“The Last of the Mohicans” is the second book in a series written by James Fenimore Cooper and published in 1840. These books were part of the Leatherstocking Tales pentalogy. It was preceded by The Pioneers, published in 1823, and The Prairie, published in 1827. “The Pathfinder” is the next in the series and published in 1840, fourteen years later.
Set during the French and Indian War sometimes called the Seven Years’ War. The French and British both used the Native Americans as allies and scouts, but the British had an upper hand because of their colonists. Also, the French had little control over their Native American scouts and were often overpowered by them.
In this book, Fort William Henry is under siege by the French and the Delaware tribe. Cora and Alice Munro, the daughters of Colonel Munro the commander of Fort William Henry. General Webb, the commander of Fort Edward, where the girls are staying, sends his trusted scout, Magua, along with Major Duncan Heyward to accompany the daughters.
Along the way they meet a David Gamut, a young man trying to carry the Christian religion to the frontier through song. Since Heyward is unsure of the trails Magua leads them on, he doesn’t realize that they are being led into danger, until they meet the great frontiersman, Hawkeye and his Mohican companions, Chingachgook, and son, Uncas.
The book covers their adventures through the woods and the wild Native Americans they came into contact with. The story covers the battle between good and evil. With good winning in the end, but at a large cost.
“The Last of the Mohicans” begins during the colonial wars in North America. In the third year of the French and Indian War. The land that is populated with hostile Native Americans is as dangerous as the war. The European armies spend months battling against the rapids of the streams and the rugged passes of the mountains. Soon the soldiers begin to emulate the natives they fight with and become more adept at handling the terrain. They are there to “uphold the cold and selfish policy of the distant monarchs of Europe”.
Allying himself with several of he tribes, French General Montcalm moves his large army south to try to take Fort William Henry from the British. Magua, an Indian scout for the British intercepts the message about the attack coming from the French and tells the British General Webb who his is loyal to. Webb has decided to send reinforcements to help Colonel Munro who is in command of the fort.
Alice and Cora Munro want to be with their father, so Webb sends Major Heywood to accompany them. As they are leaving an Indian runner runs past them and Alice watches him with a mixed admiration and repulsion. Magua is the runner she was admiring. He agrees to go with young Heywood and the young women as guide. He knows of a shortcut they can take that is known only to the natives. After they leave Fort Edward they meet a stranger who claims to be a psalmodist. He worships by singing Old Testament psalms. He is greatly out of place in the forest because he is so soft and dainty. He says that he wants to join their group. His presumptuous attitude irritates Heyward but he becomes interested when he reveals that he is an instructor. He asks Gamut if he is a mathematician or a scientist, but when he tells him that all he knows is the Bible and setting the teachings to music. Gamut sings his songs loudly until Magua whispers to Heyward that they need to be quiet if they don’t want to alert the natives. Major Heyward scans the forest in a confident manner, but his unfamiliarity with the terrain makes him miss a wide-eyed Indian watching them through the branches.
Meanwhile in another part of the forest, Hawkeye, a white hunter, and his Mohican ally, Chingachgook are discussing the history that has led them to both be together in the forest. Although both men are hunters, their dress is quite different. Hawkeye wears a hunting shirt, skin cap, and buckskin leggings. He is carrying a knife, pouch, and horn. While the Chingachgook is covered with paint and wearing a loincloth. The weapons they carry differ, too. Hawkeye has a long rifle and Chingachgook carrying a short rifle and tomahawk. Chingachgook mourns the loss of his tribe. He and his son, Uncas are the only Mohicans left. His son had been trailing the Maquas, who are the Iroquois enemies of the Mohicans. They hear the sound of horses approaching.
The horses are carrying Heyward and his group. They explain that Magua has guided them away from their route. Hawkeye finds that suspicious since an Indian would never be lost in the forest. When he learns Magua is from the Huron tribe, he thinks his suspicions are justified. He says that the only Indians that are trustworthy are the Mohicans and Delawares. Hawkeye and Heyward decide to arrest Magua on suspicion of being a traitor. The Mohicans try to sneak up while Heyward is keeping him occupied, but Magua runs. Hawkeye takes a shot at him. Even though Magua escapes, Hawkeye finds blood on a leaf which lets him know that he hit Magua. Heyward wants to chase after him, but Hawkeye disagrees because he worries that the noise may have alerted the enemy.
The rest of the group wants to look for shelter during the night. Uncas tells them about a secret hideout of the Mohicans. When Heyward promises never to tell the English where the hideout is they go there. The Mohicans warn about the noise the horses are making and when Gamut’s horse makes too much noise the Mohicans kill it hiding the body in the in the river. They hide the remaining horses and take the women in a canoe. Hawkeye notices the horses were nervous as if they sensed wolves nearby. This is a sign that Indians might be near because they wolves feed on deer killed by Indians. While Gamut sings a song for his dead horse, the two Mohicans and Hawkeye vanish, like they disappear into a rock.
