Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "True Grit Study Guide." Course Hero. 23 Aug. 2017. Web. 12 Dec. 2018. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, August 23). True Grit Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved December 12, 2018, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "True Grit Study Guide." August 23, 2017. Accessed December 12, 2018.


Course Hero, "True Grit Study Guide," August 23, 2017, accessed December 12, 2018,

True Grit | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


The book begins in 1928 with Mattie Smith recounting the story of how she avenged her father's death. Her story begins 50 years earlier in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in the winter of 1878 and soon moves to the "Indian Territory" in what would later be Oklahoma. The story concludes in 1903, when Mattie is 39 years old.

Mattie Seeks Revenge

In the winter of 1878 Mattie Ross travels from Yell County, Arkansas, to Fort Smith, Arkansas, in the company of Yarnell Poindexter, a "colored man" who sometimes worked for her father. Mattie's father, Frank Ross, was murdered in Fort Smith by a drifter and temporary hired hand, Tom Chaney. Mattie's ostensible business in town is to have her father's body shipped home for burial and to settle her father's accounts. But Mattie stays in town alone to hire a federal marshal to hunt down Chaney.

Mattie chooses Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn, the "meanest" marshal available. Mattie first sees him at the trial of Odus Wharton, where Rooster brags and embellishes the truth about a shooting. Mattie has heard he has "true grit," and she offers him $100 for the capture of Tom Chaney. Rooster grudgingly accepts.

Another lawman arrives in Fort Smith, the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. He, too, is on Chaney's trail for the murder of a senator in Texas. LaBoeuf intends to take Chaney back to Texas to stand trial. Mattie would rather see Chaney hanged in Arkansas.

LaBoeuf and Rooster decide to throw in together; Mattie is displeased. Rooster tells her she cannot go with them. On the morning of the departure, Mattie heads to the river crossing, and Rooster tries to have the ferryman detain Mattie as a runaway. Mattie crosses the river on her pony, Little Blackie. She follows LaBoeuf and Rooster, who eventually accept she is traveling with them.

Ned Pepper's Gang

Rooster knows Chaney is likely traveling with the gang of robber Lucky Ned Pepper. Rooster, LaBoeuf, and Mattie come upon a dugout Ned Pepper is using, where they surprise Emmet Quincy and Moon. Rooster begins to question Moon. Quincy murders Moon, and Rooster shoots Quincy, killing him.

Rooster, LaBoeuf, and Mattie hide in the dark outside the dugout, waiting to ambush Ned Pepper's gang. When Ned and his gang arrive late at night, LaBoeuf starts the shooting too early. Two men are killed, but Ned and the others get away on horseback.

Rooster, LaBoeuf, and Mattie follow Ned. Early one morning Mattie goes downhill to get water from the creek, and she surprises Tom Chaney, who is watering horses. She wounds Chaney but then her pistol jams, and Chaney takes her captive.

With Mattie hostage, Rooster and LaBoeuf concede to Ned's demand and ride away. Ned tells Chaney he must remain alone with Mattie and not harm her. Chaney is displeased but agrees.

Chaney threatens to throw Mattie into a pit full of snakes. LaBoeuf arrives, having doubled back. LaBoeuf and Mattie put Chaney under arrest. They watch as Rooster encounters Ned and three of his gang on the meadow below. Rooster rides at the four men, guns blazing. He kills three men, but his horse is shot and falls on him. Ned is about to shoot Rooster when LaBoeuf takes aim and shoots Ned.

Not Out of Danger Yet

Their attention on Rooster, Mattie and LaBoeuf forget about Chaney. He hits LaBoeuf on the head with a rock. Mattie shoots Chaney, killing him, but the recoil knocks her into the pit. She breaks her arm and is trapped in a hole on the floor of the pit. There are rattlesnakes in the pit, and she uses a dead man's bone to shoo them away, but a small one bites her hand. The injured LaBoeuf lowers Rooster into the pit and he brings Mattie out.

The small snake's venom is potentially lethal. She and Rooster ride the only available mount, Little Blackie. while LaBoeuf stays on the scene, to be sent for later. Rooster manages to bring Mattie to Fort Smith, but the ride is hard on Little Blackie, who collapses and dies. Mattie survives, but her left arm must be amputated below the elbow.

The story shifts to 25 years later when Mattie is 39 years old. Her brother, Little Ross, sends her notice that Rooster is performing in a Wild West show in Memphis. Mattie travels to see Rooster, but Ross James and Cole Younger tell her Rooster died a few days before. Mattie has his body exhumed and buried in her family plot in Yell County. Mattie has not heard from LaBoeuf, but she hopes her written account of the story will reach him.

True Grit Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Mattie travels to Fort Smith to claim her father's body.

Rising Action

2 Mattie hires Rooster to capture Chaney.

3 LaBoeuf arrives in Fort Smith and joins Rooster.

4 Mattie, Rooster, and LaBoeuf leave for the Territory.

5 Rooster and LaBoeuf try to prevent Mattie from joining them.

6 Mattie, Rooster, and LaBoeuf stumble upon two of Ned's gang.

7 Rooster and LaBoeuf fail to ambush the rest of the gang.

8 LaBoeuf accepts Mattie.

9 Tom Chaney captures Mattie.

10 Rooster and LaBoeuf conquer Ned's gang.


11 Mattie shoots Tom Chaney with her father's pistol.

Falling Action

12 The pistol's recoil pushes Mattie into a pit of snakes.

13 Rooster kills Tom Chaney.

14 Rooster rides through the night to take Mattie to a doctor.


15 Mattie goes to see Rooster, but he died a few days before.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about True Grit? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!