The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (1789 – 1851) The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (1789 – 1851) Type of Work: Historical romance Setting Upper New York region; 1757 Principal Characters Hawkeye (Natty Bumppo), , a skilled white scout and frontiersman Chingachgook, , Hawkeye’s lifelong Mohican (Delaware) friend Uncas, , Chingachgook’s son and last heir to the title of chief of the Mohican tribe Major Duncan Heyward, , Hawkeye’s Scottish soldier-friend David Gainut, , a psalm singer, and comical, naive, self-proclaimed missionary Magua (Le Renard Subtil— “The Sly Fox”), a dis placed and bloodthirsty Canadian Huron Indian Colonel Munro, , defender of British Fort Henry Alice Munro, , fair and innocent daughter of Colonel Munro Cora Munro, her darker, elder half-sister, and the story’s real heroine Story Overveiw War between England and France had spilled over into the North American continent. There, amid the various Indian tribal conflicts, a small party set out from the British Fort Edward toward Fort William Henry, defended by the Scottish veteran, Colonel Munro. Major Duncan Heyward, ordered to escort Colonel Munro’s two daughters, Cora and Alice, to Fort William Henry, was followed by a tall, awkward, psalm singing missionary, David Gamut. Fort Edward’s troops were in a weakened state. Now Major Heyward, in an attempt to reach Munro’s fort before the French forces led by Montcalm could surround it, hired a renegade Huron Indian guide known as Magua, who claimed to know of a shorter route to their destination.
But now, after traveling most of the day and finding themselves still only a few miles from Fort Edward, they at last decided the guide must be lost. Late that same afternoon, a seasoned white scout bearing the fitting name of Hawkeye, sat by a stream conversing with his Delaware Mohican friend Chingachgook. By their dress and weaponry it was obvious that they were not allied with the French or the Iriquois. The Indian lamented aloud the sad history of his people, who had dwindled after they foolishly parted with their land. He ended with a vision of his own death: “I am on the hill-top, and must go down into the valley; and when Uncas follows in my footsteps, there will no longer be any of the blood of the [Delaware], for my boy is the last of the Mohicans.” As if conjured up by his father’s words, another voice announced, “Uncas is here! Who speaks to Uncas?” and stepping between the two, a young warrior seated himself.
Soon the three men heard “the horses of white men” approaching, and Hawkeye was appointed to speak to them in his native English tongue. He went out to meet Heyward’s group. When told that the Indian guide, who was by this time lurking in the shadows, had lost his way, Hawkeye doubtingly asked what tribe he belonged to. He was Mohawk by birth, but an adopted Huron, came the reply. At this, both Chingachgook and Uncas sprang to their feet.
“A Huron!” spat the scout. “They are a thievish race, nor do I care by whom they are adopted … I should like to look at the creature.” Now, Magua saw that his plan to betray Heyward and kidnap Munro’s daughters had been foiled, and he fled into the forest. Hawkeye and the Mohicans, sensing the danger the little party now faced, agreed to see them safely to Fort William Henry. But as Hawkeye had feared, Magua and his fellow Hurons gave chase.
The woodsman guided his travelers to an island cave and hid them behind a waterfall; but they had been too closely followed, and the cave was soon under attack. With little ammunition, the capture of the little group was certain. In order to secure their only chance for rescue, Cora gallantly persuaded Hawkeye and the Mohicans to try an escape – which they managed to do by swimming underwater downriver. Captured, Cora and Alice were taken by Magua on a path leading far away from the fort. As they walked, Magua spoke privately to Cora.
Long ago, he divulged, after drinking the white man’s firewater, he had lost control of himself, and Colonel Munro had ordered that he be publicly beaten. Magua’s plan of revenge for this humiliation was to take Munro’s daughter as his wife and slave. Cora hid her fear and responded calmly: she would not go with him. In fury Magua was about to massacre the whole lot, when Hawkeye and his comrades rushed the camp, killing all the Hurons – except their villainous leader, who once again escaped. The group then journeyed on in the darkness toward Fort William Henry.
It was dawn when Hawkeye and his charges drew near the fort – only to find it already under siege by Montcalm and his French and Iriquois troops. Cora suggested that she go to Montcalm to beg that he grant them entry into the fort so they could be with their father. “You would scarce find the tent of the Frenchman with the hair on your head,” Hawkeye told her bluntly. From that point, a quiet bond was formed between Uncas and the brunette Cora; while Heyward was taken by fair Alice. Led by Hawkeye, the consummate frontiersman – a happy blend of the white man’s “civilization” and the red man’s noble”savagery” – the protagonists threaded their way through the thick morning mist to the gates of the fort.
