues through Saturday at Norris Park in downtown Tahlequah. The festival is based on the semi-autobiographical novel written by Wilson Rawls, who grew up in Scraper in Cherokee County and died in 1984 in Idaho. The book tells the story of Billy Coleman and his adventures with two redbone coonhound hunting dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann, in the Tahlequah area near the Illinois River. Old Dan dies after protecting Billy from an attack by a mountain lion, and Little Ann mourns the loss of Old Dan and dies beside his grave. As Billy and his family leave the family homestead, Billy visits his dogs’ final resting place and finds a red fern growing between the two graves. The story retells an Indian legend about a little girl and boy who were lost and froze to death in a blizzard. When they were found in the spring, a red fern was growing between their bodies. According to the legend, only angels can plant a red fern and wherever it grows is sacred. The book is in the curriculum of at least 50 percent of schools in the United States, and its popularity does not seem to be waning, Kelly said.