James Fenimore Cooper.

The deerslayer: or, The first war-path. A tale (Volume vols. 1 & 2) online

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W. H. Smyth






1 Cab. -.".:'/. 01


" What Terrors round him -Wait !

Amazement in his van, with Flight combined,
And Sorrow's faded form, and Solitude behind."






Entered according to the act of Congress, in the year 1841 br

in the Clerk's office of the District Court of the United Slates in and
for the northern district of New York.


THIS book has not been written without many
misgivings as to its probable reception. To
carry one and the same character through five
several works would seem to be a wilful over
drawing on the good-nature of the public, and
many persons may very reasonably suppose
it an act, of itself, that ought to invite a rebuke.
To this natural objection, the author can only
say that, if he has committed a grave fault on
this occasion, his readers are in some measure
answerable for it. The favourable manner in
which the more advanced career, and the death,
of Leather Stocking, were received, has cre
ated, in the mind of the author at least, a sort
of necessity for giving some account of his
younger days. In short, the pictures of his
life, such as they are, were already so complete
as to excite some little desire to see the * study,'
from which they have all been drawn.



"The Leather-Stocking Tales," now* form,
something like a drama in five acts ; complete as
to material and design, though quite probably
very incomplete as to execution. Such as they
are, the reading world has them before it. The
author hopes, should it decide that this par
ticular act, the last in execution, though the
first in the order of perusal, is not the best
of the series, it will also come to the conclusion
that it is not absolutely the worst. More than
once, he has been tempted to burn his manu
script, and to turn to some other subject, though
he has met with an encouragement, in the
course of his labours, of a character so singular,
as to be worth mentioning. An anonymous let
ter from England has reached him, written, as
he thinks, by a lady, in which he is urged to do
almost the very thing he had already more than
half executed ; a request that he has been will
ing enough to construe into a sign that his at
tempt will be partially forgiven, if not altoge
ther commended.

Little need be said concerning the characters
and scenery of this tale. The former are fic
titious, as a'matter of course ; but the latter is


as true to nature as an intimate knowledge of
the present appearance of the region described,
and such probable conjectures concerning its
ancient state as could be furnished by the ima
gination, enabled the writer to render it. The
lake, mountains, valley and forests, are all be
lieved to be sufficiently exact ; while the river,
rock and shoal are faithful transcripts from na
ture. Even the points exist, a little altered by
civilization, but so nearly answering to the de
scriptions, as to be easily recognized by all who
are familiar with the scenery of the particular
region in question.

As to the accuracy of the incidents of this
tale, in whole or in part, it is the intention of
the author to stand on his rights, and say no
more than he deems to be necessary. In the
great struggle for veracity that is carrying on
between History and Fiction, the latter has so
often the best of it, that he is quite willing to
refer the reader to his own researches, by way
of settling this particular point. Should it ap.
pear, on inquiry, that any professed historian,
the public documents, or even the local tradi
tions, contradict the statements of this book, the


writer is ready to admit that the circumstance
has entirely escaped his observation, and to con
fess his ignorance. On the other hand, should it
be found that the annals of America do not con
tain a syllable in opposition to what has been
now laid before the world, as he firmly believes
investigation will show to be the case, he shall
claim for his legend just as much authority as
it deserves.

There is a respectable class of novel-readers
respectable for numbers, quite as much as for
every thing else who have often been likened
to the man that " sings when he reads, and
reads when he sings." These persons are ex
ceedingly imaginative in all matters of fact, arid
as literal as a school-boy's translation, in every
thing that relates to poetry. For the benefit
of all such persons, it is explicitly stated, that
Judith Hutter is Judith Hutter, and not Judith
any one else ; and, generally, that wherever a
coincidence may occur in a Christian name, or
in the colour of hair, nothing more is meant
than can properly be inferred from a coincidence
in a Christian name, or in the colour of hair.
Long experience has taught the writer that this


portion of his readers is much the most difficult
to please ; and he would respectfully suggest,
for the benefit of both parties, that they try the
experiment of reading works of the imagina
tion as if they were intended for matters of fact.
Such a plan might possibly enable them to be
lieve in the possibility of fiction.

