True Grit Summary
Meet Mattie Ross. She's a fourteen-year-old girl who likes One Direction, shopping at Hollister, and ponies.
J/K. Well, she does like ponies—but only if she's advising her dad to buy low and sell high. And when we meet Mattie, her dad Frank is doing just that, heading off to Fort Smith, Arkansas, to buy some ponies. He's traveling with his hired hand, Chaney, who makes a dumb move by gambling away his paycheck, getting drunk, and then deciding to go get his money back. By force. When Frank tries to stop this disaster, Chaney shoots and kills him.
Mattie hops on a train to Fort Smith, 70 miles from the Ross family home, to take care of her father's body and, more importantly, to get some dudes to help her track down Chaney. Specifically, she wants Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn, a mean US Marshall who shoots to kill. Perfect. He agrees; score! Unfortunately, a bossy Texas Ranger by the name of LaBoeuf (pronounced "LaBeef") has been tracking Chaney for years, and wants to keep tracking him with Rooster's help, but without Mattie's.
Just like Kate running after Jack and Sawyer, Mattie follows the two men into Indian Territory and nags them into letting her tag along. They learn that Lucky Ned Pepper's gang is planning to rob a train and that Chaney has teamed up with the gang. Score! They decide to spend the night in a hut, but it's already occupied—by two young men who are part of Pepper's gang. Double score! These two men kill each other while Mattie looks on, but not before giving up valuable information—Ned Pepper and the gang are planning on coming here to the dugout after they rob the passenger train.
Things are off to a good start, right? Too bad it all starts going downhill. Mattie, Rooster, and LaBoeuf wait in the woods to ambush the bandits, but LaBoeuf shoots prematurely. He kills Pepper's horse, but Ned Pepper and some of his gang dodge the bullets. Mattie and Co. plan to sneak up on them in their bandit stronghold in the Winding Stair Mountains. After a rocky climb, our avengers camp out in the mountains. The next morning, Mattie wakes up and walks down a hill to look for water—and comes face-to-face with her father's killer. When she threatens to shoot him if he doesn't come along, he laughs at her… so she shoots him in the side. (He stops laughing.)
Unfortunately, he isn't dead. Rooster and LaBoeuf show up to rescue her, but Lucky Ned Pepper and the other bandits make their appearance at the same time. They take Mattie hostage, promising to let her go safely if Rooster and LaBoeuf retreat. Rooster and LaBoeuf beat it, and Ned Pepper and his gang leave Mattie with Tom Chaney. He's supposed to deliver her to a safe place when it gets dark, with the threat that he won't get his share of the loot if anything happens to her.
Of course, Mattie's a sensible girl and doesn't trust this plan at all. She throws hot water at him, but he grabs her, hits her with his gun, and is just about to toss her into a snake-pit when LaBoeuf moseys on over to rescue her. Meanwhile Rooster is blocking Pepper's gang's exit from the mountains. A bloodbath ensues. Ned Pepper and most of his gang are killed, alone with Rooster's horse. Sad face.
While LaBoeuf is celebrating, Chaney bashes his skull in with a rock. Oops. Mattie shoots Chaney in the head, killing him but also falling backwards into the snake pit and breaking her left arm. Double oops. In the pit, she finds a man's skeleton … and a ball of snakes.
As Chaney taunts Mattie from the top of the crevice, Rooster shows up and … bashes his head in, of course. Chaney into the pit on top of the skeleton and wakes up the snakes. Smooth move, doofus. One of the snakes bites Mattie on the hand before Rooster and LaBoeuf can pull her out of the pit. Rooster rushes her off to a doctor, but it's too late: her left arm has to be amputated.
Fast-forward 50 years. Mattie never married, but she's an extremely successful businessperson. She never saw Rooster again; when she went to visit him, she found out that he'd died only a few days before. She also never heard from LaBoeuf again—but she hopes he'll read her story and hit her up.
You know what? We hope so too.
- True Grit is narrated in the first-person by a woman (who we soon learn is Mattie Ross).
- Some people don't believe that "a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood" (1.1). (Uh, like us.)
- But back in those days (the 1870s) it wasn't so strange.
- See, Mattie's Papa was shot and killed by a man named Tom Chaney in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Chaney also robbed Mattie's father of $150 and two gold pieces, a wedding present from Mattie's grandfather.
- Okay, okay, let's back up a little. See, Mattie and her family live on the Arkansas River in Yell County near Dardanelle, Arkansas. They own almost five hundred acres of good land, which means that life is pretty good for Mattie and her peeps.
