James Fenimore Cooper.

The pioneers : or The sources of the Susquehanna ; a descriptive tale (Volume 1) online

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Extremes of habits, manners, time and space,
Brought close together, here stood face to free,
And gave at once a contrast to the view,
That other lauds and ages never knew. PAULDINO,





Southern District ofNen-York, ss;

BEIT REMEMBERED, That on the seventeenth day of October, in the
forty-seventh year of the Independence of the United States of Ameri
ca, Charles Wiley, of the said District, hath deposited in this office the ti
tle of a hook, the right whereof he claims as proprietor, in the words fol
lowing, to wit :

" The Pioneers, or the Sources of the Susquehanna ; a Descriptive Tale.
By tbe Author of ' Precaution '

' Extremes of habits, manners, time and space,
Brought close together, here stood face to face,
And gave at once acontrast to the view,
That other lands and ages never knew.' PACLDING."

In conformity to the Act of Congress of the United States, entitled " An
Act for the encouragement of Learning, by securing the copies of Maps,
Onarts, and Books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during
;he time therein mentioned." And also to an act, entitled "an Act, sup
plementary to an Act entitled an Act for the encouragement of Learning,
by securing the copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the authors and pro
prietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned, and extending
the benefits thereof to the arts of designing, engraving, and etching historical
an-J other priats."

Clerk of the Southern District of New-York;





THE length of our friendship would be
a sufficient reason for prefixing your name
to these pages ; but your residence so
near the scene of the tale, and your fami
liarity with much of the character and
kind of life that I have attempted to de
scribe, render it more peculiarly proper.
You, at least, dear Sutherland, will not
receive this dedication as a cold compli
ment, but as an evidence of the feeling
that makes me,

Warmly and truly,

Your friend,



EVERY man is, more or less, the sport
of accident; nor do I know that authors
are at all exempted from this humiliating
influence. This is the third of my novels,
and it depends on two very uncertain con
tingencies, whether it will not be the last :
the one being the public opinion, and the
other mine own humour. The first book
was written, because I was told that I could
not write a grave tale; so, to prove that
$he world did not know me, I wrote one
that was so grave nobody would read it;
wherein I think that I had much the best
of the argument. The second was written


to see if I could not overcome this neglect
of the reading world. How far 1 have suc
ceeded, Mr. CHARLES WILEY, must ever
remain a secret between ourselves. The
third has been written, exclusively, to
please myself: so it would be no wonder
if it displeased every body else; for what
two ever thought alike, on a subject of the
imagination ?

I should think criticism to be the per
fection of human acquirements, did there
not exist this discrepancy in taste. Just
as I have made up my mind to adopt the
very sagacious hints of one learned Re
viewer, a pamphlet is put into my hands,
containing the remarks of another, who
condemns all that his rival praises, and
praises all that his rival condemns. There
I am, left like an ass between two locks
of hay ; so that I have determined to re
linquish my animate nature, and remain
stationary, like a lock of hay between two

It is now a long time, say the wise ones,
since the world has been told all that is'
new and novel. But the Reviewers (the
cunning wig^^ !) have adopted an inge
nious expedient, to give a freshness to


the most trite idea. They clothe it in a
language so obscure arid metaphysical,
that the reader is not about to compre
hend their pages ftithoift some* labour.
This is called a great " range of thought ;"
and not improperly, as I can testify ; for,
in my own case, I have frequently ranged
the universe of ideas, and come back
again in as perfect ignorance of their
meaning as when I set out. It is delight
ful, to see the literati of a circulating li
brary get hold of one of these difficult pe
riods ! Their praise of the performance
is exactly commensurate with its obscurity.
Every body knows, that to seem wise is the
first requisite in a great man.