There is another class of readers less im
portant certainly, in a republican country, inas
much as it is materially in the minority which
is addicted to taking things as they are offered,
and of understanding them as they are meant.
These persons are advised to commence at
chapter first, and to read consecutively, just as
far as the occupation may prove agreeable to
themselves, and not a page beyond it. Should
any of this class reach the end of the book,
and fancy the time spent in the perusal not en
tirely thrown away, the circumstance will afford
its author sincere gratification.



"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar :
I love not man the less, but nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal,
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal."

Childe Harold.

Ox the human imagination, events produce the effect*
of time. Thus, he who has travelled far and seen much,
is apt to fancy that he has lived long ; and the history that
most abounds in important incidents, soonest assumes the
aspect of antiquity. In no other way can we account for
the venerable air that is already gathering around American
annals. When the mind reverts to the earliest days of co
lonial history, the period seems remote and obscure, the
thousand changes that thicken along the links of recollec
tions, throwing back the origin of the nation to a day so
distant as seemingly to reach the mists of time ; and yet
four lives of ordinary duration would suffice to transmit,
from mouth to mouth, in the form of tradition, all that
civilized man has achieved within the limits of the re
public. Although New York, alone, possesses a population
materially exceeding that of either of the four smallest
kingdoms of Europe, or materially exceeding that of the
entire Swiss Confederation, it is little more than two centu
nes since the Dutch commenced their settlement, rescuing
VOL. I. 2 <*)


the:rfcg*bn fVoirt tt\e;sjwage state. Thus, what seems vene-
rabie by an acciimu lation of changes, is reduced to fami
Harit yf when' we, come, seriously to consider it solely in
connectioxx .with time.

This glance into the perspective of the past, will prepare
the reader to look at the pictures we are about to sketch,
with less surprise than he might otherwise feel ; and a few
additional explanations may carry him back in imagination,
to the precise condition of society that we desire to de
lineate. It is matter of history that the settlements on the
eastern shores of the Hudson, such as Claverack, Kinder-
hook, and even Poughkeepsie, were not regarded as safe
from Indian incursions a century since ; and there is still
standing on the banks of the same river, and within musket-
shot of the wharves of Albany, a residence of a younger
branch of the Van Rensselaers, that has loop-holes con
structed for defence against the same crafty enemy, although
it dates from a period scarcely so distant. Other similar
memorials of the infancy of the country are to be found,
scattered through what is now deemed the very centre of
American civilization, affording the plainest proofs that all
we possess of security from invasion and hostile violence,
is the growth of but little more than the time that is fre
quently filled by a single human life.

The incidents of this tale occurred between the years
1740 and 1745, when the settled portions of the colony of
New York were confined to the four Atlantic counties, a
narrow belt of country on each side of the Hudson, ex
tending from its mouth to the falls near its head, and to a
few advanced " neighbourhoods" on the Mohawk and the
Schoharie. Broad belts of the virgin wilderness, not only
reached the shores of the first river, but they even crossed
it, stretching away into New England, and affording forest
covers to the noiseless moccasin of the native warrior, as
he trod the secret and bloody war-path. A bird's-eye view
of the whole region east of the Mississippi, must then have
offered one vast expanse of woods, relieved by a compa
ratively narrow fringe of cultivation along the sea, dotted
by the glittering surfaces of lakes, and intersected by the
waving lines of rivers. In such a vast picture of solemn
solitude, the district of country we design to paint sinks into


insignificance, though we feel encouraged to proceed by the
conviction that, with slight and immaterial distinctions, he
who succeeds in giving an accurate idea of any portion of
this wild region, must necessarily convey a tolerably cor*
rect notion of the whole.