The rest of the group see that the entry to the cave is behind the wall of the waterfall. While they are eating a meal of venison, Unca shows an interest in Alice and Gamut continues to grieve for his horse. He and the women sing a hymn that makes Hawkeye nostalgic. Unca slips outside to investigate a strange sound but returns with no results. Heyward, Cora, and Alice go back into the inner cave for protection while they sleep. The sound happens again and Hawkeye investigates. He is also mystified. Cora wishes they had not decided to join their father. Hawkeye thinks the sound may be a warning so they all flee the cave. Then he decides the sound is the fearful cry of the horses. They chase off the wolves bothering the horses and the group waits for dawn in the shadows.
The Iroquois attack just before dawn, wounding Gamut. While Chingachgook returns fire, Heyward takes the women and Gamut to the outer cave for protection. Hawkeye tells them their only hope is to stay there and fight in their defensible position until help arrives. They fight throughout the day and the next dawn Heyward and Hawkeye see four Indians swimming too close to the cave. They call Uncas to help and they battle again. When they notice that their ammunition has been stolen the feel defeated. Then Cora comes up with a plan. She suggests that the men escape down the river. She thinks the Iroquois won’t kill the women and the men can rescue them later. One by one the men swim away, but Heyward refuses to leave them.
Soon the Iroquois find the cave and don’t notice Cora, Alice, Gamut and Heyward because they are hiding behind a blanket. But, Magua discovers them and when Heyward tries to shoot him, they group are taken prisoners.
The Hurons want to kill Heyward, but they decide to get information from him instead. When they discover that Hawkeye and the Mohicans left they become so angry they want to kill Alice. Instead the chief decides to move the whole party to the south bank of the river. Cora tries to leave a trail but is stopped by the Indians. Magua is in charge of watching the whites, and he leads them to a steep hill.
Heyward asks Magua to save the women for the sake of their father. Magua speaks to Cora privately where he tells her that he wants to punish her father. Magua was the chief of his tribe until he became addicted to alcohol. He says that Captain Munro once had him whipped for coming into the camp drunk. He wants to revenge himself on the Captain by marrying Cora and if she agrees he will release Alice. She refuses so the Hurons tie the to stakes. Magua cuts off on of Alice’s curls and this enrages Heyward who breaks free and attacks an Indian. Just as the Hurons are about to kill him a shot rings out and the Indian Heyward was fighting falls dead.
Hawkeye and the Mohicans have come to save them. They win quickly especially since the Hurons had set their rifles aside, but Magua escapes. Chingachgook scalps the dead Indians, Uncas unties and cares for the women and Hawkeye gets into a religious debate with Gamut while he is freeing him. They continue to Fort William Henry.
After a night in a ruined blockhouse, the group continues by walking through water to mask their tracks. They pass a pond that Hawkeye tells them is full of French corpses. As they get closer to Fort William Henry, they come to a French guard. Hawkeye speaks French to him while Chingachgook sneaks up behind him and cuts his throat. As the firing increases between the English and French, the chances of getting hit with crossfire increases. They finally make it through and Colonel Munro embraces his daughters.
Five days into the siege, Hawkeye is captured by the French. Montcalm keeps the letter Hawkeye was carrying to General Webb and requests a meeting with Munro. He sends Heyward in his place. Montcalm urges them to surrender as he is having trouble holding his Indian allies in check.
When Heyward finds the General to relay Montcalm’s message, he finds him with his daughters. It is revealed that both girls have different mothers. Cora’s mother was black and Alice’s mother was from Scotland. Munro goes with Heyward back to the French camp where he is given a letter from Webb advising him to surrender the fort. Montcalm assures them they will be able to keep their arms, baggage, and colors, and they will be sure the Indians don’t attack. Munro accepts the offer.
The next morning the English file out of the fort, but are attacked by the Indians who are with the French. It is a slaughter and when Alice faints, Magua grabs her and runs. Cora chases him with Gamut following. He had been singing his songs to keep the Indians away from the young women. The Indians begin to loot the bodies of their victims.
Three days later, Hawkeye, the Mohicans, Munro, and Heyward are looking over the smoking remains of the fort. Cora and Alice are still missing and when Uncas finally finds a trail, Heyward wants to pursue, but Hawkeye says they need to make a plan. Munro is in shock about his daughters. The group head north across the lake. They are seen by the Huron’s and trailed. But their superior use of the paddles makes them outpace the enemies. They reach the shore and head east to confuse their pursuers. After leaving the water, they leave an obvious trail while carrying their canoe. Then they make their way back stepping in their footsteps. They reached the brook and paddle all the way to the western shore. They hide the canoe and rest so they can continue their pursuit the next day.
