Billy Coleman is 10 and growing up in the Ozarks. He wants to own some Redbone Coonhounds but can't afford them. He works for 2 years until he has enough money to get them. He trains them so well that he enters into several competitions. They win money for the family. In a freak meeting with a mountain lion, Old Dan (one of the dogs) is mortally wounded. Little Ann (other dog) dies several days after that. Billy is heartbroken, but with the money that he's won the family can move to a better home in town. Before he leaves the mountains he goes to visit the dogs' graves and a red fern is growing there. Legend has it that only an angel can plant one, so it comforts him as he and his family begin their new life.