I’ve been listening to The Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper as read by the volunteers at Librivox.org. Audiobooks and podcasts fill my 45 minute commute twice a day. And I’ve greatly enjoyed listening to the four tales so far.
The main character is known by many names. Born as Nathaniel Bumppo, he is often referred to as Natty Bumppo by those Christian enough to insist upon a Christian name. His best friend, Chingachgook, often calls him “Hawkeye” after the name given by the Delaware tribe for his keen eyesight. In his youth, the frontiersmen and army that hired him to supply food to the outposts called him “The Deerslayer” for his exceptional ability with the rifle. His enemies amongst the Six Nations of the Iroquois called him “La Longue Carabine” for the French description of his fine weapon. The rifle is longer than most and has earned a reputation of its own before Natty gains possession of it and is known as “Kill Deer”. Later, after the American Revolution, as more civilized people start new settlements and move into western New York, the new comers refer to him as “Leatherstocking” for the deer skins he continues to wears into his old age.
Of course the last book of the series, “The Prairie“, is not available in audio so I’ll have to find the time to read it the old fashion way. But so far, the whole series has been great!
Growing up in Maine, and being aware and understanding the impact the many indian wars of the late 17th and 18th century had upon the early settlers of this state, I’ve always found stories of the time period interesting. The Leatherstocking Tales take place over the course of 60 years mostly in present day New York Sate and Vermont, with lower Ontario and in his final years Missouri being part of the scene.
Over the many stories we follow Natty simply trying to make a living on the frontier the only way he knows how, by hunting and trapping. But through the French and Indian Wars, he is called upon to use his gifts to hunt the native americans working for the French. Many adventures and damsels in distress are amongst the tales, though Natty doesn’t seem to ever “get the girl” and lives a lonely life.
The author, James Fenimore Cooper, seems to make an effort to treat the Indians fairly by demonstrating that, like white people, there are both good and bad Indians. Chingachgook, the last of the tribe of the Mohicans, is a quiet and solemn chief, who eventually looses everything except his pride and his friend, the Deerslayer. For those that have seen the movie, “The Last of the Mohicans“, it is not the best book of the bunch.
Of course, as I being a historian, I remind myself that these stories are fiction. Though the grander events in “The Last of the Mohicans” are based upon historical battles, Natty and his acquaintances are not real. Still, I feel Mr. Cooper does a fair job describing the time period. And regardless, it’s a great adventure and Hawkeye is a legendary character to follow!