A common word in the mouths of all Re
viewers, readers of magazines, and young
ladies, when speaking of novels, is " keep
ing ;" and yet there are but few who at
tach the same meaning to it. I belong,
myself, to the old school, in this particu
lar, and think that it applies more to the
subject in hand, than to any use of terms,
or of cant expressions. As a man might
just as well be out of the world as out of
44 keeping," I have endeavoured to con
fine myself, in this tale, strictly to its ob-


servance. This is a formidable curb to
the imagination, as, doubtless, the reader
will very soon discover; but under its in-,
fluence I have 'dome* to the conclusion,
that the writer of a tale, who takes the
earth for the scene of his story, is in some *
degree bound to respect human nature.
Therefore I would advise any one, who
may take up this book, with the expecta
tion of meeting gods and goddesses,
spooks or witches, or of feeling that strong
excitement that is produced by battles
and murders, to throw it aside at once, for
no such interest will be found in any of its

I have already said, that it was mine
own humour that suggested this tale; but
it is a humour that is deeply connected
with feeling. Happier periods, more in
teresting events, and, possibly, more beau
teous scenes, might have been selected,
to exemplify my subject; but none of ei
ther that would be so dear to me. I wish,
therefore, to be judged more by what I
have done, than by my sins of omission.
I have introduced one battle, but it is not
cf the most Homeric kind. As for mur
ders, the population of a new country


will not admit of such a waste of human
life. There might possibly have been
one or two hangings, to thjtmanifest a$-

would have been out or" keeping" with
t&anf .mwS oLthrs compa^&jonate

The "Pioneers" is now before the world,
Mr. WILEY, and I shall look to you for the
only true account of its reception. The
critics may write as obscurely as they
please, and look much wiser than they are ;
the papers may puff or abuse, as their
changeful humours dictate ; but if you
meet me with a smiling face, I shall at once
know that all is essentially well.

If you should ever have 1 occasion for a
preface, I beg you will let me hear from
you in reply.

Yours, truly,


New-York, January 1st, 1823.





See, Winter cornes, to rule the varied year,
Sullen and saii, with all his rising train;
Vapours, and clouds, and storms 1 '

/ h'impson.

NEAR the centre of the great State of New-
York lies an extensive district of country, whose
surface is a succession of hills and dales, or, to
speak with greater deference to geographical de
finitions, of mountains and valleys. It is among
these hills that the Delaware takes its rise ; and
flowing from the limpid lakes and thousand springs
of this country, the numerous sources of the
mighty Susquehanna meander through the valleys,
until, uniting, they form one of the proudest
streams of which the old United States could boast.
The mountains are generally arable to the top,
although instances are not wanting, where their
sides are jutted with rocks, that aid greatly in
giving that romantic character to the country,
which it so eminently possesses. The vales are
narrow, rich, and cultivated; with stream uni
formly winding through each, now gliding peace
fully under the brow of one of the hills, and then
suddenly shooting across the plain, to wash the

VOL. I. 2


villages are found Interspersed alSngjbe margins



streams which are favourable to manufacturing ;
and neat and comfortable farms, with every indica-
tfy'S 6 ^ W ^J'& f 100 " 1 them, are scattered profusely
through the vales, and even to the mountain tops.
Roads diverge in every direction, from the even
and graceful bottoms of the valleys, to the most
rugged and intricate passes of the hills. Acade
mies, and minor edifices for the encouragement
of learning, meet the eye of the stranger, at every
few miles, as he vriuds his way through this uneven
territory ; and places for the public worship of
God abound with that frequency which character
izes a moral and reflecting people, and with tiiat
variety of exterior and canonical government
which flows from unfettered liberty of conscience.
In short, the whole district is hourly exhibiting
how much can be done, in even a rugged country,
and with a severe climate, under the dominion
rtf mild laws, and where every man feels a direct
interest in the prosperity of a commonwealth, of
which he knows himself to form a distinct and in
dependent part. The expedients of the pioneers
who first broke ground in the settlement of this
country,* are succeeded by the permanent im
provements of the yeoman, who intends to leave
his remains to moulder under the sod which he
tills, or, perhaps, of the son, who, born in the land,
piously wishes to linger around the grave of his
father. Only forty years have passed since this
wihnlc territory was a wilderness.