- It's not so good for Tom Chaney, an unmarried twenty-five year-old with a strange black mark on his face. Mattie's father employs this guy as a hired hand around the farm, but Mattie doesn't think too much of him.
- In November Papa, Frank Ross, rides his horse Judy the seventy miles to Fort Smith to buy some ponies. Chaney badgers kindhearted Papa until he lets him come along.
- Papa pays a neighbor named Yarnell Poindexter to look after the family while he's away. (The guy's black. We wouldn't bother mentioning it, but the book seems to think it's important.)
- Papa and Chaney get a room at the Monarch boarding house in Fort Smith. Papa buys the ponies from a man named Colonel Stonehill and plans to leave the next morning.
- Meanwhile, Chaney goes to a bar and loses his paycheck playing cards. Ugh, hate when that happens slash we spend our allowance buying extra moves in Candy Crush.
- He goes back to the Monarch and drinks a bottle of whiskey. (Can you guess where this is going?) Soon enough, he gets his gun and starts talking the talk about how he was cheated and how he's heading back to the bar to get his money and blah blah blah.
- Papa's outside talking to some drummers (traveling salesman who "drum up" business) and tries to talk Chaney out of his bone-headed plan. Chaney shoots him and he dies.
- Well, that escalated quickly.
- Instead of doing anything useful like, we don't know, grabbing the guy, the drummers book it. Chaney disappears into the dark night.
- Since the family counsel Lawyer Daggett is away, Mattie takes the train with Yarnell to Fort Smith to take care of Papa's body.
- They've got company. The train is full of people headed to see a triple hanging. (Well, what else are you going to watch when The Bachelorette isn't on?)
- Mattie's got a long to-do list. She needs to see the sheriff, the undertaker, and the people at the Monarch boardinghouse where Papa was staying, but everybody is at the hanging. Slackers.
- Turns out, Yarnell wants to see it, too. So, off goes Mattie to the triple hanging.
- Two of the men on the platform with nooses around their necks are white and the other is Indian.
- First, a preacher leads the men to sing "Amazing Grace" and then each man says his final words.
- Mattie watches as trap doors open on the platform and the nooses tighten on the men's necks.
- The two white men die right away but it takes the Indian about half an hour to die. We feel like this might be symbolic.
- Great. Now that's taken care of, Mattie and Yarnell head off to the undertaker's to see about Papa's body.
- Mattie identifies the body and then pays the bill for the embalming, the coffin, and shipping back home. Yarnell wants her to haggle over the bill but she won't.
- Check. Next, they hit up the sheriff. There, Mattie learns that a man who sounds like Chaney, but is being identified as "Chambers" is in Indian Territory slash Oklahoma.
- Word is, he's with Lucky Ned Pepper and some other thugs who just robbed a mail carrier, which is a big no-no. They're wanted by federal agents.
- Mattie tells the sheriff Chaney's real name and says she'll go talk to the federal marshals. She also seems super interested in finding out who the best marshal is.
- (What's that? Need to brush up on your U.S. Marshall history? Marshalls are law enforcement officers who deal with anything federal—and back in the day, they were pretty much the only lawmen in town. You can read about them at their very own website.)
- After hearing that Rooster Cogburn is "[t]he meanest" marshal (2.37), Mattie decides to hunt him up to help her go after Chaney.
- The sheriff gives Mattie Papa's gun. By that time, it's about 5:30 in the afternoon and already dark.
- Mattie sees Yarnell off at the train station and informs him she's staying in Fort Smith for a couple of days. Yarnell is all, like, "Um, maybe that's not such a good idea …," but he can't exactly stop her. (Would you even try?)
- Mattie makes it to the Monarch boarding house in time for supper, where Mrs. Floyd gives her Papa's things. Since the rooms are all full because of the hanging, Mrs. Floyd rents Mattie the other half of Grandmother Turner's bed.
- Grandma Turner is a cover-stealer, of course. Mattie gives it a good fight but ultimately falls asleep cold, wrapped in her father's blanket and jacket.
- Day two of Mattie's journey of vengeance.
- In the morning, Mattie heads straight to the Federal courthouse, where she learns that Rooster Cogburn will be there later to give testimony at a trial.
- Mattie goes to check on the ponies that her father bought from some dude named Stonehill. She haggles with him until he agrees to buy back the ponies, the grey horse that belonged to Tom Chaney, and to pay her for Papa's horse Judy, since Judy was stolen while at his barn. She gets him to agree to $325—mostly so she'll stop bugging him.
- Fourteen-year-olds, right??
- After a nap in Stonehill's barn, she goes back to the courthouse.
