Caddie Woodlawn Summary

Carol Ryrie Brink

Caddie Woodlawn

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Caddie Woodlawn Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink.

Based on the life of the author’s grandmother, Carrie Woodlawn tells the tale of an adventurous tomboy living on the frontier at the time of the Civil War. It opens with eleven-year-old Carrie, her brothers, Tom and Warren, and Nero the family dog heading off in search of Native Americans, having seen smoke rising in the distance. They discuss the risk of violence from the Native Americans but dismiss the fears of their fellow settlers as they are friends with Indian John, the leader of the local tribe. When they reach the tribe, they are greeted by Indian John and his dog and watch the tribe working without incident. Afterwards, they gather nuts and return home for dinner.

When they arrive home, the children find that the family has been joined by Mr. Tanner, the circuit rider who travels between settlements preaching and bringing news. Carrie’s father tells Mr. Tanner that he decided to let Carrie run free rather than keep her cooped up like a settled young woman so that she can better cope with frontier life. Over dinner, he adds that he does not fear violence from the Native Americans as he kindly helped improve their rifles for them and adds that, if he did not have to look after his family, he would be off opposing slavery by fighting in the Civil War.

The family receives a visit from Caddie’s Uncle Edmund, who comes once a year to hunt passenger pigeons. Edmund is a practical joker, much to the delight of the children. This year, one of his tricks is to make Caddie’s raft collapse in the middle of the lake, dumping her into the water. Caddie is initially angry with him but softens after he helps gather the logs and rebuild the raft. Edmund also gives her a silver dollar. Later, Edmund leaves, taking Nero with him and promising to return him as a fully trained bird dog next year.

The children return to school for the winter term where Caddie stands up to the school bully even though he is the largest boy at the school. Later, Caddie falls through the ice while skating and is confined to bed with a terrible cold. Although she is initially bored, her father teaches her how to mend clocks, and the family spends time together, telling stories, which keeps Caddie entertained. The children return to school after Christmas and, on Valentine’s Day, Caddie learns that her brother Tom has saved up to send an anonymous valentine to a ladylike girl named Katie Hyman, making Caddie wonder briefly about what it is like to be a lady.

Two pieces of bad news arrive when the family receives a letter from Uncle Edmund explaining that Nero has run away, and a stranger warns the settlers that the Native Americans are preparing to attack them. Although Caddie’s father is skeptical, he offers the farm as a place where the settlers can gather to defend themselves. When the settlers arrive, Caddie hears talk of them attacking the Native Americans before they can attack the settlers. She rides her horse through the dangerous frozen terrain to warn the tribe and returns with Indian John who reassures the settlers that they are not planning any violence.

When Indian John’s tribe decide to move away for a short while to let things settle down, he leaves his dog and his father’s scalp belt in Caddie’s care. One of the departing members of the tribe, Mrs. Hankinson, had married a settler and had three children who are extremely upset that she is leaving. Caddie manages to cheer them up by buying them gifts with the silver dollar that she received from Uncle Edmund. Later, the children put on a show displaying Indian John’s father’s scalp belt and even “tour” it over to Katie Hyman’s house where Tom is happy to learn that she guessed that he sent the valentines.

After the winter term ends, the children split their time between playing outside and doing chores. Later, they learn both the good news that the Civil War has ended and the delayed bad news that President Lincoln has been assassinated. When Caddie returns to school for the summer term, Indian John’s dog begins following her and waiting outside the schoolhouse. This turns out to be extremely lucky when the dog howls to warn of a fire spreading towards the school, giving the children time to stop the flames.

When Caddie’s cousin Annabelle visits from Boston, Caddie and Tom play practical jokes on her, messing up her sophisticated clothing by getting her into various situations with the farm animals. When Caddie’s mother finds out, she punishes Caddie for not acting like a lady but does nothing to Tom, despite his protests that he should share the punishment. Faced with this injustice, Caddie plans to run away from home, but her father talks to her about how becoming a woman includes developing wisdom, kindness, and understanding. Faced with this more acceptable understanding of womanhood, Caddie tries joining her sister and Annabelle as they sew a quilt and finds that she enjoys it, as do her brothers when they join in.

The Woodlawn family receive a great surprise when Caddie’s father receives a letter saying that a death in his extended family in England means that he may now inherit the title of Lord Woodlawn, along with the family estate. However, he can only do this if he abandons America and relocates the family to England. Annabelle believes that the decision is a foregone conclusion but Caddie’s father, who thinks poorly of England and its aristocracy, is less certain. When he decides to let the whole family choose, it turns out that they agree with him and vote to remain in America.

When the Native Americans return, Indian John’s dog reluctantly leaves Caddie and she reluctantly lets him go, but shortly afterward Nero, looking tired and thin, arrives back too, having traveled all the way from Uncle Edmund’s house back to his home. As normality returns to Caddie’s world, her life is both familiar and subtly altered, and, as the novel ends, she reflects on changing whilst still being the same girl at heart and decides that she quite likes growing up.