Very soon after the establishment of the inde
pendence of the States by the peace of 1783, the
enterprise of their citixens was directed to a de
velopment of the natural advantages of their
widely extended dominions. Before the war of


the revolution the inhabited parts of the colony
of New-York were limited to less than a tenth
of her possessions. A narrow belt of country,
extending for a short distance on either side of the
Hudson, with a similar occupation of fifty miles
on the hanks of the Mohawk, together with the
islands of Nassau and Siaten, and a few insulat
ed settlements on chosen land along the margins of
streams, composed the country that was then in
habited by less than two hundred thousand souls.
Within the short period we have mentioned, her
population has spread itself over five degrees of
latitude and seven of longitude, and has swelled
to the powerful number of nearly a million and
a half, who are maintained in abundance, and can
look forward to ages before the evil day must ar
rive, when their possessions will become unequal
to their wants.

Our tale begins in 1793, about seven years
after the commencement of one of the earliest of
those settlements, which have conduced to effect
that magical change in the power and condition
of the state, to which we have alluded.

It Was 1 near the setting of the sun, on a clear,
cold day in December of that year, when a s
was moving slowly up one of the mountains in
the district which we have described. The day
had been fine for the season, and but two or three
large clouds, whose colour seemed brighten
the light reflected from the mass of s:iow that
covered the earth, floated in a sky of the purest
blue. The road wound along- the brow of a pre
cipice, and on one side was upheld by a foundation
of logs, piled for many feet, one upon the other,
while a narrow excavation in the mountain, in the
opposite direction, had made a passage of sufficient
width for the ordinary traveling of that day Bat
logs, excavation, and every thing that did not reach


for several feet above the earth, lay promiscuously
buried under the snow. A single track, barely
wide enough to receive the sleigh, denoted the
route of the highway, and this was sunken near
two feet below the surrounding surface. In the
vale, which lay at a distance of several hundred
feet beneath them, there was what in the lan
guage of the country was called a clearing, and
all the usual improvements of a new settlement;
these even extended up the hill to the point
where the road turned short and ran across the
level land, which lay on the summit of the moun
tain ; but the summit itself yet remained a for-
egt. There was a glittering in the atmosphere,
as if k were filled with innumerable shining
particles, and the noble bay horses that drew tbe
sleigh were covered, in many parts, with a
coat of frost. The vapour from their nostrils was
seen to issue like smoke; and every object in the
view, as. well as every arrangement of the travel
lers, denoted the depth of a winter in the mountains.
The harness, which was of a deep dull black, differ
ing from the glossy varnishing of the present day,

of brass, that shone like gold in the transient beams
of the sun, which found their way obliquely through
the tops of the trees. Huge saddles, studded with
nails of the same material, and fitted with cloths
that admirably served as blankets to the shoulders
of the animals, supported four high, square-top
ped turrets, through which- the stout reins led from
the mouths of the horses to the hands of the driver.
who was a negro, of apparently twenty years of
age. His face, which nature had coloured with
a glistening black, was now mottled with the co!J 5
and his large shining eyes were moistened with a
liquid that flowed from the same cause ; still
there was a smiling expression of ^oo'd bim"r


in his happy countenance, that was created by
the thoughts of his home, and a Christmas fire
side, with its Christmas frolics. The sleigh was
one of those large, comfortable, old-fashioned
conveyances, which would admit a whole family
within its bosom, but which now contained only
two passengers besides the driver. Its outside
was of, i modest green, and its inside of a fiery red,
that was intended to convey the idea of heat in
that cold climate. Large buffalo skins, trimmed
around the edges with red cloth, cut into festoons,
covered the back of the sleigh, and were spread
over its bottom, and drawn up around the feet of
the travellers one of whom was a man of mid
dle age, and the other a female, just entering
upon womanhood. The form T was of a large sta
ture ; but the precautions he had taken to guard
against the cold, left but little of his person ex
posed to view. A great-coa^ that was abun
dantly ornamented, if it were not made more
comfortable, by a profusion of furs, enveloped
the whale of his figure, excepting the head, which
was covered with a cap of martin skins, lined
with morocco, the sides of which were made to fall,
if necessary, and were now drawn close over the
ears, and were fastened beneath his chin with a,
black riband ; its top was surmounted with the tail
of the animal whose skin had furnished the* mate
rials for the cap, which fell back not ungratefully,
a few inches behind the head. From beneath this
masque were to be seen part of a fine .manly face,
and particularly a pair of expressive, large blue
eyes, that promised extraordinary intellect, covert
humour, and great benevolence. The form of his
companion was literally hid beneath the multitude
and variety of garments which she wore. There
were furs and silks peeping from under a large
camblet cloak, with a thick flaaael lining,


by its cut and size, was evidently intended for a
masculine wearer. A huge hood of black silk,
that was quilted with down, concealed the whole
of her head, except at a small opening in front
for breath, through which occasionally sparkled a
pair of animated eyes of the deepest black.

