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James Fenimore Cooper: Keeping Kevin Up All Night

Stranded again the warrior, not again!
Have you ever played cowboys and Indians.? Who was the bad guy, and who was the good guy? Was the cowboy the bad guy? Probably not. For those of you who may not be familiar with the game, it consists of one party playing the cowboy/s and the other playing the Indian/s. The object is for one to defeat the other. In terms of good and evil the Indian usually represents the bad side. The notion of comparing it to this dispatch came to me when studying about a famous figure that became known for the stroke of his pen, long before you or I were even thought of.

James Fenimore Cooper was born in 1789. His father was a prominent judge who even had a town named after him. Wanna guess what it was called? Cooperstown of course! Young Cooper entered Yale in 1803. He was a bit of a troublemaker though, and was soon expelled for various pranks. From that point on the world would soon know the name of James Fenimore Cooper. Shortly after his father death, with little money left due to his unwise spending practices, he decided to try writing on for size. He is considered the first successful popular American novelist. He produced 32 novels and 12 works of non-fiction.

Some of his achievements include:

  1. The first successful American historical romance in the vein of Sir Walter Scott (The Spy, 1821).
  2. The first sea novel (The Pilot, 1824).
  3. The first attempt at a fully researched historical novel (Lionel Lincoln, 1825).
  4. The first full-scale History of the Navy of the United States of America (1839).
  5. The first American international novel of manners (Homeward Bound and Home as Found, 1838).
  6. The first trilogy in American fiction (Satanstoe, 1845; The Chainbearer, 1845; and The Redskins, 1846).
  7. The first and only five-volume epic romance to carry its mythic hero - Natty Bumppo - from youth to old age.



During our very long road trip, our little coach decided to do a Fenimore on us!

So I am sitting here wondering why the great Odyssey honcho put this on my itinerary for me to tell you kids. Even more than me being annoyed at having to type out this guy's full name numerous times, I frankly found his story quite boring. I have spoken to some of you kids in school about digging deeper to find the real story or something worth analyzing. In this case I followed my own advice. So I grabbed a glass of milk and a slice of homemade apple pie and began to dig deeper. In between wiping crumbs and apple goop off of my wind-chapped lips (it cold on the east coast guy and gals) I began to find an issue that was not really talked about in some of the things that I read about Cooper.

Cooper is the author of a book called The Last of the Mohicans. This book depicts the battle of Fort William Henry and adds the fictional kidnapping of two white pioneering sisters (whites were often kidnapped by Native Americans in Cooper's novels). This book was actually made into a movie in 1992, and did very well at the box office. Of all of Coopers books, this is by far the most famous.

In his third book, Pioneers, the character Natty Bumppo was born, a uniquely American personification of rugged individualism and the pioneer spirit. This was a recurring theme in Cooper's work. In last of the Mohicans as well as many of his other books there is also a new element introduced to the American people, that of the role of the Native American in literature, and popular culture. Cooper's novels played a key role in the perception of Native Americans and thus how they were treated consequently. This went hand in hand with the fact that Western expansion was on the hearts and minds of many Americans, as was what to do about the "Indian problem". Many wanted to push the native people of America west of Mississippi into unknown territory. Basically they wanted them to go away - far away. Pioneers and other American settlers were still not content to share the land with people who were here long before they even set sights on this land.

It was this land that was often the backdrop for Cooper's novels. In The Deerslayer, the famous character Natty Bumppo runs into an Indian trying to steal canoes. Throughout their verbal combat Natty continues to talk about his "white gifts", and apparently this guy was to fear him, as well as his gifts if he were smart. In addition, he tells the man about how much stronger and smarter he is. Even when Natty's enemy tries to attack him (assumingly unprovoked) Natty is able to effortlessly disable him. Yet another unrealstic fact in the novel comes to light when we find out that even though Natty was raised by Indians he miraculously has a better sense of morals, judgement, and wit than those who raised him. Surprisingly he has a perfect command of the English language, while those who raised him speak in metaphors and can't quite convey their message. Here is another taste of what I am talking about:

" 'This-a-way, red-skin; this-a-way, if you're looking for me.' he called out. 'I'm young in war, but not so young as to stande on an open beach to be shot down like an owl by daylight. It rests on yourself whether it's peace or war atween us; for my gifts are white gifts, and I'm not one of them that thinks it valiant to slay human mortals singly in the woods. "

This is shows the morally superiority of whites, which was a theme throughout all of Cooper's works. Cooper certainly was not one who believed that Indians and whites would be able to live together. In his Letter XXXIV of "Notions of the Americans" written in 1828 Cooper wrote that:

"As a rule the red man disappears before the superior moral and physical influence of the White, just as I believe the black man will eventually do the same thing, unless he shall seek shelter in some other region." I say not like my dear Mr. Cooper. I am here to stay! Besides who else is going to write these incredibly fantabuloso interesting dispatches?


Please email me at: kevin1@ustrek.org


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Kevin - Face to face with racism
Nick - The road to Harpers Ferry
Kevin - Things are cookin' at Sturbridge Village