- It's the trial of a man named Odus Wharton. She sees Rooster—he's a hefty, one-eyed man about forty years old who looks a lot like Grover Cleveland, mustache and all.
- Mattie listens as Rooster is cross-examined by Odus Wharton's lawyer, Lawyer Goudy.
- Here's the story.
- On November second, Rooster and Deputy Marshall Potter are on their way back to Fort Smith with a wagonload of prisoners when they hear that Tom Spotted-Gourd and his wife have been shot.
- They drive out to the ranch and find the wife dead and Tom dying. Tom tells Rooster that Odus and C.C. Wharton shot them and stole their money.
- Rooster and Potter give chase and find Odus, C.C., and their father Aaron roasting a pig on their mother's farm. (Their mom is Indian, because this is relevant. Of course.)
- Rooster tells Aaron he wants to talk to Odus and C.C., so obviously Aaron threatens Rooster with an axe. Then the guns come out.
- When it's all over, C.C. and Aaron are dead and Odus wounded.
- Rooster arrests Odus and finds the stolen money. Marshall Potter dies six days later, leaving a wife and six kids. Yikes.
- Mattie also learns that in his four years as a marshal, Rooster has killed twenty-six men. (You can practically hear the wheels turning in her head when she finds out that little score.)
- After the trial, Mattie introduces herself to Rooster and tries to hire him to hunt down Chaney.
- She goes with him to the room he rents in Mr. Lee's store. They eat and haggle. Rooster starts drinking and he and Lee play cards. At one point, Mattie falls asleep. Drunk, Rooster wakes her and shoots a rat right there in the room, because apparently people do stupid things when they get drunk in this book slash life.
- The next day, Mattie is sick and she stays in bed two days. She finally gets her butt out of bed (she's got a father to avenge, after all) and heads down to dinner, where she meets a good-looking Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (pronounced LaBeef), who's about thirty years old.
- Turns out he's hunting Chaney too, since Chaney killed a senator and there is a big reward for his capture. Oh, and he says Chaney's real name is Theron Chelmsford.
- LaBoeuf wants to go with Mattie and Rooster on their hunt, but Mattie's afraid that LaBoeuf will take Chaney alive and that some judge will let him go free.
- Ugh, judges.
- When LaBoeuf says he'll talk to Rooster about it, Mattie lies and says Rooster is out of town.
- LaBoeuf tells Mattie he wanted to kiss her earlier (uh … how about that 15-year age difference?), but now he wants to whip her with his belt.
- Nuh-huh, she says. She doesn't know how they do it in Texas, but Arkansas doesn't let men hit women.
- He says, "You push that saucy line too far" (4.74). She says, "I have no regard for you" (4.75).
- Basically, they're totally flirting, and LaBoeuf walks away mad.
- Day Five of Mattie's hunt for Tom Chaney.
- The next morning, Mattie gets a letter from Lawyer Daggett and a release from liability to give to Stonehill so he'll give her the cash for the horses.
- Blah blah lawyer talk. What this means is that she can go to Stonehill and get her three hundred and twenty-five bucks.
- Flush with cash, she hits up Rooster. It's ten AM but he's still in bed. (Um, is that not totally normal? So?)
- Mattie agrees to pay Rooster a hundred bucks to help her hunt Chaney, but then they almost get into a fight when Mattie demands to come with Rooster and he demands she stay behind.
- After Mattie helps Rooster fill out his expense sheets—which he needs to get paid—he warms to her and agrees to let her come.
- She goes back to Stonehill's and buys one of the ponies from him for fifteen dollars. She names him Little Blackie, trains him to be ridden (that was fast), and then heads back to Rooster's all ready to ride off for some revenge.
- But LaBoeuf beat her there.
- When Rooster hears that there's a big reward for Chaney, he decides to let LaBoeuf come along. Then, LaBoeuf convinces Rooster not to let Mattie come.
- Furious, Mattie asks Rooster to give back the twenty-five dollar advance, but it's already spent. (Gee, wonder on what?)
- After Mattie cools off, she refocuses on her goal: kill Tom Chaney.
- She packs her stuff and spends the night in Stonehill's barn, then she sets off on Blackie after Rooster and LaBoeuf.
- Now might be a good time to flip to the front of your book and check on that title, because we're talking grit. First, Mattie waits for them on the ferry—and they have her remove.
- Then she rides Blackie across the river into Indian Territory. She sees Rooster and LaBoeuf and follows them. And follows them. And follows them.
- Eventually she loses sight of them, and—surprise!—they ambush her, with LaBoeuf whipping her on the leg with a tree branch. Ouch.
