Last of the mohicans

This article is about the novel. For other uses, see The Last of the Mohicans (disambiguation).
The Last of the Mohicans
Illustration from 1896 edition, by J.T. Merrill
Author James Fenimore Cooper
Country United States of America
Language English
Series Leatherstocking
Genre Historical novel
Publisher H.C. Carey & I. Lea
Publication date February 1826
Media type Print (Hardback and Paperback)
Pages 2 vol.
Preceded by The Pioneers (1823)
Followed by The Prairie (1827)

The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 (1826) is a historical novel by James Fenimore Cooper. It is the second book of the Leatherstocking Tales pentalogy and the best known. The Pathfinder, published 14 years later in 1840, is its sequel.[1]

The story is set in 1757, during the French and Indian War (the Seven Years' War), when France and Great Britain battled for control of North America. During this war, the French depended on its Native American allies to help fight the more numerous British colonists in the Northeast frontier areas.

Cooper named a principal character Uncas, after a well-known Mohegan sachem (a head chief) who had been an ally of the English in 17th-century Connecticut. By using this name, Cooper seemed to confuse the Mohegan with the Mahican, a tribe historically based in New York along the Hudson River, closer to the central Mohawk Valley territory he also wrote about.

The novel was one of the most popular in English in its time, although critics identified narrative flaws. Its length and formal prose style have limited its appeal to later readers, yet The Last of the Mohicans remains widely read in American literature courses. It has been adapted numerous times for films, TV movies and cartoons.

Historical background

At the time of Cooper's writing, many people believed that the Native Americans were disappearing, and would ultimately be assimilated or fail to survive. Especially in the East, their numbers continued to decline. At the same time, the author was interested in the period of the frontier of transition, when more colonists were increasing pressure on the Native Americans.

He set the novel during the Seven Years' War, an international conflict between Great Britain and France which had a front in North America. Also known on that continent as the French and Indian War, the conflict arrayed British colonial settlers and minimal regular forces, with Indian allies on one side; against royal French forces, together with their various Native American allies. The war was fought primarily along the frontiers of the British colonies from Virginia to Nova Scotia.

In the Spring of 1757, Lieutenant Colonel George Monro became garrison commander of Fort William Henry, located on Lake George (New York) in the Province of New York. In early August, Major General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm and 7,000 troops besieged the fort. On 2 August General Webb, who commanded the area from his base at Fort Edward, sent 200 regulars and 800 Massachusetts militia to reinforce the garrison at William Henry. In the novel, this is the relief column with which Monro's daughters travel.

Monro sent messengers south to Fort Edward on the 3rd, but Webb refused to send any of his estimated 1,600 men north, because they were all that stood between the French and Albany. He wrote to Munro on 4 August that he should negotiate the best terms possible; this communication was intercepted and delivered to Montcalm. In Cooper's version, the missive was being carried by Hawkeye when he, and it, fell into French hands.

On 7 August Montcalm sent men to the fort under a truce flag to deliver Webb's dispatch. By then the fort's walls had been breached, many of its guns were useless, and the garrison had taken significant casualties. After another day of bombardment by the French, Monro raised the white flag and agreed to withdraw under parole.

When the withdrawal began, some of Montcalm's Indian allies, angered at the lost opportunity for loot, attacked the British column. Cooper's account of the attack and aftermath is lurid and somewhat inaccurate. A detailed reconstruction of the action and its aftermath indicates that the final tally of British missing and dead ranges from 69 to 184;[2] more than 500 British were taken captive.


Cora and Alice Munro, daughters of Lieutenant Colonel Munro, are traveling with a column of reinforcements from Fort Edward to Fort William Henry, where Munro is commanding an army. In the party are David Gamut, the singing teacher, and Major Duncan Heyward, the group's military leader.

Magua, a Huron scout allied with the French, leads them into an ambush. Natty Bumppo (also known as Hawkeye) and his two Mohican friends, Chingachgook and his son Uncas, rescue the party just in time. Knowing that Magua (also known as Le Renard Subtil, the cunning fox) will soon return with reinforcements, Hawkeye and the Mohicans lead their new companions to a nearby cave. A group of Hurons sent by Magua chase them into the cave. After a fierce struggle, Hawkeye and his friends decide to split up the group for safety. Hawkeye and the Mohicans hide in a nearby stream, while Heyward, Gamut, and the Munro sisters retreat into the cavern.

Magua returns with more Hurons and captures the four in the cave. The Hurons take their captives to a stream, where they rest briefly. The Hurons interrogate Heyward, who tells them that Hawkeye and the Mohicans have escaped. He learns from them that Uncas's nickname is the Bounding Elk and that Hawkeye is referred to as the Long Rifle or La Longue Carabine.

