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A Boy and His Dog

Looking earlier at \"Old Yeller\" and Texas author Fred Gipson. By Cynthia Pickens

I vividly remember reading Old Yeller through Fred Gipson as a 10- or 12-year-old.

Gipson’s descriptions of killer javelinas and wild hogs instilled a fear that has actually never subsided. The believed of rabid pets veering with my yard sent out shivers up my spine. Ns nodded mine head in expertise at Travis’ irritation with his pesky younger sibling. And while ns did not have actually a dog, I might appreciate the strong bond in between Travis and Old Yeller.

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But the last scene, when Travis was compelled to make a disastrous decision to keep his family members safe, left me in tears and awe. As a kid, can I do such a heart-wrenching decision, and then follow through with it? In mine heart, i was pretty certain I would certainly fall quick at such a moment.

With an avid 12-year-old reader in my home now, I have actually been trying out young adult fiction in the past couple of years. I made decision to reread Old Yeller. Forty years later, these facets of the story still was standing out, yet the book’s setup and details do the story more remarkable because that me now.

Gipson filling every page with facts and descriptions of the Texas Hill Country. Collection in the years adhering to the civil War, the publication portrays a beautiful and bountiful landscape filled with danger and challenges to overcome.

As a lifelong nature observer, Gipson paints images with his words the must have actually come from personal experience. In one scene, Travis sits under a tree when deer hunting, enthralled by 2 squirrels playing chase. Travis’ reaction when he point out the doe echoes my husband’s hunting stories:

“She preserved doing me that way till ultimately my heart to be flopping approximately inside my chest choose a catfish in a wet sack,” Gipson writes. “I could feel my muscle tightening up all over. I knew climate that i couldn’t wait any longer. It was either shoot or bust broad open, so i whipped mine gun up to my shoulder.”

Travis then reflects on the ethics of shooting and also injuring a creature.

Descriptions of bat caves, prickly pear flats, raccoons steal corn, herons nesting in trees while catfish lurk in pools underneath, and also the intricacies of cow, dog and hog behavior can have actually been written just by someone who had actually spent many hours hunting, fishing, exploring and observing.

A indigenous Texan born in 1908 and raised top top a ranch close to Mason, Gipson helped his parents and siblings lug in crops and also put food ~ above the table, follow to his biography, Fred Gipson, Texas Storyteller, by Mike Cox. Regularly in the evenings, the family members sat top top the former porch informing stories about hunting, fishing and also animals.


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dog were constantly a part of Hill nation native Fred Gipson\"s life.

It should come together no surprise that Gipson had actually dogs growing up, consisting of one referred to as Old Misery, who appeared to have one personality trait in usual with Old Yeller, according to Cox: a penchant because that stealing food. Gipson take it his dog so seriously the his mom was pertained to that that would thrive up come be simply “a hound-dog man.” She needn’t have worried.

Some that Gipson’s outdoor education and learning came from trailing after a bachelor neighbor called Charlie Sanders, who was the inspiration for his an initial novel, Hound-Dog Man. Gipson pursued raccoons and also deer, and spent a great deal of time fishing.

After graduation from high school, Gipson functioned as a cowboy, a bookkeeper, a mule-skinner and a road construction worker. Through the arrival of the Depression, it ended up being increasingly complicated to make a living. After seven years that scraping by, Gipson decided to enroll at the college of Texas at Austin, where his younger brother was a student.

In his freshman English class, he began putting his country stories down on record with part success. The next year, that enrolled in journalism courses, and also in 1935, his an initial published story showed up in the UT college student newspaper, the Daily Texan.

He left UT in 1937 for a project with the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, and spent the next three years traveling Texas, observing and also writing about its people and also ways for the Harte-Hanks newspaper chain. Follow me the way he met and married a san Angelo girl named Tommie Wynn.

Shortly after their honeymoon, and also with his wife already pregnant, Gipson to be fired. Rather of tracking down another job, he determined to embark ~ above a freelance writing career. The pair retreated to his family’s ranch close to Mason. Prior to too long, he began selling Western stories to magazines, able to carry authenticity come the story by drawing on his understanding of Texas history and culture.

Gipson’s first book was released in 1946, a biography of Col. Zack Miller. Number of novels followed, consisting of Hound-Dog Man. His an initial children’s book, The Trail-Driving Rooster, come out in 1955.

But it was his 2nd children’s publication that sealed Gipson’s place in literature history. In the fall of 1955, Gipson sent out a questions letter to his publisher pitching a book about a boy and his dog, based upon a story told come him through his grandfather, Cox says. Gipson feeling that many children’s publications of the time were too sweet, and also needed a dose of realism. His story would “show life as it was and not as civilization thought it have to be,” Cox writes. Gipson received the go-ahead.


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A statue of Old Yeller and also Travis sits external the Mason library.

The book, initially titled Big Yeller Dog, took 3 months come complete and was received enthusiastically by both his agent and publisher. Disney to buy movie rights before the publication had also hit the bookstores, and on-paper earnings were end $100,000. Gipson was 48 year old.

The Disney folks rental Gipson to help write the manuscript for the movie, his an initial screenwriting gig. He flew out to California come work, but was homesick, in ok health and also unhappy there. That couldn’t wait come get ago home come Mason.

Disney studio staff tried come make alters to the story, many notably come the ending. They believed it was also harsh. Walt Disney, who had actually been monitoring the progression of the script, decreed that the movie would finish like the book. Follow to Gipson’s note on the screenwriting experience, he included a runaway mule step to change the book’s bull-fighting scene, which would be too daunting to film.

Old Yeller to be played by a dog named Spike, who was uncovered at the Humane Society. A close viewing the the movie reveals pine trees wherein there shouldn’t be any; the movie to be filmed mostly in California, before the work of the Texas movie industry.

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While the movie lugged Gipson’s story come a broader audience, the publication paints the truest portrait of a time and also place. (But then, I constantly think the book is better than its movie incarnation.)

All told, Gipson published 12 publications (some posthumously), 150 magazine stories and also many newspaper columns, together with book reviews, screenplays and television scripts. Whatever he created reflected his root in the Texas Hill Country.

His was a unique gift: the ability to accurately and humorously portray the feel of a place and also its people. Civilization all over the world saw an exact picture the rural life in central Texas after ~ the polite War v his informing of a an easy and universal story — the story of a boy and also his dog.

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