James Fenimore Cooper.

The pioneers; or, The sources of the Susquehanna : a descriptive tale online

. (page 1 of 42)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe pioneers; or, The sources of the Susquehanna : a descriptive tale → online text (page 1 of 42)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



1714 Westmoreland Boulevard

Los Angeles, California

fit -^

It is prolsable that Abrahara Lincoln
r<md more of fiction "Umn ho is usually
croditod with.

Alonzo Bothchild, oa |^ge t^a of his
"Honest Abe" Ims included *^a ton of Goop^
er's Leather-Stocking Tale©*^ in a list of
books knowi to have 1>ean r©ad by Lincoln.
!lo particular titles are nariod, but it is
certain "yiat Lincoln's inborn love for
the ^great-out-of-doors^ Ti«3uld have car-
ried bin through %o i'ionoers, '^lio ^aot of
the .■ohioans. The Deer3la5r9r, Tlie Pathfin-
der, and The Prairie, had ho he&n able to
set all of thorn, (cf.-^ifl.^^^^fc^'i^








^ ^^-t^^c^-^-fh





Digitized by tlie Internet Arcliive

in 2010 witli funding from

Tine Institute of Museum and Library Services through an Indiana State Library LSTA Grant







Extremes of habits, manners, time, and spaCtJi,
Brought close together, here stood face to faca,
And gave at once a contrast to the view,
That other lands and ages never knew. Patddlne;.




Entered according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1850, by
In the Clerk's office of the District Court for the southern district of New Tork.



Every man is, more or less, the sport of acci-
dent ', nor do I know that authors are at all ex-
empted from this humiliating influence. This is
the third of my novels, and it depends on two ve-
ry uncertain contingencies, whether it will not be
the last : — the one being the public opinion, and
the other mine own humour. The first book was
written, oecause I was told that I could not write
a grave tale ; so, to prove that the 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 wrii-
ten to see if I could not overcome this neglect of
the reading world. How far I have succeeded,
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 imagina-
tion ?

I should think criticism to be the perfection of

human acquirements, did there not exist this dis-
crepancy in taste. Just as I have made up my
mind to adopt the very sagacious hints of one learn-
ed Reviewer, a pamphlet is | ut into my hands,
containing the remarks of another, who condemns
all that his rival praises, and praises all that his ri-
val condemns. There I am, left like an ass be-
tween two locks of hay ; so that I have deter-
mined to relinquish my animate nature, and remain
stationary, like a lock of hay between two asses.

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 wights!) have
adopted an ingenious expedient, to give a freshness
to the most trite idea. They clothe it in a lan-
guage so obscure and metaphysical, that the reader
is not about to comprehend their pages without
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 per-
fect ignorance of their meaning as when I set out.
It is delightful, to see the literati of a circulating
library get hold of one of these difficult periods '
Their praise of the performance is exactly com-
mensurate with its obscurity. Every body knows,
that to seem wise is the first requisite in a groat


A common word in the mouths of all Review-
ers, readers of magazines, and young ladies, when
speaking of novels, is '■' keeping /" and yet there
are but few who attach the same meaning to it.
I belong, myself, to the old school, in this particu-
lar, and think that it applies more io the subject
in hand, than to any use of terms, or of cant expres-
sions. As a man might just as well be out of the
world as out of " keeping," I have endeavoured to
confine myself, in this tale, strictly to its observ^
ance. This is a formidable curb to the imagina-
tion, as, doubtless, the reader will very soon dis-
cover ; but under its influence I have come 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 1
would advise any one, who may take up this book,
with the expectation of meeting gods and goddess-
es, spooks or witches, or of feeling that strong ex-
citement that is produced by battles and murders,
to throw it aside at once, for no such interest will
be found in any of its pages.

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 interesting events, and possibly, more beau-
teous scenes, might have been selected, to exem-
plify my subject ; but none of either 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 of the most Homeric kind. As for murders,
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 the manifest ad-
vantage of the " settlement ;" but then it would
have been out of " keeping" with the humane laws
of this compassionate country.

The " Pioneers" is now before the world, Mr.
Wiley, and 1 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 theii
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 occasion for a preface, 1
beg you will let me hear from you in reply.
Yours, truly,


NeW'Yorky January \st, 1823.