- Rooster has had just about enough of this and threatens to shoot him if he doesn't stop. It all ends happily and they ride off together in silence.
- Our merry band of adventurers rides on and on until they come to a store on the river.
- After a meal, they take the ferry across the river.
- From the store owner, Rooster learns that Lucky Ned Pepper has been spotted at McAlester's store near the M.K. & T. Railroad.
- McAlester's is fifty miles away. NBD. They'll ride fifteen more miles tonight and then stop for the night.
- Day Six.
- The next morning, it's snowing. They ride all day, but it's no good: they're not going to make McAlester's before nightfall. Plan B: they'll stop at a dugout (rudimentary shelter) Rooster knows about.
- What's this? There's smoke coming from the dugout chimney.
- Rooster knocks on the door, and the man inside says they don't have any room.
- LaBoeuf uses Rooster's deerskin jacket to cover the chimney, i.e. smoke out the inhabitants. Cough cough.
- The door opens and the man inside shoots off his shotgun. Rooster recognizes him as Emmett Quincy and threatens him with arrest. Quincy admits that it's only him and a young man named Moon in the dugout. Moon has been shot in the leg.
- Inside the cabin Rooster interrogates the men. Quincy says he doesn't know the outlaw Ned, but Rooster promises Moon medical treatment in exchange for telling what he knows.
- When Moon asks Mattie why she's here, she explains that she's hunting Tom Chaney, the man who killed her father. And she offers to get Moon a lawyer if he tells what he knows.
- Well, a lawyer and a doctor is a pretty good deal, so Moon finally admits he saw Ned two days ago.
- But before he can tell the rest, Quincy chops off four of Moon's fingers, Rooster shoots Quincy, and pretty soon 2/3rds of our characters are dead or dying. (It seems Quincy shot Moon in the chest as he was falling from Rooster's shot).
- Before he dies, Moon tells them that Ned Pepper is robbing the Katy Flyer at Wagoner's Switch. Moon doesn't know if Chaney is with them, but he does know that robbers are coming to the dugout tonight after the robbery.
- After Moon dies, Rooster finds Papa's gold piece in Quincy's pocket.
- Dun dun dun.
Chapter 6, Part 2
- LaBoeuf hides on one side of the ridge near the dugout, and Mattie and Rooster camp out on the other side.
- Late in the night, six robbers ride up. Rooster points out Haze, Lucky Ned Pepper, and The Original Greaser Bob.
- Cool names, bros.
- When he realizes something funny is going on, Ned fires three shots in the air. A gunfight ensues. Here's the scoreboard:
- LaBoeuf kills Ned's horse and some rando.
- Rooster kills Haze and wounds Bob.
- Ned cuts the robbery loot from his horse and runs, leaving the loot in the woods for our merry band to find later.
- A robber shoots LaBoeuf in the arm, but Mattie bandages it up all nice and then makes coffee.
- The next morning, our gang transports a bunch of dead bodies to McAlester's store, arriving at 10 in the morning.
- Rooster tries to leave Mattie behind at McAlester's store, but LaBoeuf says she's earned the right to come along. Awww.
- They ride for fifty miles up into the Winding Stair Mountains. Rooster drinks whiskey from a bottle as they ride, because what else are you going to do, play your 3DS?
- At midnight they stop "some four miles from Lucky Ned Pepper's bandit stronghold" (7.581).
- They scarf some grub, and Mattie zonks out.
- Day Seven.
- They wake just before sunrise and have some coffee. (Hopefully cowboy coffee.)
- Mattie walks down the steep hill to look for water, carrying Papa's gun in the water bucket. There's some splashing, and she sees a man and some horses on the other side of a little creek.
- Who is the man?
- Who do you think, you big dummies? (JK, love you.) "That man was none other than Tom Chaney!" (7.4)
- Chaney sees and recognizes Mattie. He aims his shotgun at her, then grins and puts it over his shoulder.
- Now it's Mattie's turn to aim a gun. She tells him he can either come back to Fort Smith with her, or she'll shoot him.
- He thinks this is hi-larious, right up until she shoots him in the side. Then he's just mad.
- Mattie hears Rooster and LaBoeuf call out to her and she calls back to them.
- Chaney tries to grab a big piece of wood, and Mattie tries to shoot him again but her gun won't fire. Her percussion caps were bad or something—don't ask us.
- Chaney throws the wood at Mattie, knocks her down, then runs across the stream to smack her around a little before hauling her back across the creek, grabbing two horses as he runs.
- As LaBoeuf and Rooster are running down the hill on one side of the creek, Lucky Ned Pepper and The Original Greaser Bob are running down the hill on the other side of the creek.
