Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • INTRODUCTION

  • It is believed that the scene of this tale, and most of the information necessary to

  • understand its allusions, are rendered sufficiently obvious to the reader in the

  • text itself, or in the accompanying notes.

  • Still there is so much obscurity in the Indian traditions, and so much confusion in

  • the Indian names, as to render some explanation useful.

  • Few men exhibit greater diversity, or, if we may so express it, greater antithesis of

  • character, than the native warrior of North America.

  • In war, he is daring, boastful, cunning, ruthless, self-denying, and self-devoted;

  • in peace, just, generous, hospitable, revengeful, superstitious, modest, and

  • commonly chaste.

  • These are qualities, it is true, which do not distinguish all alike; but they are so

  • far the predominating traits of these remarkable people as to be characteristic.

  • It is generally believed that the Aborigines of the American continent have

  • an Asiatic origin.

  • There are many physical as well as moral facts which corroborate this opinion, and

  • some few that would seem to weigh against it.

  • The color of the Indian, the writer believes, is peculiar to himself, and while

  • his cheek-bones have a very striking indication of a Tartar origin, his eyes

  • have not.

  • Climate may have had great influence on the former, but it is difficult to see how it

  • can have produced the substantial difference which exists in the latter.

  • The imagery of the Indian, both in his poetry and in his oratory, is oriental;

  • chastened, and perhaps improved, by the limited range of his practical knowledge.

  • He draws his metaphors from the clouds, the seasons, the birds, the beasts, and the

  • vegetable world.

  • In this, perhaps, he does no more than any other energetic and imaginative race would

  • do, being compelled to set bounds to fancy by experience; but the North American

  • Indian clothes his ideas in a dress which

  • is different from that of the African, and is oriental in itself.

  • His language has the richness and sententious fullness of the Chinese.

  • He will express a phrase in a word, and he will qualify the meaning of an entire

  • sentence by a syllable; he will even convey different significations by the simplest

  • inflections of the voice.

  • Philologists have said that there are but two or three languages, properly speaking,

  • among all the numerous tribes which formerly occupied the country that now

  • composes the United States.

  • They ascribe the known difficulty one people have to understand another to

  • corruptions and dialects.

  • The writer remembers to have been present at an interview between two chiefs of the

  • Great Prairies west of the Mississippi, and when an interpreter was in attendance who

  • spoke both their languages.

  • The warriors appeared to be on the most friendly terms, and seemingly conversed

  • much together; yet, according to the account of the interpreter, each was

  • absolutely ignorant of what the other said.

  • They were of hostile tribes, brought together by the influence of the American

  • government; and it is worthy of remark, that a common policy led them both to adopt

  • the same subject.

  • They mutually exhorted each other to be of use in the event of the chances of war

  • throwing either of the parties into the hands of his enemies.

  • Whatever may be the truth, as respects the root and the genius of the Indian tongues,

  • it is quite certain they are now so distinct in their words as to possess most

  • of the disadvantages of strange languages;

  • hence much of the embarrassment that has arisen in learning their histories, and

  • most of the uncertainty which exists in their traditions.

  • Like nations of higher pretensions, the American Indian gives a very different

  • account of his own tribe or race from that which is given by other people.

  • He is much addicted to overestimating his own perfections, and to undervaluing those

  • of his rival or his enemy; a trait which may possibly be thought corroborative of

  • the Mosaic account of the creation.

  • The whites have assisted greatly in rendering the traditions of the Aborigines

  • more obscure by their own manner of corrupting names.

  • Thus, the term used in the title of this book has undergone the changes of

  • Mahicanni, Mohicans, and Mohegans; the latter being the word commonly used by the

  • whites.

  • When it is remembered that the Dutch (who first settled New York), the English, and

  • the French, all gave appellations to the tribes that dwelt within the country which

  • is the scene of this story, and that the

  • Indians not only gave different names to their enemies, but frequently to

  • themselves, the cause of the confusion will be understood.

  • In these pages, Lenni-Lenape, Lenope, Delawares, Wapanachki, and Mohicans, all

  • mean the same people, or tribes of the same stock.

  • The Mengwe, the Maquas, the Mingoes, and the Iroquois, though not all strictly the

  • same, are identified frequently by the speakers, being politically confederated

  • and opposed to those just named.

  • Mingo was a term of peculiar reproach, as were Mengwe and Maqua in a less degree.

  • The Mohicans were the possessors of the country first occupied by the Europeans in

  • this portion of the continent.

  • They were, consequently, the first dispossessed; and the seemingly inevitable

  • fate of all these people, who disappear before the advances, or it might be termed

  • the inroads, of civilization, as the

  • verdure of their native forests falls before the nipping frosts, is represented

  • as having already befallen them.

