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The Last of the Mohicans

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Illustration by Frank T. Merrill, 1896

The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 is an historical novel by James Fenimore Cooper. It was published in 1826. It is one of the five Leatherstocking Tales featuring frontiersman Natty Bumppo (or, Hawkeye) and his Mohican friend Chingachgook. The novel's prose is difficult for modern readers, but Mohicans is still read and studied in college courses.

Background[edit | edit source]

Cooper was travelling with a party of English gentlemen through the Adirondack Mountains when one remarked that Glens Falls and the cave behind it would be a perfect setting for a "romance". Cooper too was impressed with the scene, and promised the travelers that such a romance would be written.

James Fenimore Cooper in 1822

He set to work on it immediately. He had little knowledge of eastern Native Americans, but read everything available about these people. He completed the novel in three or four months. At one point, he was very sick (possibly with sunstroke), and dictated the fight between Magua and Chingachgook (12th chapter), to his wife.

The novel was first published in 1826 by Carey & Lea, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. According to Cooper's daughter Susan, the novel's success was "greater than that of any previous book from the same pen" and "in Europe the book produced quite a startling effect."

Story[edit | edit source]

During the French and Indian War of 1757, Natty Bumppo, his friend Chingachgook, and the last of the Mohicans, Uncas, lead a small party of travelers through the wilderness of New York to Fort Edward on Lake George. The party is attacked by Indians led by Magua, a Huron Indian.

Thomas Cole, Scene from The Last of the Mohicans; Cora Kneeling at the Feet of Tanemund, 1827

Magua is determined to avenge himself upon Colonel Munro, the commander of Fort Edward and the father of two young ladies among the travelers. Munro had Magua whipped sometime in the past for habitual drunkenness. The party escapes the attack and arrives at the fort to find it under attack by the French forces.

The novel continues with the surrender of the fort, and the massacre of many of its defenders and civilians. Eventually, the men in the party are reunited, but the Indians capture the ladies. One is killed. Uncas is killed in a duel with Magua. Bumppo kills Magua. The travelers bury Uncas and the lady next to each other in the wilderness.

Adaptations[edit | edit source]

Ad for The Last of the Mohicans (1920)

The novel has been adapted to movies many times, notably with Randolph Scott in 1936 and Daniel Day-Lewis in 1992. A 1920 silent version with Wallace Beery is preserved in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

The novel has been adapted to television. There was a Canadian TV series, Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans in 1957 starring Lon Chaney, Jr. The BBC television adaptation in 1971 is considered by many to be the most faithful adaptation. A radio play aired in 1995.


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