When Cora demands why the Hurons were so eager to capture them, Magua says that Colonel Munro and the "Canada fathers" introduced him to firewater,[3] causing him to get drunk and be expelled from his tribe. He allied with the Mohawks, but continued to drink. After Munro had him whipped after some drunken disorder, Magua returned to the Hurons and is leading them in revenge against the British. He offers to spare the party if Cora will go with him as his wife to the Huron village, but she refuses.

Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook return and ambush the Hurons, killing most of them. Magua escapes. Heyward and Hawkeye lead the Munro women to Fort William Henry, now surrounded by the French.

Munro sends Hawkeye to Fort Edward for reinforcements. While bearing General Webb's reply, he is captured by the French, who deliver him to Fort William Henry without the letter. Heyward tries to parley with the French, but learns nothing. He returns to Colonel Munro and announces his love for Alice. Munro reveals that Cora's mother was of mixed race of African ancestry from the West Indies, and gives his permission for Heyward's courtship.

The French general, Montcalm, invites Munro to a parley. He shows him Webb's letter: the British general has refused to send reinforcements. Realizing that his cause is lost, Munro agrees to Montcalm's terms. The British soldiers, together with their wounded, and women and children, are allowed to leave the fort and withdraw. Outside the fort, the column is set upon by 2000 Indian warriors. In the chaos of the massacre, Magua finds Cora and Alice, and leads them away toward the Huron village. David Gamut follows them.

Three days later, Hawkeye and the Mohicans, Heyward, and Colonel Munro enter the ruins of Fort William Henry. The next morning they follow Magua's trail, evading a party of native warriors chasing them by canoe. Outside the Huron village, they come across Gamut. The Huron consider him mad for all his singing and won't kill him. Gamut says that Alice is being held in this village, Cora in one belonging to the Lenape (Delaware) tribe, and Magua is hunting. Disguised as a French medicine man, Heyward enters the Huron village with Gamut, intending to rescue Alice. Hawkeye and Uncas set out to rescue Cora. Chingachgook remains with Colonel Munro, who has become somewhat deranged as a result of events.

Before Heyward can find Alice, Uncas is led into the village, having been captured by the Hurons. Magua returns, and demands that Uncas be put to death, but does not recognise Heyward. Hawkeye steals a bearskin and disguises himself while following Heyward. They rescue Alice, wrapping her in cloth and convincing the Hurons that she is someone the French "medicine man" has to heal. As Heyward carries Alice toward the Lenape village, Gamut and the disguised Hawkeye return to the village to rescue Uncas.

His guards recognize the bear suit and allow the two to pass. Uncas dons the bear skin while Hawkeye dresses as Gamut and begins to sing. Gamut stays behind. Uncas and Hawkeye flee to the Delaware village.

Discovering Gamut, the Hurons realize that Uncas has escaped. They find Magua, bound and gagged in the cave. Magua tells the Hurons about how Heyward and Hawkeye tricked them to rescue Alice and then Uncas. Learning of how they were deceived the warriors become enraged. The Hurons vow revenge and reaffirm Magua as their chief.

Magua goes to the Lenape village, where he demands the return of his prisoners, and warns the Lenape of La Longue Carabine's reputation. A chief asks the prisoners who is the "long rifle". Heyward, mistaking Hawkeye's wishes, claims he is the man. Hawkeye also claims the title, and Tamemund makes them do a shooting match, which Hawkeye wins.

Tamenund at first grants Magua's wish to keep his prisoners, but Cora begs him to reconsider. She eventually begs him to hear from a Delaware warrior, referring to Uncas.

When first taken there, Uncas had offended the Delaware. They tear off his clothing and see a turtle tattoo on his chest, the symbol of his clan. Tamenund accedes to all Uncas asks and frees the prisoners, except for Cora, as she belongs to Magua. Magua reluctantly agrees to Uncas's demands but says he will keep Cora. Hawkeye at one point offers himself as a prisoner in place of Cora, but Magua refuses. Uncas and Heyward both vow to hunt down and kill Magua and rescue Cora as the Huron chief leaves with his captive.

According to custom, Tamenund has agreed to give Magua a three-hour head start before permitting the Delaware to pursue to try to rescue Cora. As the Delaware use the extra time to prepare for battle, Gamut arrives. He said he saw Magua and Cora at the Huron village, and she was hidden in the cave where they earlier found Alice. The Delaware go off to confront the Huron.

The Delaware are in three parties: one led by Hawkeye and Heyward, one by Uncas, and one by Chingachgook and Munro. They force the Huron back to their village with heavy losses and finally take the village. Magua escapes with Cora and two of his warriors; Uncas, Hawkeye, and Heyward pursue them through the mountains. Cora stops on a rocky ledge, refusing to continue. When Uncas attacks the Huron, both he and Cora are killed. Hawkeye arrives and shoots Magua.