See, Winter comes, to rule tlie varied yeaf,
Sullen and sad, with ail his rising train ;
Vapours, and clouds, and storms —


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 definitions, ot
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 arc
not wanting, where their sides are jutted with
rocks, that aid greatly in giving that romantic cha-
racter to the country, which it so eminently ])os-
sesses. The vales are narrow, rich, and cultivated ;
with a stream uniformly winding through each.


now gliding peacefully under the brow of one of
the hills, and then suddenly shooting across the
plain, to wash the feet of its opposite rival. Beau-
tiful and thriving villages are found interspersed
along the margins of the small lakes, or situated at
those points of the streams which are favourable to
manufacturing ; and neat and comfortable farms,
with every indication of wealth about them, are
scattered profusely through the vales, and even to
the mountain tops. Roads diverge in every direc-
tion, from the even and graceful bottoms of the
valleys, to the most rugged and intricate passes of
the hills. Academies, and minor edifices for the
encouragement of learning, meet the eye of the
stranger, at every few miles, as he winds his way
through this uneven territory ; and places for the
public worship of God abound with that frequency
which characterizes a moral and reflecting people,
and with that variety of exterior and canonical go-
vernment which flows from unfettered liberty of
conscience. In short, the whole district is hourly
exhibiting how much can be done, in even a rug-
ged country, and with a severe climate, under the
dominion of mild laws, and where every man feels
a direct interest in the prosperity of a common-
wealth, of which he knows himself to form a dis-
tinct and independent part. The expedients of
the pioneers who first broke ground in the settle-
ment of this country, are succeeded by the perma-
nent improvements 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 whole 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 citizens was directed to a deve«
iopement of the natural advantages of their widely
extended dominions. Before the war of the revolu-
tion 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 simi-
lar occupation of fifty miles on the banks of the
Mohawk, together with the islands of Nassau and
Statcn, and a few insulated settlements on chosen
land along the margins of streams, composed the
country that was then inhabited 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 longi-
tude, 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 arrive, 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 near the setting of the sun, on a clear,
cold day in December of that year, when a sleigh
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 brightened by the
light reflected from the mass of snow that covered
the earth, floated in a sky of the purest blue. The
road wound along the brow of a precipice, 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 dirfejc-


tion, had made a passage of sufficient width foi (he
ordinary travelling of that day. But logs, exca-
vation, and every thing that did not reach for se-
veral feet above the earth, lay promiscuously bu-
ried under the snow. A single track, barely wide
enough to receive the sleigh, denoted the route of
the highw^ay, and this w-as 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 language of the coun-
try was called a clearing, and all the usual im-
pioveraents of a new settlement ; these even ex-
tended up the hill to the point W'here the road
turned short and ran across the level land, which
lay on the summit of the mountain ; but the sum-
mit itself yet remained a forest. There w^as a
glittering in the atmosphere, as if it were filled
with innumerable shining particles, and the noble
nay horses that drew the sleigh w^ere 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 arrange-
ment of the travellers, denoted the depth of a win-
ter in the mountains. The harness, which was
of a deep dull black, differing from the glossy var-
nishing of the present day, was ornamented with
enormous plates and buckles 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 cloth that admirably
served as blankets to the shoulders of the animals,
supported four high, square-topped 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, Avhich
nature had coloured with a glistening black, was

THE PiaifSERi?. 13

now mottled with the cold, and his large shining
eyes were moistened with a liquid that flowed
from the same cause ; still there was a smiling ex-
pression of good humour 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 nov/ con-
tained only two passengers besides the driver. Its
outside was a 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 aiound the feet of
the travellers — one of whom was a man of middle
age, and the other a female, just entering upon
womanhood. The former was of a large stature;
but the precautions he had taken to guard against
the cold left but little of his person exposed to
view. A great-coat, that was abundantly orna-
mented, if it were not made more comfortable, by
a profusion of fur&, enveloped the whole of his
figure, excepting the head, which was covered with
A cap of martin skins, lined with morocco, the side?
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 materials for the cap, which ieli
back, not ungracefully, 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 extraor-
dinary intellect, covert humour, and great bene-
volence. The form of his companion was liteia}-