- It's all very exciting. There's some shooting and horse-grabbing, and then Ned throws Mattie on the ground and puts his boot to her neck. He yells down to Rooster and LaBoeuf that they have five minutes to get to the northwest ridge and show themselves retreating or Mattie gets it.
- Rooster agrees and Ned takes Mattie higher up the mountain to the bandits' camp on a rock ledge. Two more robbers, Harold and Farrell Permalee are up there.
- Soon, Rooster and LaBoeuf appear on the northwest ridge, show themselves, and retreat.
- Mattie is Not Happy that they've abandoned her.
- Ned gives each man his share of the plunder, then says that he, Bob, and the Permalee brothers will ride on to a hideout.
- Chaney will stay at the camp with Mattie until nightfall, then take her to a place she can stay overnight with somebody to take her to McAlester's store in the morning. Oh, and Chaney will only get paid if Mattie is safe.
- Uh-huh. Great plan, guys.
Chapter 7, Part 2
- Mattie has about the same idea, since as soon as she's alone with Chaney she throws hot water on his face.
- Chaney grabs her, smacks her with his gun, and is about to throw her down into an opening in the rock when LaBoeuf comes on the scene, his gun aimed at Chaney.
- LaBoeuf, Mattie and Chaney walk until they see a trail leading down out of the mountain.
- They see the bandits below. Rooster is there too, blocking the bandits' path.
- He and Ned have words and Rooster charges the bandits, guns blazing. The two Permalee brothers are shot and killed. (Anyone keeping a body count?)
- Here's a quick rundown:
- The Original Greaser escapes.
- Rooster's horse is shot and killed, and he loses his gun and takes some shotgun shells to the face.
- Ned is all shot up, and is about to shoot Rooster.
- LaBoeuf shoots Ned from where he's watching the action with Mattie. Nice!
- Oops, put down the party hats. Right after the shot, Chaney takes a rock and bashes it against LaBoeuf's head, making him fall.
- Mattie shoots Tom in the head with Papa's gun and he dies. Victory! Now it's time for the party hats!
- Except not. The kick from the pistol sends Mattie falling into the pit behind her.
- The lower part of her body is stuck in a mossy hole. Her right arm is pinned against her, and her left arm is broken. She tries to break free but feels herself slipping lower.
- She realizes there are bats below her, and she's plugging their exit hole. Eek.
- Wanting to wedge something against her to keep her from slipping down lower she grabs (with her broken arm) at a man's shirt she sees in the hole.
- Eek again, because it turns out that there's a skeleton inside the shirt.
- And inside that shirt is a ball of sleeping rattlesnakes.
- Again with the true grit, because our Mattie manages to break off an arm bone from the skeleton, use part of it as a wedge under her right armpit, and then use the other part to try to ward of the snakes that are waking up.
- She cries out for help and hears … Tom Chaney! He's alive! Curses!
- Chaney taunts her, right up until Rooster comes up behind him and bashes his head in with his rifle.
- Chaney falls into the pit, right on top of the skeleton, letting loose all the snakes.
- Pro: he's dead for sure this time.
- Con: Mattie is bit on the hand.
Chapter 7, Part 3
- Rooster ties a rope around his waist and climbs down into the pit. Mattie holds on to him, and LaBoeuf uses Little Blackie to pull them up to safety.
- Rooster shoots snakes as they ascend and it's all very Snakes in a Pit.
- Rooster leaves LaBoeuf to guard the scene and then rides like a maniac to get Mattie to a doctor.
- He wears Little Blackie out—literally. Blackie dies along the way, and it's super sad.
- Finally, they reach Fort Smith at dark, and Mattie gets to a doctor.
- She is semi-conscious for several days. On the third day (day ten of Mattie's journey) her arm is amputated above the elbow.
- Mattie never sees Rooster again, though she hears about him from time to time.
- In May of 1903 Mattie hears that Rooster will be performing in a Wild West show in Memphis, Tennessee.
- She takes the train to visit him but she's too late. He died just a few days ago of "a disorder he called 'night hoss'" (7.331). He was believed to be sixty-eight years old.
- Mattie has his body moved to Dardanelle and buried in her family's plot.
- Oh, and Mattie? She never married but stayed at home to take care of her mother and lean in to becoming a wealthy businesswoman.
- She hasn't seen LaBoeuf, who is now probably almost eighty years old, but hopes that if he reads he will get in touch with her, XOXO.
- And then we end: "This ends my true account of how I avenged Frank Ross' blood over in the Choctaw Nation" (7.337)