Whatever may be the changes produced by man, the
eternal round of the seasons is unbroken. Summer and
winter, seed-time and harvest, return in their stated order,
with a sublime precision, affording to man one of the no
blest of all the occasions he enjoys of proving the high
powers of his far-reaching mind, in compassing the laws
that control their exact uniformity, and in calculating their
never-ending revolutions. Centuries of summer suns had
warmed the tops of the same noble oaks and pines, sending
their heats even to the tenacious roots, when voices were
heard calling to each other, in the depths of a forest, of
which the leafy surface lay bathed in the brilliant light of a
cloudless day in June, while the trunks of the trees rose in
gloomy grandeur in the shades beneath. The calls were
in different tones, evidently proceeding from two men who
had lost their way, and were searching in different direc
tions for their path. At length a shout proclaimed success,
and presently a man broke out of the tangled labyrinth
of a small swamp, emerging into an opening that appeared
to have been formed partly by the ravages of the wind,
and partly by those of fire. This little area, which afforded
a good view of the sky, although it was pretty well filled
with dead trees, lay on the side of one of the high hills,
or low mountains, into which nearly the whole surface of
the adjacent country was broken.

" Here is room to breathe in !" exclaimed the liberated
forester, as soon as he found himself under a clear sky,
shaking his huge frame like a mastiff that has just escaped
from a snow-bank ; " Hurrah ! Deerslayer ; here is day
light, at last, and yonder is the lake."

These words were scarcely uttered when the second
forester dashed aside the bushes of the swamp, and ap
peared in the area. After making a hurried adjustment of
his arms and disordered dress, he joined his companion,
who had already begun his dispositions for a halt.


" Do you know this spot ?" demanded the one called
Deerslayer, " or do you shout at the sight of the sun ?"

" Both, lad, both ; I know the spot, and am not sorry to
see so useful a friend as the sun. Now we have got the
p'ints of the compass in our minds, once more, and 't will
be our own faults if we let any thing turn them topsy
turvy ag'in, as has just happened. My name is not Hurry
Harry, if this be not the very spot where the land-hunterj
'camped the last summer, and passed a week. See, yonder
are the dead bushes of their bower, and here is the spring.
Much as I like the sun, boy, I Ve no occasion for it to tell
me it is noon ; this stomach of mine is as good a time
piece as is to be found in the colony, and it already p'ints
to half past twelve. So open the wallet, and let us wind
up for another six hours' run."

At this suggestion, both set themselves about making the
preparations necessary for their usual frugal, but hearty,
meal. We will profit by this pause in the discourse to give
the reader some idea of the appearance of the men, both
of whom are destined to enact no insignificant parts in our
legend. It would not have been easy to find a more noble
specimen of vigorous manhood, than was offered in the
person of him who called himself Hurry Harry. His real
name was Henry March ; but the frontier-men having
caught the practice of giving sobriquets, from the Indians,
the appellation of Hurry was far oftener applied to him
than his proper designation, and not unfrequently he was
termed Hurry Skurry, a nick-name he had obtained from -a
dashing, reckless, off-hand manner, and a physical rest
lessness that kept him so constantly on the move, as to
cause him to be known along the whole line of scattered
habitations that lay between the province and the Canadas.
The stature of Hurry Harry exceeded six feet four, and
being unusually well proportioned, his strength fully re
alized the idea created by his gigantic frame. The face
did no discredit to the rest of the man, for it was both good-
humoured and handsome. His air was free, and though
his manner necessarily partook of the rudeness of a border
life, the grandeur that pervaded so noble a physique pre
vented it from becoming altogether vulgar.

Deerslayer, as Hurry called his companion, was a very


different person in appearance, as well as in character. In
stature, he stood about six feet in his moccasins, but his
frame was comparatively light and slender, showing muscles,
however, that promised unusual agility, if not unusual
strength. His face would have had little to recommend it
except youth, were it not for an expression that seldom
failed to win upon those who had leisure to examine it, and
to yield to the feeling of confidence it created. This ex
pression was simply that of guileless truth, sustained by an
earnestness of purpose, and a sincerity of feeling, that ren
dered it remarkable. At times this air of integrity seemed
to be so simple as to awaken the suspicion of a want of tho
usual means to discriminate between artifice and truth ; but
few came in serious contact with the man, without losing
this distrust in respect for his opinions and motives.

