James Fenimore Cooper

The Prairie

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The Prairie by James Fenimore Cooper - (1827) is a novel by James Fenimore Cooper, the third novel written by him featuring Natty Bumppo. His fictitious frontier hero Bumppo is never called by his name, but is instead referred to as "the trapper" or "the old man". Chronologically The Prairie is the fifth and final installment of the Leatherstocking Tales, though it was published before The Pathfinder (1840) and The Deerslayer (1841). It depicts Natty in the final year of his life, still proving helpful to people in distress on the American frontier. The book frequently references characters and events from the two books previously published in the Leatherstocking Tales as well as the two which Cooper would not write for more than ten years. Continuity with The Last of the Mohicans is indicated by the appearance of the grandson of Duncan and Alice Heyward, as well as the noble Pawnee chief Hard Heart, whose name is English for the French nickname for the Delaware, le Coeur-dur. Plot The story opens with Ishmael, his family, Ellen and Abiram slowly making their way across the virgin prairies of the Midwest looking for a homestead, just two years after the Louisiana Purchase, and during the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. They meet the trapper (Natty Bumppo), who has left his home in New York State to find a place where he cannot hear the sound of people cutting down the forests. In the years between his other adventures and this novel, he tells us only that he has walked all the way to the Pacific Ocean and seen all the land between the coasts (a heroic feat, considering Lewis and Clark hadn't yet completed the same trek). That night, a band of Teton warriors steal all of Ishmael's animals, stranding the immigrants. The doctor returns the next morning along with his donkey. The trapper helps the family relocate their wagons, including one with mysterious contents, to a nearby butte where they will be safer when the Tetons return. Middleton joins the group when he stumbles upon the trapper and Paul. Before they return to the butte, Ishmael and his family go looking for his eldest son, Asa, whom they find murdered. The trapper, Paul, and Middleton return to camp, find Inez whom Abiram and Ishmael had been keeping captive, and flee with her and Ellen. Ishmael chases them until the Tetons capture the Trapper and his crew. They escape the Tetons, and then Ishmael forms an alliance with the Indians. The Indians attempt to recapture the trapper by surrounding them with a prairie fire, but the trapper lights a backfire and saves everyone. They meet up with Hard-heart, a Pawnee Indian who survived the fire wrapped in a buffalo skin, and attempt to escape to his village. The Tetons capture them. Ishmael demands the trapper, Inez, and Ellen for helping the Tetons but is denied and turned away. Mahtoree intends to take Inez and Ellen for his new wives. Le Balafre attempts to spare Hard-heart's life by making Hard-heart his son. Hard-heart refuses, kills Weucha, and flees the village.
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