Rethinking Cora and Alice, from Dime Novels to Debby Barnes

Beverly Lyon Clark (Wheaton College, Mass.)

Presented at the Forma of Transnational American Literature Panel of the 2017 Conference of the American Literature Association in Boston, Mass.

Copyright © 2012, James Fenimore Cooper Society.

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper Society Journal, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Whole No. 81), Spring 2018, pp.11-25.

[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]

{p. 11} It’s a truism to say that the Leatherstocking novels influenced the dime novel — especially the stereotypical dime novel, with its resourceful white backwoodsman, its white male ingénue more eager than wise, its fainting fair maiden, not to mention its evil Indian (so called) eying the fair captive. 1 Yet early on, when Beadle and Company sought to publish quality literature and a third of the writers were women, dime novels didn’t yet conform to type. 2 Drawing from a larger study of juvenile captivity narratives, I’ll discuss the work of two female dime novelists and, briefly, a non-dime novelist from the 1930s; all are in dialogue with The Last of the Mohicans, in particular, especially with respect to cultural mixing and gender.

First, I have to admit that I was surprised when I started reading dime novels. They’re better, many of them, than I’d expected. They do depict racist stereotypes but sometimes with more complexity than I’d anticipated. And sometimes their gendering is illuminating and complex as well. Nor are all of them inferior to contemporary works with respect to literary qualities. Some of the early ones, I’d argue, are comparable to works by, say, Lydia Maria Child, Catherine Maria Sedgwick, and Robert Montgomery Bird. (And a few of the later ones are self-reflexively parodic — though I’m not concerned with those today.)

Michael Denning has argued that many working-class readers of dime novels were likely to read allegorically, for a masterplot “made up of nationalist, class-inflected stories of the American Republic, interrelated, if sometimes contradictory tales of its origins and the threats to it” 3: the dime novel can thus be an allegory of the heroism of the laboring classes. These works are also national allegories, the frontier tales in particular that tell of whites overpowering American Indians and recapturing the white maiden who will birth the nation’s future. 4

Many frontier dime novels recapitulate the Indian captivity narrative. 5 In the stereotypical, sensationalist dime novel version — and there were some stereotypical versions — a young white woman would be captured by Indians who would inevitably be referred to as savages and often described as cruel and bloodthirsty. They’d speak in broken English, and they’d exhibit such stereotypical traits as stoicism; a laconicism laced with metaphor; keen senses, except when it suited the purposes of the plot for them to be entirely unaware of white settlers stumbling among their wigwams at night; and a preternatural ability to {12} track anyone anywhere, except when our hero or his trusty white guide outfoxes them and seems to know whatever they’re about to do before they do. The young girl might show some grit, maybe fire a pistol, even if ineffectively, or at least contrive to drop scraps of her dress so that she can be followed: she’s rarely as passive as Cooper’s Alice. Nevertheless, in the moment of crisis, the moment when she is rescued or perhaps when her sweetheart seems about to die, she swoons. Yet eventually she is happily reunited with lover and family, and the helpful backwoodsman traipses off. The nation can be born.

But that’s the stereotypical dime novel — it’s not how the dime novel frontier tales started out. For those published soon after 1860, the Beadles made claims for literary and moral merit. The back cover of Elizabeth Oakes Smith’s The Sagamore of Saco (1868) quotes numerous critics praising Beadle’s novels. Louis Godey of Godey’s Lady’s Book states he was surprised “to find how much excellent matter is given for that now defunct article, the dime, ” Of one thing we can assure our readers — that nothing immoral, or of a slang nature, is published in them.” 6 The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser commended the books for having “a high order of literary merit, and an irreproachable standard of morality.” Even the prestigious North American Review is quoted as finding the Dime Books “unexceptionably moral”. They do not even obscurely pander to vice, or excite the passions.” What the reviewer had actually said is that the works appear to be “unobjectionable morally, whatever fault be found with their literary style and composition. They do not even obscurely pander to vice or excite the passions.” 7 So not everyone agreed on the literary merits. Later in the century, critics denounced the moral qualities as well: dime novels turned young people to crime, according to Anthony Comstock and others. 8

In any case, relatively few accounts of the dime novel pay much attention to the early novels by women (conversely, relatively few critics of nineteenth-century women’s fiction pay much attention to the dime novels by the women writers they rediscover). Ann Stephens typically gets a nod as the author of the first dime novel but most accounts skip quickly to the eighth, Seth Jones; or, The Captives of the Frontier (1860) by Edward Ellis. Admittedly, Seth Jones was very popular, going on to sell more than half a million copies; it was translated into eleven languages, reprinted by the Beadles at least eight times, and helped to cement the Cooperian norms of what I’m calling the stereotypical dime novel. 9 But I’m going to focus today on two women authors of dime novels.