Happily united with his daughters, Munro exclaimed, “For this I thank thee, Lord! Let danger come as it will, thy servant is now prepared!” After a few days of ominous quiet, Montcalm arranged a parley to reveal the text of a message he had intercepted, indicating that no troops could be dispatched from Fort Edward. Although Montcalm now held the upper hand, he offered the British honorable terms of surrender: He would ensure safe conduct for the entire garrison, if they would give up the fort peaceably. Dismayed by the cowardice of his allies, and with no other options open, Munro accepted the terms. The next morning, as the evacuation of the women and children proceeded under the gaze of the victors – Magua included – one of the Indians tried to seize a brightly colored shawl worn by one of the women. In terror she wrapped her child in it and folded both close to her.
Enraged, the Indian darted forward and grabbed the child from her arms and dashed its head against a rock. Excited by the sight of blood, he then turned on the mother and drove his tomahawk into her brain. Now Magua raised a bloodcurdling whoop of battle, and the Indians responded instantly, scalping and murdering with brutal abandon. Montcalm and his soldiers – perhaps surprised by the suddenness of the attack, perhaps out of fear for their own safety – did nothing to hold back their savage allies. David Gamut stood in the midst of the killing to shield the two Munro girls, and burst forth singing hymns in an effort to calm the frenzied killers.
Bemused by this eccentric display, the warriors left the sisters unmolested. But Gamut’s singing finally attracted the attention of Magua, who quickly seized upon an opportunity to persuade Cora to accompany him. Reaching down and scooping up her sister Alice, Magua headed for the woods. Cora ran, shrieking, after him, and faithful Gamut followed, his voice still in song, his arm beating time. The astonished natives gazed on him as one who had been given the protecting spirit of madness.
Hawkeye and his companions searched in vain for the bodies of the girls, and were now certain that Magua had taken them captive. Heading north and then wcst, the scouts finally came across their trail. Heyward was particularly concerned for Alice’s safety; and Uncas, admiring Cora’s courage and depth of soul, hoped ardently for her rescue. Paddling across lakes and hiking over mountain passes, the woodsmen traced Gamut and the girls to an Indian village. Wandering on its outskirts they found the psalmist, dressed as an Indian, who told them that Cora had been entrusted to the care of a tribe of peaceful Delawares, but that Alice was being held at the Huron camp.
It was decided that Heyward would accompany Gamut into the village, disguised as a white medicine man sent by Montcalm to heal the sick. But just as he was being led to the cave of a dying woman, Uncas was brought into camp, a captive. Inside the sick woman’s cave, Heyward also found a large shaggy bear – whose head slipped back to reveal the face of Hawkeye; knowing that Huron conjurers often attired themselves in animal skins, he had used the bearskin to also gain entrance to the village. The two sought out Alice, wrapped her in a blanket, and carried her out of the camp under the pretense that she was Heyward’s dying patient. Hawkeye, in his bear disguise, remained long enough to find and rescue Uncas.
As soon as Magua discovered Alice’s disappearance, he hurried to the Delaware village to reclaim his wife-to-be. Uncas was already there before him, but had failed to negotiate Cora’s release. Magua was allowed to pass unmolested into the forest with his prized prisoner, “protected by the inviolable laws of Indian hospitality.” A terrible battle ensued between the two tribes and their white allies. In the end, the Hurons were defeated, but Magua had kept Cora close, and, followed by a few braves, he now scrambled up a stcep Mountainside, with Uncas, Heyward and Hawkeyc in hot pursuit. Cora refused to cooperate, and begged Magua to kill her; but just then a piercing cry diverted the villain’s attention.
It was Uncas, leaping down from a cliff above. At that moment one of the Huron braves sheathed his own knife in Cora’s bosom. Infuriated, Magua turned to kill his companions but Uncas leaped between them and became Magua’s victim instead. The Huron bounded off up the mountain. Shouting, he leaped a wide fissure and neared the summit. One more leap and escape would be ensured – but this time he fel I short and clung to a shrub on the side of the cliff. Hawkeye, watching from below, sighted his long rifle.
A loud crack pierced the air; then Magua gave a defiant shake of his fist and a menacing sneer, and fell headlong to his death. Amid deep mourning, Uncas and Cora were laid side by side in their forest graves. Hawkeye returned to comfort his sorrowing friend Chingachgook. The Delaware patriarch Tamenund then lifted his voice to bewail the tragic death of “the last warrior of the wise race of the Mohicans.” Commentary Shortly after the birth of James Fenimore Cooper, his father came into possession of a vast tract of land around the headwaters of the Susquehanna River and built a mansion by Otsego Lake. A village grew up around the estate, eventually becoming Cooperstown, New York.
Surrounded by primeval wilderness, alive with animals and still inhabited by a few Indians, and growing up on the frontier tales told by his father’s guests, Cooper was able to bring to life a genuine and sympathetic view of both pioneer and Indian, and a first-hand knowledge of their lives, lorc and surroundings, to become America’s first significant novelist.