Both the father and daughter (for such was the
connexion between the travellers) were too much
occupied with their different reflections to break
the stillness, that received little or no interruption
from the easy gliding of the sleigh, by the sound
of their voices. The former was thinking of the
wife that had held this their only child fondly to
her bosom, when, four years before, she had re
luctantly consented to relinquish the society of
her daughter, in order that the latter might enjoy
the advantages which the city could afford to her
education. A few months afterwards death had
deprived him of the remaining companion of his
solitude; but still he had enouph of real regard for
his child, not to bring her into the comparative wil
derness in which he dwelt, until the full period had
expired, to which he had limited her juvenile
labours. The reflections of the daughter were
less melancholy, and mingled with a pleased asto
nishment at the novel scenery that she met at eve
ry turn in the road.

The mountain on which they were journeying
was covered with pines, that rose without a branch
seventy or eighty feet, and which frequently tower
ed to an additional height, that more than equalled
that elevation. Through the innumerable vistas
that opened beneath the lofty trees the eye could
penetrate, until it was met by a distant inequality
in the ground, or was stopped by a view of the
summit of the mountain which lay on the opposite
side of the valley to which they were hastening.
The dark trunks of the tree?, rose from the pure


white of the snow, in regularly formed shafts, until,
at a great height, their branches shot forth their
horizontal limbs, that were covered with the mea
ger foliage of an evergreen, affording a melancho
ly contrast to the torpor of nature below To the
travellers there seemed to be no wind ; but these
pines waved majestically at their topmost boughs,
sending forth a dull, sighing sound, that was quite
in consonance with the scene.

The sleigh had glided for some distance along
the even surface, and the gaze of the female was
bent in inquisitive, and, perhaps, timid glances,
into the recesses of the forest, which were lighted
by the unsullied covering of the earth, when a
loud and continued howling was heard, pealing
under the long arches of the woods, like the cry
of a numerous pack of hounds. The instant the
sounds reached the ears of the gentleman, what
ever might have been the subject of his medita
tions, he forgot it ; for he cried aloud to the

" Hold up, -Aggy ; there is old Hector ; 1 should
know his bay among ten thousand. The Leather-
stocking has put his hounds into the hills this clear
day, and they have started their game, you hear.
There is a deer- track a few rods ahead; and
now, Bess, if thou canst muster courage enough to
stand fire, 1 will give thee a saddle for thy Christ
mas dinner."

The black drew up, with a cheerful grin upon
his chilled features, and began thrashing his arms
together, in order to restore the circulation to
his fingers, while the speaker stood erect, and,
throwing aside his outer covering, stept from the
sleigh upon a bank of snow, which sustained his
weight without yielding more than an inch or two,
A storm of sleet had fallen and frozen upon the
surface a few days before, and but a slight snow had



occurred since to purify, without weakening its

In a few moments the speaker succeeded in ex
tricating a double-barrelled fowling-piece from
amongst a multitude of trunks and bandboxes.
After throwing aside the thick mittens which had
encased his hands, that now appeared in a pair of
leather gloves tipped with fur, he examined his
priming, and was about to move forward, when the
light bounding noise of an animal plunging through
the woods washeard, and directly a fine buck darted
into the path, a short distance ahead of him. The
appearance of the animal was sudden, and his
flight inconceivably rapid ; but the traveller ap
peared to be too keen a sportsman to be discon
certed by either. As it came first into virnv he
raised the fowling-piece to his shoulder, and, with
a practised eye and steady hand, drew a trigger ;
but the deer dashed forward undaunted, and appa
rently unhurt. Without lowering his piece, the
traveller turned its muzzle towards his intended
victim, and fired again. Neither discharge, how
ever, seemed to have taken effect.