When [Mrs. Ann] Stephens published Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter (1860), she was a well-regarded editor and popular novelist; {13} indeed, Malaeska was revised and reprinted from its serial appearance in the respectable Ladies’ Companion. Shelley Streeby suggests that launching their dime novels with Malaeska shows that the Beadles “courted a certain respectability” (227). Madeleine Stern calls the novel a “gaudy but sad and moral tale”; she adds that Stephens had a popularity that rivaled those of Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth and Augusta Jane Evans Wilson but had a style that, “though florid, was perhaps more vigorous and not quite so verbose as that of her compeers.” 10 In her dime novels Stephens revisited the mixed racial heritage of Cooper’s Cora, first in the person of a young man (in Malaeska), later in that of a young woman (in Mahaska), exploring lack of viability in the former (suicide) and, in the latter, the possibilities for a woman being regal and powerful even if evil. Stephens’ novels revisit not so much Cooper’s plotting as his troping. In Malaeska, a young man whose father has died is raised by his paternal grandparents in Manhattan and is taught to revile Indians. So when the Indian Malaeska reveals that she is his mother, what else can he do but plunge into a river and kill himself? Cooper’s Cora can’t be allowed to survive, given her mixed heritage, certainly not long enough to propagate more mixed beings, whether via Magua or Uncas; Stephens’ William is similarly not allowed to propagate, but he more actively ends matters. Being of mixed race simply isn’t viable. (See Figure 1.)

Malaeska, the Indian Wife

{14} Figure 1. An Indigenous Pieta, plus little William. Nickels and Dimes, from the Collection of Johannsen and LeBlanc, Northern Illinois University Libraries.

Subsequently Stephens endorsed the nineteenth-century stereotype that what was called a half-breed was worse than a full-blooded Indian, combining the cunning of a white with the brutality of a savage: in the words of a footnote in Cooper’s The Prairie, half-breeds have “much of the depravity of civilization without the virtues of the savage.” 11 In Stephens’ dime novel Mahaska, the Indian Princess (1863) the brilliant coloring and vengeful and indeed “savage” personality of Katharine, alias Mahaska, is due to being half-Indian. 12 As the daughter of the governor, she moves at first in the highest circles of Canadian society. But when she is spurned by the desirable Gaston de Laguy, she turns to her Indian side and engineers the kidnapping of her rival and stepsister, Adèle. Adèle is, of course, rescued; Mahaska, overcome by emotion, misthrows her tomahawk. At the end of the novel there’s a rumor that Mahaska has become a leader of the Six Nations — as a chief of the Shawnee, which somehow, contrary to accepted history, has become part of the Iroquois, or Haudenosaunee, Confederacy. Stephens’ error only underscores the extent to which Mahaska is a projection. And what the author projects is, again, that someone of mixed racial heritage is not viable, at least not in white society. (See Figure 2.)

The Indian Princess

{15} Figure 2. A Godey’s fashion plate? Nickels and Dimes, from the Collection of Johannsen and LeBlanc, Northern Illinois University Libraries.

{16} A woman can become powerful, but only by, in effect, becoming Magua, as we see in a sequel, The Indian Queen (1864): Mahaska is a queen and prophet of what Stephens now more aptly decides are the Seneca. Mahaska boldly tomahawks a rival leader in front of an assembled council, and she leads her “guard” of warriors to battle and victory; she connives to get the Seneca to break their pledge to the French and to ally with the English; she again kidnaps Adèle, who is again rescued. 13 When Mahaska’s treachery is revealed, she is cast out and presumably dies. Nevertheless she leaves an infant son, so even if the mixed racial heritage of this reimagined Cora has been personally tragic, she’s not sterile. Yet the child’s presence in the novel is inert; his only function seems to be to cap her grief when she cannot give him a parting kiss. He seems less an endorsement of her marital union than a plot device to enable a sequel that Stephens never got around to writing. For all that the author explores boundary crossing in her Mahaska books, through racial mixing and gender bending, she leaves the oppositional categories intact and even reinforced. Their mixing leads only to an evil that must be expelled. Unlike the contemporary trope of the tragic mulatta, Stephens’ deployment of the figure that she calls a half-breed does not enable her “to capture and condense” complicated and internally contending responses to a range of intersecting crises of subjectivity.” 14 Instead, it seems to foreclose the promise of intersectionality. As Mahaska’s Senecan husband tells her, she is ultimately “only a squaw.” 15 And she’s isolated and banished. A half-breed woman is kept in her place, essentially different. 16 (See Figure 3.)

