True Grit | Study Guide

Charles Portis

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True Grit | Chapter 6 | Summary



Late on the first day of their journey Mattie, Rooster, and LaBoeuf arrive at Bagby's general store. Rooster questions Bagby about Ned Pepper. Mrs. Bagby is a Native American who speaks "good English" and is a Presbyterian, which Mattie finds surprising in an "Indian woman." Rooster learns Ned Pepper had been seen "three days earlier at McAlester's store on the M.K. & T. Railroad" in the company of a Mexican and a man named Haze. Rooster believes Chaney is still with Ned.

Mattie, Rooster, and LaBoeuf cross the Arkansas River on a ferry and head for McAlester's, 60 miles away. They set up camp at night. Rooster makes fun of Texas Rangers, and LaBoeuf takes it badly. Mattie is tired but treats the evening like an adventure, asking her companions if they would like to hear a ghost story. Rooster prepares for bed, circling himself with a rope to ward off snakes.

The trio breakfasts and rides off. When Rooster realizes they will not reach McAlester's before nightfall, he suggests they ride to a "dugout" he knows of. They find the dugout occupied, and Rooster calls out, saying he and two others seek shelter. The occupants refuse. Rooster recognizes the voice of Emmet Quincy, an associate of Ned Pepper's. LaBoeuf throws his coat over the chimney, and the occupants are forced to leave the dugout. In the melee Rooster shoots the other occupant, Moon, in the leg.

Rooster questions Moon and Emmet Quincy. Emmet refuses to talk but the injured Moon begins to weaken. Before Moon can talk, Quincy fatally stabs him, while at the same time Rooster shoots and kills Quincy. The dying Moon begs not to be left for the wolves; Rooster promises to bury him. He also promises to sell Moon's things ("traps") and give the money to his brother George Garrett. In a search of the dugout Rooster finds a California gold piece that had belonged to Mattie's father.

The three go outside to wait in ambush for Ned and his companions. Rooster wants to wait until they enter the dugout, then shoot the last man to enter in the back. LaBoeuf objects to the unethical plan, but Rooster prevails. LaBoeuf and Rooster take positions far from each other. Rooster wants Mattie to stay at a distance, but she sticks close to him, where she can see what happens.

While they wait for Ned, Rooster and Mattie talk. Rooster talks about his part in the Civil War. He was wounded in Missouri and lost his eye. The criminal Cole Younger, then a soldier, saved his life. He regrets that Cole is now doing time for a murder Rooster believes is the fault of Jesse James. He says he did not know Jesse, though his friend Potter claims Jesse was "with us" (with Quantrill's Raiders) "at Centralia" (in Missouri).

Rooster also reveals what he did after the war. He was riding with Potter when they were stopped by Union soldiers. They were given "a one-day parole and told to report back in the morning." They did not come back because they heard "a Kansas major" (a Union officer) would be questioning them to see if they were "bushwhackers." Bushwhacker was the name for Confederate irregulars, like Quantrill's Raiders, who carried out raids on civilians. Rooster and Potter left on stolen "government mules"; on the road they met a Federal paymaster and robbed him of $4,000 in gold.

Rooster's also speaks of his married life, his failed law studies, and a restaurant he ran. He admits to another robbery, this one of a bank. He tells of a time he rode straight at seven men, taking the reins in his teeth and a pistol in each hand. He tells of working as a mule drover for an abusive boss. Rooster shot at the boss and grazed his scalp; the boss sent for the law and several marshals arrived. One of the marshals was Rooster's friend Columbus Potter. Potter left with Rooster, claiming he would deliver him to prison. Instead Potter swore Rooster in as a marshal.

Mattie falls asleep. When Rooster wakes her, six armed men are riding to the dugout. They realize something is wrong when Quincy does not answer them. When Ned Pepper fires into the air, LaBoeuf mistakes the shots for Rooster's signal and starts firing, even though none of the men have entered the dugout yet. Two bandits are shot dead, and the others escape. LaBoeuf's arm is injured, and Rooster grows sulky when Mattie tends to LaBoeuf's wound.

Rooster, LaBoeuf, and Mattie ride away with the bandits' horses in tow and four dead bodies: Quincy, Moon, and the two from the shootout. Along the way they meet travelers who tell them how Ned robbed the mail train.