Following the trail, they continue the next day. Soon they come to Gamut in the forest. He is dressed as an Indian. He is painted and have only a scalping tuft of hair on his head. He tells them that Magua separated the sisters sending Alice to the Huron camp and Cora to the Delaware. Gamut was released because they think he is crazy. Heyward is disguised as a clown by Chingachgook and since he knows French he uses his disguise to pass as a juggler from Ticonderoga. He and Gamut go to the Huron camp while Uncas and Heyward go to the Delaware camp to get Cora.
Heyward poses as a doctor in an attempt to pacify the Hurons. Soon a group of Huron’s return with a prisoner and they make him run so they can chase him. The prisoner wins because Heyward trips one of his pursuers. That is when he realizes the prisoner is Uncas. Meanwhile, the man who captured Uncas is being confronted by his father, who calls him a coward and kills him.
While Heyward is searching for Alice, Magua recognizes Uncas and convinces he Hurons that he must be tortured and killed the next morning. Then the chief takes Heyward to see a sick Indian woman. He discovers Gamut singing to her and a tame bear copying the man’s song. The woman is dying, and the chief insists Heyward cure her. Then the bear growls at the chief and he runs away. The bear is Hawkeye in disguise. He tells Heyward that he has gotten Chingachgook and Munro to safety and that Alice is hidden in the cavern they are in. Magua appears and Heyward and Hawkeye tie him up. Then Heyward takes the incapacitated Alice away wrapped in the dying Indian woman’s clothes. He tells the chief that he has to take the woman to the forest for healing herbs. He tells them that an evil spirit is in the cave and they should destroy it if they see it. When they are safely in the forest, Hawkeye sends Heyward and Alice towards the Delaware camp while he goes back to rescue Uncas.
Hawkeye dresses in the bear costume and finds Gamut. He and Gamut find Uncas and then Uncas wears the bear costume, Hawkeye wears Gamuts and Gamut takes Uncas place. They are sure that the Indians won’t attack Gamut because they are superstitious about mad men. The Hurons discover Gamut and then they see that the Indian woman in the cave is dead and Magua has been tied up. They release him and he convinces them to let him lead a party to the Delaware camp so they can get their revenge on the men who tricked them.
The next morning Magua enters the Delaware camp. He convinces them that the notorious Indian killer, La Longue Carabine is hiding in their camp. That is the name the Indians call Hawkeye. More than a thousand Delaware arrive to hear the judgment of Tamenund, who is one hundred years old. The warriors bring out Hawkeye, Cora, Alice, and Heyward. Heyward steps up to claim he is La Longue Carabine, but Hawkeye says he is. The two men have a shooting contest to see who is telling the truth. Hawkeye wins. Magua stirs the crowd into a frenzy and they tie both men up. Cora begs Tamenund to hear what Uncas has to say. Although he is skeptical, he is not against hearing what the Mohican has to say.
Uncas is convincing until he accuses Magua of being a liar. This enrages Tamenund and he calls for Uncas to be tortured. When they pull off his shirt they see a tattoo of a tortoise on his chest. Tamenund thinks the tattoo proves that Uncas is the reincarnation of Tamenund’s grandfather who was also named Uncas. Uncas is released immediately and he frees Hawkeye. Then Uncas works at convincing the Delawares that Magua is a liar. But, Magua insists that he should be allowed to keep one of his prisoners. Uncas reluctantly agrees so Magua runs away with Cora. Even though Hawkeye offered to die in her place and throw his rifle into the bargain. They vow to pursue Magna as soon as possible. Gamut arrives as they are planning a strategy to rescue Cora. He tells them where Magna has her. They decide to meet Chingachgook and Munro then the group will defeat the Huron warrior and rescue Cora.
After a battle with the Hurons, Magua and two warriors retreat to the cave where he has Cora. Hawkeye, Uncas, Gamut, and Heyward pursue them into the cave. Cora and Magua come to a precipice and Cora refuses to continue. Magua doesn’t know whether he wants to kill her or marry her. But his companion stabs her in the heart after Uncas lands near her. Magua is furious and leaps toward his companion but, stabs Uncas in the back first. Uncas is wounded but kills the Huron who killed Cora. Then Magua kills Uncas. Magua jumps across the precipice and just makes it when Hawkeye shoots him. He falls to his death at the bottom of the ravine.
The next morning the mourning begins. Munro holds his daughter’s body and Chingachgook his son’s. After a ritual, Cora is buried. Then the whites leave except for Hawkeye who stays behind to help with Uncas burial. Tamenund says that he has lived to see the last of the Mohicans.