The Indian Queen

{17} Figure 3. Rule, Mahaska! Nickels and Dimes, from the Collection of Johannsen and LeBlanc, Northern Illinois University Libraries.

Elizabeth Oakes Smith, in contrast, explored more permeable and fluid boundaries by creating characters who are not biologically but culturally mixed. She thereby, as Caroline Woidat has said of one of her novels, “invite[s] readers to rethink histories of American nationbuilding and social constructions of freedom, gender, race, moral duty, and heroism” — allowing for the possibility of cultural syncretism, as opposed to nativism, conversion, or assimilation. 17 Oakes Smith was a notable poet, novelist, essayist, and supporter of women’s rights. Before contributing to the Beadles’ dime novels, she published The Western Captive (1842), an early inexpensive paperback that proclaims its debt to Cooper by featuring two sisters that are both, eventually, in the hands of American Indians, in this case, the Shawnee. The bolder sister, captured as a child, is named Margaret; the other, a rather timid homebody, is named — what else — Alice. Natty Bumppo and Duncan Heyward are conflated in the young woods-wise Henry, who has “lived a demi-savage life” and whom Alice eventually marries. 18 Then there’s a {18} fictional Tecumseh who has all the noble leadership qualities of Chingachgook and, echoing Uncas, would be Margaret’s suitor, once he finishes uniting tribal nations. Yet like his historical predecessor, he fails to resist the westward march of whites. And Margaret? Her life with the Shawnee, where she is respected and even revered, is repeatedly associated not so much with captivity but with freedom — with “freedom, and grace,” with “freedom and majesty” (22-23). When the frustrated Shawnee seek a human sacrifice, in the absence of Tecumseh, she offers herself as a substitute for her visiting sister. But when she returns from seeing Alice to safety, the physical village at Tippecanoe has been destroyed. Margaret, who has meanwhile been wasting away, is not now sacrificed by force but falls into a stupor and symbolically sacrifices herself — partly, it would seem, to contribute to the melancholy gloom in the novel about the fate of the disappearing Indian; perhaps partly also because Oakes Smith had trouble imagining viability for a strong white woman or a cross-racial union. If Cooper’s white woman is not the protagonist but “a symbolic property,” as Richard Slotkin claims, 19 then Oakes Smith tries to make her the protagonist, only to have her subside into symbolism after all.

In The Sagamore of Saco (1868), a Beadle’s dime novel, Oakes Smith more fully reworked the Leatherstocking story: she reconfigured Alice/Cora and Duncan as revered adopted members of different tribal nations. 21 Denning has argued that dime novels developed “no narrative formulas” that could tell a racial story” (210), for black characters were minor, conventional, static, negative. I’d argue that although the Indigenous characters are also often static and negative, in early dime novels it was possible to explore the boundaries of race. The Sagamore of Saco does include stereotypes, and the narrator does tend to treat American Indians as inferior to whites. But the two most admirable white characters are a bit wild, akin to the neighboring Natives: Hope Vines has “absorbed the wild freedom” of the ‘primitive’ race.” 21 She has the vitality of a Cora, with the longevity of an Alice, even if not her eventual progenitivity. The two focal white lovers end up among Native Americans, Hope with the Androscoggins, John Bonyton with the Sacos. Hope was the first to go: admiring Indians capture her as she flees charges of witchcraft (it’s the seventeenth century, and she doesn’t follow the precepts of white feminine decorum). 22 She is a captive in a Cooperian cave behind a waterfall and her stay is described as “imprisonment,” but we are told in the next paragraph that when she spoke, the Indians “listened with profound awe; she commanded and they obeyed” (87). She has respect and some power as a medicine {19} woman or prophet. Unlike Ruth in Cooper’s The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish, Hope doesn’t subside into Native domesticity and forget her white connections. Meanwhile, John, dismayed by the pettiness of the colonists, has left them to join the Saco and to seek Hope — and, as in other dime novels in which a white man joins a tribal nation, he inevitably becomes a chief, a sagamore. The parted lovers long for each other until finally, after thirty years (skipped over rather summarily — the time lengthened, I daresay, to underscore the pair’s fidelity), Hope makes a final effort to save the approaching John and his Saco warriors by starting a signal fire that leads her tribal allies to plummet to their deaths over a waterfall; thus does love annul other allegiances. There’s a final reunion and a final clinch, before Hope is mortally wounded by an arrow from an Indigenous rival, who is in turn felled by a hundred arrows from the Saco. John survives, leads the Saco as a venerated sagamore, and is finally buried near the falls where Hope perished. Oakes Smith has, in effect, revamped and revalued the sensationalist captivity narrative: a white maiden is captured, but out of respect (not revenge or sexual desire), and a white man finally finds her, but as an Indian (not just dressing as one), and she saves him rather than vice versa. Colonists may condemn John as a renegade, but Oakes Smith revalues what it means to be one. (See Figure 4.)