The novel concludes with a lengthy account of the funerals of Uncas and Cora. The Lenni Lenape sing that Uncas and Cora will marry in the afterlife. Hawkeye renews his friendship with Chingachgook. Tamenund prophesies, "The pale-faces are masters of the earth, and the time of the red-men has not yet come again...."


  • Magua (ma-gwah) – the villain; a Huron chief driven from his tribe for drunkenness and later whipped by British soldiers; also known as Le Renard Subtil or "Sly Fox."
  • Chingachgook (now it is usually pronounced chin-GATCH-gook) – last chief of the Mohican tribe; escort to the Munro sisters, father to Uncas. His name was a Unami Delaware word meaning "Big Snake."[4]
  • Uncas – the son of Chingachgook and the titular "Last of the Mohicans" (meaning the last pure-blooded Mohican born).[5] He is also known as "Le Cerf Agile", the Bounding Elk.
  • Natty Bumppo/ Hawkeye – Oeil de Faucon; a frontiersman who becomes an escort to the Munro sisters. Known to the Indians and the French as La longue carabine because of his long rifle and skills.
  • Cora Munro – dark-haired daughter of Colonel Munro. Cora is serious, intelligent, and calm in the face of danger. Her mother, whom Munro met and married in the West Indies, was a mulatto,[6] "descended, remotely" from slaves.[7] Scholars have sometimes termed Cora a quadroon and called her "the first tragic mulatta in American literature."[8]
  • Alice Munro – Cora's blonde half-sister is cheerful, playful, and charming. She is the daughter of Alice Graham, whom Munro married later in life after his first wife died.
  • Colonel Munro – the sisters' father, a British army colonel in command of Fort William Henry.
  • Duncan Heyward – a British army major from Virginia who falls in love with Alice Munro.[9][10]
  • David Gamut – a psalmodist (teacher of psalm singing), also known as "the singing master."
  • General Daniel Webb – Colonel Munro's commanding officer, who takes command at Fort Edward.
  • General Marquis de Montcalm – the French commander-in-chief, referred to by the Hurons and other Indian allies of the French as "The great white father of the Canadas."
  • Tamenund – An ancient, wise, and revered Delaware Indian sage who has outlived three generations of warriors. He is the "Sachem" of the Delaware (Lenape).


According to Susan Fenimore Cooper, the author's eldest daughter, Cooper first conceived the idea for the book while visiting the Adirondack Mountains in 1825 with a party of English gentlemen.[11] The party passed through the Catskills, an area with which Cooper was already familiar, and about which he had written in his first novel featuring Natty: The Pioneers. They passed on to Lake George and Glens Falls.

Impressed with the caves behind the falls, one member of the party suggested that "here was the very scene for a romance." Susan Cooper says that Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, made this remark. Cooper promised Stanley "that a book should actually be written, in which these caves should have a place; the, idea of a romance essentially Indian in character then first suggesting itself to his mind."[12]

Cooper began work on the novel immediately. He and his family stayed for the summer in a cottage belonging to a friend, situated on the Long Island shore of the Sound, opposite Blackwell's Island, not far from Hallett's Cove (the area is now part of Astoria). He wrote quickly and completed the novel in the space of three or four months. He suffered a serious illness thought to have been brought on by sunstroke[12] and, at one point, he dictated the outline of the fight between Magua and Chingachgook (12th chapter), to his wife, who thought that he was delirious.[11]

In the novel, Hawkeye refers to Lake George as the Horican. Cooper felt that Lake George was too plain, while the French name, Le Lac du St. Sacrament, was "too complicated". Horican he found on an old map of the area; it was a French transliteration of a native group who had once lived in the area.[13]

Cooper grew up in Cooperstown, New York, the frontier town founded by his father. His daughter said that as a young man he had few opportunities to meet and talk with Native Americans: "occasionally some small party of the Oneidas, or other representatives of the Five Nations, had crossed his path in the valley of the Susquehanna River, or on the shores of Lake Ontario, where he served when a midshipman in the navy."[11] He read what sources were available at the time—Heckewelder, Charlevoix, William Penn, Smith, Elliot, Colden, Lang, Lewis and Clark, and Mackenzie.

By using the name Uncas for one of his characters, he seemed to confuse the two regional tribes: the Mohegan of Connecticut, of which Uncas had been a well-known sachem, and the Mahican of upstate New York. The popularity of Cooper's book helped spread the confusion.

