The Pioneers Background

The Pioneers Background

The Pioneers was published in 1823 and holds a significant place in American letters: it is the novel that launched the famous Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper. This is the book that introduced the world to Natty Bumppo, one of the first truly All-American heroes in literary history. Cooper had no concept at the time of creating a series of stories featuring his rugged frontiersman; in fact, in The Pioneers Bumppo is an aging marksman drawn into conflict with plunder of the wilderness he calls home. The introduction of one of the literary creations that most fully embodies the spirit of the settling of the frontier is somewhat unformed and strongly indicates that Fenimore was ready to subordinate him to the bigger thematic concerns express in The Pioneers and then move on.

All that changed by the time the set on the first day the book was made available for purchase in 1823. Between the time Cooper awoke the following day, an extraordinary 3500 copies of The Pioneers had been sold. Those are the kind of numbers that even back then had publishers and booksellers and readers screaming loudly “Sequel, please!” And Cooper happily obliged, carefully cultivating the character of Natty Bumppo so that he became better known by his nickname Hawkeye. This move in turn inspired the father of a modern day American literary hero to give the same nickname to his son, Benjamin Franklin Pierce, otherwise known, of course, as Hawkeye Pierce of the 4077 MASH unit in Korea.

While The Pioneers is rarely read today, its place in American literature is assured if only because its success led to the sequel that would become the second entry in the Leatherstocking Tales series. That book is far more well-known (not to mention being the only book Hawkeye Pierce’s dad ever read) and much more widely read today: The Last of the Mohicans.

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