The Ransom of Red Chief


O. Henry

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Ransom of Red Chief can help.

The Ransom of Red Chief Summary

Bill and Sam, two petty criminals looking for an easy two thousand dollars, hatch a plot to kidnap and hold for ransom Johnny, the 10-year-old son of Ebenezer Dorset, a wealthy pillar of the community. They pick up the boy and take him to a cave hideout, but there the tables are turned. Calling himself "Red Chief" in a fantasy game of cowboys and Indians, the boy drives both men crazy—but particularly Bill. With nonsensical prattle, childish demands and mild physical abuse, the boy demands they entertain him, refusing to return to his home even when they release him from his captivity out of desperation to be rid of his antics. Nonplussed by this unexpected reaction to their crime, the outlaws write a ransom letter to the boy's father, lowering the requested ransom from two thousand dollars to fifteen hundred. Unfortunately, old man Dorset, who knows that his boy is a terror, rejects their demand and instead offers to take the boy off their hands if they pay him $250. Bruised, disheartened, and their hopes reduced by the trials of parenting, Bill and Sam hand over the cash and trick the unhappy boy into returning to his wealthy father. The elder Dorset restrains his son long enough for the chastened duo to flee town, never to return.