In the period when Cooper was writing, deputations from the Western tribes frequently traveled through the region along the Mohawk River, on their way to New York or Washington, DC. He made a point of visiting these parties as they passed through Albany and New York. On several occasions, he followed them all the way to Washington to observe them for longer. He also talked to the military officers and interpreters who accompanied them.[11]

Critical reception

The novel was first published in 1826 by Carey & Lea, of Philadelphia. According to Susan Cooper, its success was "greater than that of any previous book from the same pen" and "in Europe the book produced quite a startling effect."[11]

Cooper's novels were popular, but reviewers were often critical, or dismissive. For example, the reviewer of the London Magazine (May 1826) described the novel as "clearly by much the worst of Mr Cooper's performances."[14] Mark Twain notably derided the author in his essay, "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses," published in North American Review (July 1895). Twain complained that Cooper lacked a variety of style and was overly wordy. In the essay, Twain re-writes a small section of The Last of the Mohicans, claiming that Cooper, "the generous spendthrift", used 100 "extra and unnecessary words" in the original version.[15]

Re-reading the book in his later years, Cooper noted some inconsistencies of plot and characterization, particularly the character of Munro. But, he wrote that in general, "the book must needs have some interest for the reader, since it could amuse even the writer, who had in a great measure forgotten the details of his own work."[11]


The Last of the Mohicans has been James Fenimore Cooper's most popular work. It has continued as one of the most widely read novels throughout the world, and it has influenced popular opinion about American Indians and the frontier period of eastern American history. The romanticized images of the strong, fearless, and ever resourceful frontiersman (i.e., Natty Bumppo), as well as the stoic, wise, and noble "red man" (i.e., Chingachgook) were notions derived from Cooper's characterizations more than from anywhere else.[16] The phrase, "the last of the Mohicans," has come to represent the sole survivor of a noble race or type.[17]



A number of films have been based on the lengthy book, making various cuts, compressions, and changes. The American adaptations include:

The 1920 film has been deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. According to the director Michael Mann, his 1992 version was based more on the 1936 film version. Mann believes Cooper's novel is "not a very good book," taking issue with Cooper's sympathy for the Euro-Americans and their seizure of the American Indians' domain.[18]

In Germany, Der Letzte der Mohikaner, with Béla Lugosi as Chingachgook, was the second part of the two-part Lederstrumpf film released in 1920. Based on the same series of the novels, Chingachgook die Grosse Schlange (Chingachgook the Great Serpent), starring Gojko Mitic as Chingachgook, appeared in East Germany in 1967, and became popular throughout the Eastern Bloc.

Stage drama

Since 2010, Last of the Mohicans Outdoor Drama, Inc. has presented a full-length dramatic version of The Last of the Mohicans. It was adapted for the stage by the author Michael Dufault and has been produced by Steven O'Connor at various locations in the Lake George, New York region.


Classic Comics #4, The Last of the Mohicans, first published 1942.

Marvel Comics has published two versions of the story: in 1976 a one-issue version as part of their Marvel Classics Comics series (issue #13). In 2007, they published a six-issue mini-series to start off the new Marvel Illustrated series.


The Last of the Mohicans was adapted for radio in two one-hour episodes directed by Michael Fox and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1995 (subsequently on BBC Radio 7), with Michael Fiest, Philip Franks, Helen McCrory and Naomi Radcliffe.



  • In 2004, an animated Italian TV series version (originally named L'ultimo dei Mohicani) was produced by MondoTV and RaiFiction in association with The Animation Band and Studio Sek, consisting of 26 episodes.


In 1977, Lake George Opera presented an opera version The Last of the Mohicans by composer Alva Henderson.[19]


In 2011, The Last of the Mohicans was parodied as The Last of the Meheecans in an episode of the popular animated series South Park.

See also

Novels portal


Further reading

  • H. Daniel Peck (ed.): New Essays on The last of the Mohicans. Cambridge University Press 1992, ISBN 0-521-37771-4
  • George Dekker (ed.), John P. Williams (ed.): James Fenimore Cooper: The Critical Heritage. Routledge 1997, ISBN 0-415-15928-8, pp. 87–114
  • Craig White: Student Companion to James Fenimore Cooper. Greenwood Publishing 2006, ISBN 0-313-33413-7, pp. 101–124
  • Donald A. Ringe: "Mode and Meaning in 'The Last of the Mohicans'", In W. M. Verhoeven (ed.): James Fenimore Cooper: New Historical and Literary Contexts. Rodopi 1993, ISBN 90-5183-333-4, pp. 109–124
  • Martin Barker, Roger Sabin: The Lasting of the Mohicans. University Press of Mississippi 1995, ISBN 0-87805-858-3
  • Oberg, Michael Leroy, Uncas, First of the Mohegans, 2003, ISBN 0-8014-3877-2
  • Urdang, Laurence. The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 1969. Library of Congress 68-19699.

External links

  • Template:Sister-inline
  • - extensive collection of material about Cooper, in particular many scholarly articles on him and his work
  • The Last of the Mohicans at Project Gutenberg
  • Open Library
  • Fort William Henry Museum
  • Fort William Henry: The Siege & Massacre
  • Last of the Mohicans Outdoor Drama

Template:The Last of the Mohicans

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