  • There is sufficient historical truth in the picture to justify the use that has been

  • made of it.

  • In point of fact, the country which is the scene of the following tale has undergone

  • as little change, since the historical events alluded to had place, as almost any

  • other district of equal extent within the whole limits of the United States.

  • There are fashionable and well-attended watering-places at and near the spring

  • where Hawkeye halted to drink, and roads traverse the forests where he and his

  • friends were compelled to journey without even a path.

  • Glen's has a large village; and while William Henry, and even a fortress of later

  • date, are only to be traced as ruins, there is another village on the shores of the

  • Horican.

  • But, beyond this, the enterprise and energy of a people who have done so much in other

  • places have done little here.

  • The whole of that wilderness, in which the latter incidents of the legend occurred, is

  • nearly a wilderness still, though the red man has entirely deserted this part of the

  • state.

  • Of all the tribes named in these pages, there exist only a few half-civilized

  • beings of the Oneidas, on the reservations of their people in New York.

  • The rest have disappeared, either from the regions in which their fathers dwelt, or

  • altogether from the earth. There is one point on which we would wish

  • to say a word before closing this preface.

  • Hawkeye calls the Lac du Saint Sacrement, the "Horican."

  • As we believe this to be an appropriation of the name that has its origin with

  • ourselves, the time has arrived, perhaps, when the fact should be frankly admitted.

  • While writing this book, fully a quarter of a century since, it occurred to us that the

  • French name of this lake was too complicated, the American too commonplace,

  • and the Indian too unpronounceable, for

  • either to be used familiarly in a work of fiction.

  • Looking over an ancient map, it was ascertained that a tribe of Indians, called

  • "Les Horicans" by the French, existed in the neighborhood of this beautiful sheet of

  • water.

  • As every word uttered by Natty Bumppo was not to be received as rigid truth, we took

  • the liberty of putting the "Horican" into his mouth, as the substitute for "Lake

  • George."

  • The name has appeared to find favor, and all things considered, it may possibly be

  • quite as well to let it stand, instead of going back to the House of Hanover for the

  • appellation of our finest sheet of water.

  • We relieve our conscience by the confession, at all events leaving it to

  • exercise its authority as it may see fit.

  • >

  • CHAPTER 1

  • "Mine ear is open, and my heart prepared: The worst is wordly loss thou canst

  • unfold:-- Say, is my kingdom lost?"-- Shakespeare

  • It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and

  • dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts could

  • meet.

  • A wide and apparently an impervious boundary of forests severed the possessions

  • of the hostile provinces of France and England.

  • The hardy colonist, and the trained European who fought at his side, frequently

  • expended months in struggling against the rapids of the streams, or in effecting the

  • rugged passes of the mountains, in quest of

  • an opportunity to exhibit their courage in a more martial conflict.

  • But, emulating the patience and self-denial of the practiced native warriors, they

  • learned to overcome every difficulty; and it would seem that, in time, there was no

  • recess of the woods so dark, nor any secret

  • place so lovely, that it might claim exemption from the inroads of those who had

  • pledged their blood to satiate their vengeance, or to uphold the cold and

  • selfish policy of the distant monarchs of Europe.

  • Perhaps no district throughout the wide extent of the intermediate frontiers can

  • furnish a livelier picture of the cruelty and fierceness of the savage warfare of

  • those periods than the country which lies

  • between the head waters of the Hudson and the adjacent lakes.

  • The facilities which nature had there offered to the march of the combatants were

  • too obvious to be neglected.

  • The lengthened sheet of the Champlain stretched from the frontiers of Canada,

  • deep within the borders of the neighboring province of New York, forming a natural

  • passage across half the distance that the

  • French were compelled to master in order to strike their enemies.

  • Near its southern termination, it received the contributions of another lake, whose

  • waters were so limpid as to have been exclusively selected by the Jesuit

  • missionaries to perform the typical

  • purification of baptism, and to obtain for it the title of lake "du Saint Sacrement."

  • The less zealous English thought they conferred a sufficient honor on its

  • unsullied fountains, when they bestowed the name of their reigning prince, the second

  • of the house of Hanover.

  • The two united to rob the untutored possessors of its wooded scenery of their

  • native right to perpetuate its original appellation of "Horican."

  • (FOOTNOTE: As each nation of the Indians had its language or its dialect, they

  • usually gave different names to the same places, though nearly all of their

  • appellations were descriptive of the object.

  • Thus a literal translation of the name of this beautiful sheet of water, used by the

  • tribe that dwelt on its banks, would be "The Tail of the Lake."