Leatherstocking Tales

& The Last of the Mohicans


N.C. Wyeth’s illustration of Last of the Mohicans

How did my wedding anniversary become embroiled in the Leatherstocking Tales?

How does my husband conjure up James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans?

My story is innocent.

I swear.

Readers may remember that I pledge every November to write about life through the lens of indigeneity.

Today the Indian narrative crept in without effort.

Our wedding anniversary falls in November—same as National Native American Heritage Month—two events that are purely coincidental.

While my heritage is French, American Indian (Osage and Sioux), and British, my husband’s ancestry is British and Russian Jew.

When his forbears were sailing ships to the New World (his ancestor was a bona fide sea captain) my indigenous relatives were carving hunting bows from a tree native to the place we now call Missouri.

So our traditions are different: I revel in gift-gifting and receiving, while he eschews tradition, materialism and emotion.

When it comes to anniversaries and holidays, my sweetheart plays Silas Marner to my Pandora (she who “sends up gifts.”)

My husband doesn’t deign to purchase or create gifts.

I might excuse this because he practices Buddhism, where materialism is inconsequential.

But I do not excuse it.

The real story is that he doesn’t equate love with an object: a thing.

So he doesn’t wear a wedding ring and he doesn’t celebrate our anniversaries.

And you will rarely catch him buying a Christmas present.

In contrast, I love the escapades of matching treats for folks whom I love.

It might be a box of homemade Turkish delight candies for the lass who loves sweets, or a vintage tie for the lad who appreciates the 1950s.

I discover that the anniversary gods declared this wedding year as “leather.”

So what could be better than a fistful of books in the Leatherstocking tradition?

James Fenimore Cooper, best known for his novel, The Last of the Mohicans, is remembered for creating the noble savage.

Cooper’s characters Chingachgook (the father) and Uncas (the son) are painted as sympathetic denizens: brave, noble and…savage—but no less savage than their European counterparts.

While Cooper is drubbed by critics for creating one-dimensional characters, his stories nevertheless present sympathetic semblances of fictional Indians.

Cooper’s Indians have brains and guts and feelings.

And that’s good.

So this year I will give my spouse the gift of leather in the form of an outdated tale; I will get him a vintage copy of The Last of the Mohicans.

True: the characters are romanticized and dated.

But by giving the book we are reminded that, as Indians, we are still here.

Illustration by N.C. Wyeth for the book, Last of the Mohicans (1919), downloaded from the Book Graphics blog

5 November 2016

Celebrating National Native American Heritage Month


# Nationalamericanheritagemonth




About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in american indian, James Fenimore Cooper, Last of the mohicans, manifest destiny, national native american history month and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Leatherstocking Tales

  1. Dave Holt says:

    Just a note, Cynthia, that Uncas was a historic Mohegan leader (1588-1683), ally of Massachusetts colony but I have never researched whether Cooper’s depiction is historically accurate. Chingachgook is a fictional character I believe as he is not mentioned in association with Uncas in the history books.


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