The Prairie, the third published novel of the Leatherstocking Tales but the last in Deerslayer’s chronology, depicts Leatherstocking, now known as the trapper or the old man, in his final days. The setting is the edge of the Great Plains, the time is 1805, and the hero is in his eighties—his maturation and movement have paralleled that of the United States. Although Cooper himself never traveled to this locale, he researched his subject well. Unfortunately, with the familiar good against bad Indians dichotomy (this time the Pawnee and Sioux, respectively), wise sayings that sound more like platitudes, and the stock romance pursuit, capture, and escape plot, Natty Bumppo’s exit is not as memorable as his entrance.
The Prairie offers Natty one last chance to return to his glory. Reduced in his last days to mere trapping, he has the opportunity to be a scout once again with the arrival of the Bush party of squatters. By way of continuity, Cooper also has Natty run into Captain Duncan Uncas Middleton, the grandson of Duncan Heyward and Alice Munro Heyward of The Last of the Mohicans; moreover, the captain’s middle name is that of Chingachgook’s son. Much of this novel, though, reads like a rehash. The evil Sioux chieftain, Mahtoree, is a lesser copy of Magua (from The Last of the Mohicans, which Cooper had written the year before). The narrative is laden with tricks, some improbable and some clichéd. Dr. Obed Bat...
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