. 2


ly hid beneath the multitude and variety of gar-
ments whicli she wore. There were furs and silks
peepino; from under a large camlet cloak, with a
thick iiannel lining, that, 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 occa-
sionally 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 edu-
cation. A few months afterward death had de-
prived him of the remaining companion of his soli-
tude ; but still he had enough of real regard for his
child, not to bring her into the comparative wilder-
ness in which he dwelt, until the full period had
expired, to which he had limited her juvenile la-
bours. The reflections of the daughter were less
melancholy, and mingled with a pleased astonish-
ment at the novel scenery that she met at every
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 tow-
ered to an additional height, that more than equal-
led that elevation. Through the innumerable vis-
tas that opened beneath the lofty trees the eye


could penetrate, until it was met by a distant ine-
quality in the ground, or was stopped by a view of
the summit of the mountam which lay on the op-
posite side of the valley to which they were has-
tening. The dark trunks of the trees 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
meager foliage of an evergreen, affording a melan-
choly 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 mquisitive, and, perhaps, timid glances, in-
to 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 nu-
merous pack of hounds. The instant the sounds
reached the ears of the gentleman, 'whatever might
have been the subject of his meditations, he forgot
it ; for he cried aloud to the black—

" Hold up, Aggy ; there is old Hector ; I should
know his bay among ten thousand. The Leather-
stocknig 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, I will give thee a saddle for thy Christmas

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, thr-^w-


ihg aside his outer covering, stept from tiie sleigh
upon a bank of snow, wliich sustained his weight
without yielding more than an inch or two. A
storm of sleet had fallen and frozen upon the sur-
face a few days before, and but a slight snow had
occurred since to purifyj without weakening its co-

In a few moments the speaker succeeded m ex-
tiicating a double-barrelled fowling-piece from
among a multitude of trunks and bandboxes. Af-
ter throwing aside the thick mittens which had en-
cased 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 was heard, 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 view 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 ap-
parently unhurt. Without lowering his piece, the
traveller turned its muzzle tov>'ards 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 father's
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 own velocity. A
loud shout was given by the unseen marksman, as
triumphing in his better aim ; and a couple of men
instantly appealed from behind the trunks of two
of the pines, where they had evidently placed
themselves in expectation of the passage of the

" 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 exhilarating to let me be quiet ; though
I hardly think I struck him either."

" No — no — Judge," returned the hunter, with
an inward chuckle, and with that look of exulta-
tion, 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 among
the swamps; and the snow birds are flying round
your own door, where you may feed them witii
crumbs, and shoot enough for a pot-pie, any day ;
but if you're for a buck, or a little bear's meat.
Judge, you'll have to take the long rifle, with a
greased wadding, or you'll waste more powder
than you'll fill stomachs, I'm thinking."

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



'■' 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, and the other directly through
his heart. It is by no means certain. Natty, but I
gave him one of the two,"

" Let who will kill him," said the hunter, rather
surlily, " I suppose the cretur is to be eaten," So
saying, he drew a large knife from a leathern sheath,
which was stuck thiough 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 w^as 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 the matter of that, might often makes right
here, as well as in the old country, for wdiat I can

An air of sullen dissatisfaction pervaded the
manner of the hunter during the whole of this
speech ; yet he thought it prudent to utter the
close of the sentence in such an under tone, as to
leave nothing audible but the grumbling 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 what will requite me for the lost honour
of a buck's tail in my cap ? Think, Natty, how I
should triumph over that quizzing dog, Dick Jones,


who has failed seven times this season already, and
has only brought in one wood-chuck and a few
gray squirrels."

" Ah ! the game is becoming hard to find, in-
deed, Judge, with your clearings and betterments,"
said the old hunter, with a kind of disdainful re-
signation. " The time has been, when I have shot
thirteen deer, without counting the fa'ns, standing
in the door of my own hut ! — and for bear's meat,
II one wanted a ham or so from the cretur, he had
only to watch a-nights, and he could shoot one by
moonlight, through the cracks of the logs ; no fear
of his over-sleeping himself, n'ither, for the howl-
ing of the wolves was sartin to keep his eyes open.
There's old Hector," — patting with affection a tall

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe pioneers; or, The sources of the Susquehanna : a descriptive tale → online text (page 1 of 42)