Both these frontier-men were still young, Hurry having
reached the age of six or eight and twenty, while Deerslayer
was several years his junior. Their attire needs no par
ticular description, though it may be well to add that it was
composed in no small degree of dressed deer-skins, and had
the usual signs of belonging to those who passed their time
between the skirts of civilized society and the boundless
forests. There was, notwithstanding, some attention to
smartness and the picturesque in the arrangements of Deer-
slayer's dress, more particularly in the part connected with
bis arms and accoutrements. His rifle was in perfect con
dition, the handle of his hunting-knife was neatly carved,
his powder-horn was ornamented with suitable devices,
lightly cut into the material, and his shot-pouch was deco
rated with wampum. On the other hand, Hurry Harry,
either from constitutional recklessness, or from a secret con
sciousness how little his appearance required artificial aids,
wore every thing in a careless, slovenly manner, as if he
felt a noble scorn for the trifling accessories of dress and
ornaments. Perhaps the peculiar effect of his fine form and
great stature was increased, rather than lessened, by this
unstudied and disdainful air of indifference.

" Come, Deerslayer, fall to, and prove that you have a

Delaware stomach, as you say you have had a Delaware

edication," cried Hurry, setting the example by opening his

mouth to receive a slice of cold venison steak that would



have made an entire meal for a European peasant ; " fall to
lad, and prove your manhood on this poor devil of a doe,
with your teeth, as you Ve already done with your rifle."

" Nay, nay, Hurry, there 's little manhood in killing a
doe, and that, too, out of season ; though there might be
some in bringing down a painter, or a catamount," returned
the other, disposing himself to comply. " The Delawares
have given me my name, not so much on account of a bold
heart, as on account of a quick eye, and an actyve foot.
There may not be any cowardice in overcoming a deer, but
sartain it is, there 's no great valour."

" The Delawares, themselves, are no heroes," muttered
Hurry through his teeth, the mouth being too full to permi t
it to be fairly opened, " or they would never have allowed
them loping vagabonds, the Mingos, to make them women."

" That matter is not rightly understood has never been
rightly explained," said Deerslayer earnestly, for he was as
zealous a friend, as his companion was dangerous as an
enemy ; ;: the Mengwe fill the woods with their lies, and
misconceive words and treaties. I have now lived ten years
with the Delawares, and know them to be as manful as any
other nation, when the proper time to strike comes."

" Harkee, Master Deerslayer, since we are on the subject,
we may as well open our minds to each other in a man-to
man way ; answer me one^uestion ; you have had so much
luck among the game as to have gotten a title, it would
seem, but did you ever hit any thing human or intelligible :
did you ever pull trigger on an inimy that was capable of
pulling one upon you ?"

This question produced a singular collision between mor
tification and correct feeling, in the bosom of the youth, thai
was easily to be traced in the workings of his ingenuous
countenance. The struggle was short, however ; upright
ness of heart soon getting the better of false pride, and fron
tier boastfulness.

" To own the truth, I never did," answered Deerslayer ;
" seaing that a fitting occasion never offered. The Dela
wares have been peaceable since my sojourn with 'em, and
I hc*d it to be onlawful to take the life of man, except in
open and ginerous warfare."

" What ! did you never find a fellow thieving among you*


traps and skins, and do the law on him, with your own
hands, by way of saving the magistrates trouble, in the set-
tlements, and the rogue himself the costs of the suit ?"

" I am no trapper, Hurry," returned the young man
proudly : " I live by the rifle, a we'pon at which I will not
turn my back on any man of my years, atween the Hudson
and the St. Lawrence. I never offer a skin that has not a
hole in its head besides them which natur' made to see with,
or to breathe through."

" Ay, ay, this is all very well, in the animal way, though
it makes but a poor figure alongside of scalps and and-
bushes. Shooting an Indian from an and-bush is acting up
to his own principles, and now we have what you call a
lawful war on our hands, the sooner you wipe that disgrace
off your conscience, the sounder will be your sleep ; if it
only come from knowing there is one inimy the less prowl
ing in the woods. I shall not frequent your society lonsj,
friend Natty, unless you look higher than four-footed beasls
to practise your rifle on."