LaBoeuf needles Rooster by whistling, a practice Rooster can't stand. LaBoeuf reveals he was young in the Civil War and was only a supply clerk in the Confederate Army. Rooster claims not to remember where he served. LaBoeuf says Rooster has underestimated him and is "making a mistake about me." Rooster cuts him off, saying, "I don't like this kind of talk. It is like women talking." They quarrel further about Rooster's service with Quantrill. Mattie distracts them with speculation on Ned's plans.

The next morning they reach McAlester's. Rooster talks to Captain Boots Finch, a member of a police force that handles Native American crimes. Rooster asks Finch to bury Moon and the others. Mattie reminds Rooster he promised to sell Moon's horses and send the money to his brother. Rooster tells Finch to send Moon's brother $10.

Rooster proposes leaving Mattie in the care of Mrs. McAlester, the storekeeper's wife. LaBoeuf objects, saying, "She has won her spurs." Rooster concedes, grumbling. They leave, but Finch rides after them. He brings news that Odus Wharton escaped from jail.

As they ride Rooster gets drunk. He, Finch, and LaBoeuf compete at shooting corn dodgers from their saddles, and Finch eventually departs. When they have ridden 50 miles, Rooster says they are within four miles of Ned's hideout and can stop for the night.


The triangle of LaBoeuf, Rooster, and Mattie is not a romantic one, but it is a triangle of shifting allegiances. Initially LaBoeuf balked at bringing Mattie, but Rooster spoke up for her. In Chapter 6 both men become, for a time, Mattie's champions. At the dugout Moon asks, "What is this girl doing here?" Rooster replies Mattie is with him, and LaBoeuf corrects, "She is with both of us."

After the shootout at the dugout, the allegiances shift again. When Mattie tends to LaBoeuf's wounds, Rooster makes up reasons for her to do something else, as if he were envious. Soon the two men's loyalties to Mattie are reversed. Rooster tries to leave Mattie behind with Mrs. McAlester, but LaBoeuf protests, "She has come this far," adding, "She has won her spurs." Rooster's concession is grudging.

Rooster's career as a lawman was preceded by numerous other careers, especially as an outlaw. He is reluctant to tell LaBoeuf about his Civil War service because he knows Quantrill's Raiders have a dubious reputation. Quantrill's gang and other "bushwhackers" (Confederate guerillas) who raided civilian populations could be seen as mere outlaws. As LaBoeuf says, "I have heard they were not soldiers at all but murdering thieves." This is why LaBoeuf scoffs when Rooster refers to Quantrill's rank: "Captain Quantrill! ... Captain of what?" Among the members of Quantrill's group were the future robbers Cole Younger and Ross James. Jesse James, brother of Ross and later an infamous robber, joined William Anderson's band of guerrillas in the Civil War. The Civil War guerrilla groups were a training ground for later careers in crime.

Moreover, Rooster's entire career as a lawman rests on a series of crimes. He skipped out on a one-day parole, and he stole a government payroll and used fraud to become a law enforcement officer. This should give Mattie pause, but it seems not to. She doesn't believe Rooster's justifications for his thefts—that he robbed only institutions and not people—but she continues to believe in Rooster. She is confident of her assessments of people. She believes in election, the Christian doctrine that people are either damned or saved, and nothing they do can change that. As Mattie says, "There is nothing free except the Grace of God. You cannot earn that or deserve it." Mattie would not presume to know who is damned or saved; that is for God to know, according to the doctrine of election. But Mattie has a similar view of people; she sees instantly whether they bear the mark of "banished Cain" or have true grit.

Portis goes to great lengths to emphasize Rooster's non-heroic aspects: he is a criminal, he is old and lazy and often drunk, and apparently he is a bad shot, at least when drunk. Rooster's shabbiness and moral laxity have many functions. They humanize the starched, pious Mattie, who eventually adopts some of Rooster's views. In Chapter 6 Rooster remarks on the innocence of "poor Cole," who is serving time for Jesse James's crime: "You watch, when the truth is known, they will find it was Jesse W. James that shot that cashier in Northfield." In Chapter 7, narrated by Mattie as an older woman, she adopts a garbled version of Rooster's sympathies. She says, "there was Cole Younger locked away twenty-five years in the Minnesota pen" for the crime she believes Ross James, "that scoundrel," did. Rooster's charisma-in-decline is still charisma; a stumbling great man is still more fascinating to watch than a middling law-abider. Finally, Rooster's age, drunkenness, and miserable display of marksmanship raise the stakes for the final showdown.

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