The whole scene had passed with a rapidity that
confused the female, who was unconsciously rejoic
ing in the escape of the buck, as he rather darted
like a meteor, than ran across the road before her,
when a sharp, quick sound struck her ear, quite
different from the full, round reports of her fa
thers gun, but still sufficiently distinct to be
known as the concussion produced by fire-arms.
At the same instant that she heard this unexpected
report, the buck sprang from the snow, to a great
height in the air, and directly a second discharge,
similar in sound to the first, followed, when the
animal came to the earth, falling headlong, and
rolling over on the crust once or twice with its
wn velocity. A loud shout was given by the uu-


seen marksman, as triumphing in his better aim ;
and a couple of men instantly appeared from be
hind the trunks of two of the pines, where they had
evidently placed themselves in expectation of the
passage of the deer.

" Ha ! Natty, had I known you were in ambush,
I would not have fired,'' cried the traveller, mov
ing towards the spot where the deer lay near to
which he was followed by the delighted black,
with the sleigh ; " but the sound of old Hector was
too exhilirating to let me be quiet ; though I hard
ly think I struck him either."

No no Judge," returned the hunter, with
an inward chuckle, and with that look of exul
tation, that indicates a consciousness of superior
skill; "you burnt your powder, only to warm
your nose this cold evening. Did ye think to stop
a full grown buck, with Hector and the slut open
upon him, within sound, with that robin pop-gun
in your hand? There's plenty of pheasants
amongst the swamps ; and the snow birds are fly
ing round your own door, where you tnay feed
them with crumbs, and shoot enough for a pot-
pie, any day ; but if you're for a bnc^ or a liule
bear's meat, Judge, you'll have tq take Ihe long
rifle, with a greased wadding, or you'll waste
more powder than you'll fill stomarhs, I'm think-

As the speaker concluded, he drew his bare hand
across the bottom of his nose, and again opened
his enormous mouth with a kind of inward laugh.

" The gun scatters well, Natty, and has killed
a deer before now," said the traveller, smiling
good humouredly. " One barrel was charged
with buck shot ; but the other was loaded for birds
only. Here are two hurts that he has received ;
one through his neck l and the other directly



through his heart. It is by no means certaiu>
Natty, but I gave him one of the two "

"Let who will kill him," said the hunter, ra
ther surlily, " I suppose the cretur is to be eaten. 3 '
So saying, he drew a large knife from a leathern
sheath, which was stuck through his girdle or sash,
and cut the throat of the animal. " If there is two
balls through the deer, I want to know if there
wasn't two rifles fired besides, who ever saw
such a ragged hole from a smooth-bore, as this is
through the neck? and you, will own yourself,
Judge, that the buck fell at the last shot, which
was sent from a truer and a younger hand, than
your'n or mine 'ither ; but for my part, although
I am a poor man, I can live without the venison,
but I don't love to give up my lawful dues in a free
country. Though, for tne matter of that, might
often makes right here, as well as in the old coun
try, for what I can see."

An air of sullen dissatisfaction pervaded the
manner of the nunter during the whole of tliis
speed*.; yet he thought it prudent to utter the
close of the^ sentence in such an under tone, as to
5<ttve RGliiihg andibie but tire -cc ramming sounds of
his voice.

"Nay, 'Natty," rejoined the traveller, with un
disturbed good humour, "it is for the honour that
I contend. A few dollars will pay for the veni
son ; but wha| will requite me for the lost honour
in my cap? Think, Natty, how
iph. over that quizzing dog, Dick

of a buck^

I should trim

Jones, who hjis failed seven times this season

ready, and

s only brought in one wood-chuck

and a few gray squirrels. 1 "

" Ah ! the game is becoming hard to find, in
deed, Judge, with your clearings and betterments,* 1
said the old hunter, with a kind of disdainful re

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Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe pioneers : or The sources of the Susquehanna ; a descriptive tale (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 20)