" Our journey is nearly ended, you say, Master March,
and we can part to-night, if you see occasion. I have a
fri'nd waiting for me, who will think it no disgrace to con
sort, with a fellow-creatur' that has never yet slain his kind."

" I wish I knew what has brought that skulking Delaware
into this part of the country so early in the season," mut-
tered Hurry to himself, in a way to show equally distrust
and a recklessness of its betrayal. " Where did you say
the young chief was to give you the meeting ?"

" At a small, round rock, near the foot of the lake, where,
they tell me, the tribes are given to resorting to make their
treaties, and to bury their hatchets. This rock have I often
heard the Delawares mention, though lake and rock are
equally strangers to me. The country is claimed by both
Mingos and Mohicans, and is a sort of common territory to
fish and hunt through, in time of peace, though what it
may become in war-time, the Lord only knows !"

" Common territory !" exclaimed Hurry, laughing aloud.
" I should like to know what Floating Tom Hutter would
Bay to that 1 He claims the lake as his own property, in
var'ue of fifteen years' possession, and will not be likely to


give it up to either Mingo or Delaware, without a battle
for it."

" And what will the colony say to such a quarrel 1 All
this country must have some owner, the gentry pushing
their cravings into the wilderness, even where they nevei
dare to ventur', in their own persons, to look at 'em."

" That may do in other quarters of the colony, Deerslayer ;
but it will not do here. Not a human being, the Lord ex-
cepted, owns a foot of s'ile in this part of the country. Pen
was never put to paper, consarning either hill or valley,
hereaway, as I 've heard old Tom say, time and ag'in, and
so he claims the best right to it of any man breathing ; and
what Tom claims, he 11 be very likely to maintain."

" By what I Vc heard you say, Hurry, this Floating Tom
must be an oncommon mortal ; neither Mingo, Delaware,
nor Pale-Face. His possession, too, has been long, by your
tell, and altogether beyond frontier endurance. What 's the
man's history and natur' ?"

" Why, as to old Tom's human natur', it is not much
like other men's human natur', but more like a musk-rat's
human natur', seeing that he takes more to the ways of that
animal, than to the ways of any other fellow-creatur'.
Some think he was a free liver on the salt-water, in his
youth, and a companion of a sartain Kidd, who was hanged
for piracy, long afore you and I were born, or acquainted,
and that he came up into these regions, thinking that the
king's cruisers could never cross the mountains, and that he
might enjoy the plunder peaceably in the woods."

" Then he was wrong, Hurry ; very wrong. A man can
enjoy plunder peaceably nowhere."

" That 's much as his turn of mind may happen to be.
I 've known them that never could enjoy it at all, unless it was
in the midst of a jollification, and them ag'in that enjoyed it
best in a corner. Some men have no peace if they don't
find plunder, and some if they do. Human natur' is crooked
in these matters. Old Tom seems to belong to neither set,
as he enjoys his, if plunder he has really got, with his dar
ters, in a very quiet and comfortable way, and wishes foi
no more."

" Ay, he has darters, too ; I 've heard the Delaware^


who Ve hunted this-a-way, tell their histories of these young
women. Is there no mother, Hurry 1"

" There was once, as in reason ; but she has now been
dead and sunk these two good years."

" Anan ?" said Deerslayer, looking up at his companion
hi a little surprise.

" Dead and sunk, I say, and I hope that 's good English.
The old fellow lowered his wife into the lake, by way of
seeing the last of her, as I can testify, being an eye-witness
of the ceremony ; but whether Tom did it to save digging,
which is no easy job among roots, or out of a consait that
water washes away sin sooner than 'arth, is more than I
can say."

" Was the poor woman oncommon wicked, that her hus
band should take so much pains with her body ?"

" Not onreasonable ; though she had her faults. I con
sider Judith Hutter to have been as graceful, and about as
likely to make a good ind, as any woman who had lived so
long beyond the sound of church bells ; and I conclude old
Tom sunk her as much by way of saving pains, as by way

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe deerslayer: or, The first war-path. A tale (Volume vols. 1 & 2) → online text (page 1 of 50)