The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

The Deerslayer, or The First Warpath (1841) was the last of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking tales to be written. Its 1740-1745 time period makes it the first installment chronologically and in the lifetime of the hero of the Leatherstocking tales, Natty Bumppo. The novel’s setting on Otsego Lake in central, upstate New York, is the same as that of The Pioneers, the first of the Leatherstocking tales to be published (1823). The Deerslayer is considered to be the prequel to the rest of the Leatherstocking tales. Fenimore Cooper begins his work by relating the astonishing advance of civilization in New York State, which is the setting of four of his five Leatherstocking tales.

This novel introduces Natty Bumppo as “Deerslayer”, a young frontiersman in early 18th-century New York. He is contrasted to other frontiersmen and settlers in the novel who have no compunctions in taking scalps in that his natural philosophy is that every living thing should follow “the gifts” of its nature—which would keep European Americans from taking scalps. Two such characters in the work who actually seek to take scalps are Henry March (“Hurry Harry”) and floating Tom Hutter.

In the dead of night Hutter and March sneak into the camp of the besieging members of the Huron tribe in order to kill and scalp as many as they can. Their plan fails, and Tom Hutter and March are captured. They are later ransomed by Bumppo, his lifelong friend Chingachgook (the Delaware word for great Serpent), and Hutter’s daughters, Judith and Hetty. Bumppo and Chingachgook come up with a plan to rescue Chingachgook’s kidnapped betrothed Wah-ta!-Wah from the Hurons; but, in rescuing her, Bumppo is captured. In his absence, the Hurons invade Hutter’s home, and Hutter is mortally wounded and scalped. After the death of Hutter his supposed daughters find out that they were not his natural daughters and he had been a notorious pirate. Bumppo’s remaining allies and friends plan how to aid his escape from his Huron captors.

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