Literature: Old Yeller

"Old Yeller was a hunter,
a rearin', tearin' hunter.
In any chase, he knew just how to run!
And when he got in trouble,
he always found it double,
and that's when Old Yeller had fun!"
—from the opening credits of Disney's Film of the Book

Old Yeller is a 1956 book by Fred Gipson about a boy and a stray dog in post-American Civil War Texas, later made into a Walt Disney film in 1957. 15-year-old Travis Coates has enough responsibility taking care of his mother, little brother Arliss, and the family farm while his father goes away on a cattle drive. Then the wilderness blows a stray "yeller" dog into his life whom he initially takes a strong dislike to... until Old Yeller saves Arliss from a Mama Bear (kids shouldn't play with bear cubs). The two become inseparable partners, hunting and facing the dangers of The Wild West together. Then a rabid wolf comes along...

Warning, this page has Spoilers, but most people already know what they are.


The novel and highly faithful Disney film contain examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: In the book, Travis shoots Yeller immediately after the fight with the wolf, knowing he will inevitably contract rabies, and the scene takes up less than a page. In the film, he delays the inevitable for two weeks, hoping Yeller won't become rabid, and shoots him only when it's clear that he has.
  • All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game": Old Yeller doesn't make it to the end of the film.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Little Arliss.
  • Bittersweet Ending
  • A Boy and His X: A boy and his dog.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Arliss at times.
  • Coming-of-Age Story
  • Cub Cues Protective Parent/Bears Are Bad News: Arliss plays around with and tries to catch a bear cub, resulting is a rather displeased mother bear showing up. This bear might have killed Arliss had not Yeller been there to fight the bear off.
  • Death by Newbery Medal
  • Determined Homesteader's Wife: She cooks and cleans, works the farm, is able to handle a gun, settles disputes between Travis and Arliss, and doesn't bat an eye at stitching a wound shut.
  • Disappeared Dad: Not dead, but gone on a cattle drive until the end of the story. This means Travis is the man of the house until he returns.
  • Disneyfication: While not the most dramatic it still has an element. Movie Yeller is at least confirmed to have gotten it and it seems humane, Book Yeller is put down immediately before any onset, forever not knowing. (while it was likely, the possibility of what if could certainly cause more anguish to Travis and the reader alike)
  • The Film of the Book
  • Go Look at the Distraction: Mom asks Arliss to get her a horned toad, so he won't be present while she's dressing the injury that a boar gave to Old Yeller.
  • Happily Adopted: Non-human example. Old Yeller is so ingrained into the family that by the time his rightful owner shows up, even he sees that Old Yeller is better off with them than with him.
  • The Hero Dies: Old Yeller himself at the end.
  • Heroic Dog
  • "I Am" Song: "Here, Yeller... Come back, Yeller... Best doggone dog in the West..."
  • Manly Tears: Yes, it's entirely permissible for grown men to cry at the ending.
  • Mercy Kill: Wow, is every trope about Old Yeller about the ending?
  • Mood Whiplash: Poor Yeller, having to be shot for contracting rabies... Hey, look! Papa has come home!
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Old Yeller protects the family from a rabid wolf, only for him to turn rabid as a result of getting bitten. The family is forced to put him down.
  • Promotion to Parent: Travis.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Downplayed somewhat, but still present. Being able to "man up" and shoot his faithful companion Old Yeller to protect others from being infected by rabies is portrayed as Travis's introduction to the realities of adult responsibility.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Savage Sam.
  • Savage Wolves: The Downer Ending is brought about by a rabid wolf whom Yeller fights and drives away from the family, contracting rabies himself.
  • Shoot the Dog: Trope Namer present and accounted for, sir!
  • The So-Called Coward: Old Yeller.
  • Spin-Offspring: Savage Sam: Son of Old Yeller — also filmed by Disney, although deviating more strongly from its novel than the first film did.
  • Zombie Infectee: This is why they need to Shoot the Dog, substituting "rabies" (or "hydrophobia" as it was called in both book and movie) for "zombie".