Hawkeye – larger than life. A frontier hero. Tough and rough but still a kind of gentleman. He traveled with the Mohicans, Chingachgook, and Uncas, and fought with them. He is famous with all the tribes for being a marksman. They fear him and respect his bravery. They call him La Longue Carabine or The Long Rifle because of his famous rifle he has named Killdeer. His real name is Natty Bumppo, but he has adopted Hawkeye as a nickname. He is more comfortable with the Native Americans and the forests than with the whites and civilization. The author so often points out that Hawkeye is white so as to use him as a link between whites and Native Americans.
Magua – he is the clear cut villain. Hard to kill and with no redeeming qualities. He is of the Huron tribe and nicknamed Le Renard Subtil which is French, the white language spoken by the tribes, which means Subtle Fox. At one time he was a chief of his tribe but he became an alcoholic, which lost him the respect of his tribe. He blames the white men for making him an alcoholic, and he blames Colonel Munro for his lost respect. His main desire throughout the book is vengeance against the whites and especially Col. Munro. He plans to marry one of the man’s daughters so he can use her as a tool to torture her father. Although the author shows him as devoted to the British General Webb, it is quickly shown that his desire for revenge is stronger. His evil character is uncovered by the novel’s hero, Hawkeye. Then he spends the rest of the novel showing up in time to up the danger level.
In the end, he is shot and killed by the frontier hero, Hawkeye.
Major Duncan Heyward – the romantic lead in the story. He is a young colonist who was raised in the southern states and has risen to major in the English army. He is courageous and noble. Throughout the book, his inability to manage and understand the forest and the natives show up often and sometimes makes problems for Hawkeye.
Uncas – he was the son of Chingachgook and the youngest and last known member of the Mohican tribe. He is the epitome of the ‘noble red man.’ Cooper has him fall in love with Cora Munro, who is the mixed race daughter of Colonel Munro. He uses his skills to track Magua when he takes Cora after he is forced to allow the man to take her due to the rules of the Native Americans he lives by. When he finds her and tries to rescue her the last time, she is murdered and he kills the Huron brave who killed her. Then he is killed by Magua who is then killed himself by Hawkeye. The end of his life is romantic and the songs that the Native Americans sing about him will say that he and Cora are together forever in the “happy hunting grounds.” Since Hawkeye was his blood brother, Hawkeye will take his place in the care of his aging father.
James Fenimore Cooper Biography
James Fenimore Cooper was born in September 1789 in Burlington, New Jersey. He was a great American author of books about the American Frontier. He developed an original form of American literature that has been used by writers such as Louis L’amour and Zane Grey. Cooper was the eleventh of twelve children, most of whom died in infancy, as was all too common at the time. When he was one year old, the family moved to Cooperstown, New York. It was a community that was founded by his father. It was placed on a large piece of land he bought for development. The town was in central New York and had been owned by the Iroquois of the Six Nations. After the Revolutionary War, the Iroquois had been forced to cede their land because they had been allies with the British.
When Cooper was thirteen he was enrolled at Yale University. He was expelled in his third year because he instigated a dangerous prank that involved blowing up another student’s door after having already locking a donkey in the recitation room. At seventeen years old, Cooper joined the crew of a merchant’s vessel. By the age of twenty-two, he had become a midshipman in the emerging United States Navy. At twenty years old, Cooper inherited a fortune from his father. The next year he married Susan Augusta de Lancey. They had seven children, but only five lived to see adulthood. Their daughter, Susan Fenimore Cooper carried on her father’s profession and became a writer. She wrote on nature and women’s suffrage.
In 1820 his wife made a bet with him that she thought he could write a better book than the one she was reading. So he wrote Precaution inspired by Jane Austen. He published it anonymously and it sold well in America and Britain. Afterward, he wrote The Spy inspired by a story told to him by John Jay. This book stepped up to the best seller.
Later in his life, Cooper began writing books that weren’t fiction. He wrote with a combination of art and controversy. He also delved into the supernatural with The Crater or Vulcan’s Peak in 1847. The Ways of the Hour was his last completed novel.
On September 15,1851 Cooper died of dropsy on his sixty-second birthday. He was buried in Christ Episcopal Churchyard near his father. His wife, Susan died a few months later and was buried by his side. In books such as his Leatherstocking tales, Cooper was one of the first American writers to include African, African-American and Native American characters in his books. But, his treatment was sometimes insensitive. As an example, when he wrote “The Last of the Mohicans” he portrayed the Native Americans as bloodthirsty and with very little morals. But, he put his own morals in by making the Native American character, Uncas fall in love with a girl that was of mixed race. Her father white, her mother black. At this time in history, that was as far as Americans could push the bar in race relations. But, never the less, he was one of the first writers to invent the “noble red man” persona in literature, by giving the Mohicans, a noble, courageous and heroic mien.