The Sagamore of Saco

{20} Figure 4. No bow for the renegade John — arrows just for show? Nickels and Dimes, from the Collection of Johannsen and LeBlanc, Northern Illinois University Libraries.

In her frontier fictions, Oakes Smith is working towards a kind of cosmopolitanism, especially in her pre-dime novel. 23 Since romance takes precedence over politics in her dime novel — Hope sacrifices the needs of her tribal nation to her urge to see John again — one could debate how much the novel values diversity of culture, how much it values the Androscoggins. It’s true that John does stay with the Sacos, but what does his offstage leadership, without any overt indication that he has adopted Saco values, imply? Oakes Smith can also be seen as working towards what the historian Richard White has called the middle ground, an interactive physical and conceptual space: not the strict boundary implied by the term frontier but “the creation, in part through creative misunderstanding, of a set of practices, rituals, offices, and beliefs that although comprised of elements of the group in contact is as a whole separate from the practices and beliefs of all of those groups.” 24 Hope’s wild spirit, for instance, is valued rather than condemned by the Androscoggins, even as they confine her and reinterpret it as prophecy. 25 Nevertheless, like Cooper, Oakes Smith can imagine no fruitful interracial issue, indeed no issue.

{21} Only in 1932, long after the days of the dime novel, does a strong woman in a frontier tale, among the hundreds of juvenile frontier tales that I’ve read, get a traditionally happy ending: in Debby Barnes, Trader, by the journalist and historian Constance Lindsay Skinner. 26 In this time of trousered independence (think Katherine Hepburn), and indeed of a resurgence of tomboys in literature for the young, Cora is reimagined not as someone of mixed race but as a boyish girl who dresses Indian and is the acolyte of experienced woodsmen. 27 When we first encounter her, Debby wears a headband, leggings, and fringed jerkin, and the white trader she meets thinks she’s an Indian boy. Debby has considerable woodcraft skills; she hunts and traps with an adolescent Daniel Boone. As Skinner notes, her book is “a small tribute to the high courage and lusty perseverance of the back-country pioneers — not the men alone, nor chiefly, but the women, too.” 28 Debby has courage and perseverance at least in part because she plays Indian. Unlike Oakes Smith’s Hope and John, Debby consciously performs Indianness: in the opening pages she alters her voice to speak “with the vibrant throaty quality peculiar to the Indian,” and in broken English — “One horse got plenty fur on his back. Huh” (2). As Philip Deloria might point out, she temporarily enacts an essential “Americanness” and also has the freedom to reinvent herself, even while ignoring the dispossession of actual Indians. 29 For such Indians are only minimally present in the novel, less directly and individually present than, say, a young George Washington, who flirts with Debby in Philadelphia.

The novel ends in romance, yet it’s not Debby’s superficial girlish sister — the Alice to Debby’s Cora — who gets the man but Debby herself. Skinner doesn’t venture as far interracially as Lauren Groff does in The Monsters of Templeton (2008), in which Cora and Uncas are allowed, offstage, to marry, even if their ultimate tragedies are only delayed. Skinner’s Debby marries Fred Deerfield, a white who has been raised among Indians (probably the matrilineal Delaware, or Lenape, given that he speaks Delaware). 31 In short, without being beyond the racial pale, he’s sufficiently other, suitable for projecting the traits desirable in a spouse for a freedom-loving, Indian-mimicking woman; he has “the manner, gestures, and enunciation of an Indian” — and also reports, according to a trader, that warriors and chiefs “knows [sic] how the wisdom o’ women is ofttimes smarter’n their own” (43, 50). Debby may save his life at one point but nevertheless it’s he, not she, who seeks the return of Debby’s girlish sister; Debby thus succumbs to some degree to traditional gender roles, as do many literary tomboys. Still, in my search through hundreds of captivity narratives targeting juveniles, this 22 the James Fenimore Cooper Society Journal 29.1 (2018) novel is the only one that even gestures towards trying to reimagine not Cora, not Alice, but a version of Natty Bumppo as an enterprising young woman. True, her eventual husband is a version of Natty too. Maybe a young woman can be Leatherstocking only if she eventually marries him; maybe Cooper’s Leatherstocking can marry only if he marries a version of himself. 31

All three women novelists rethink the gendering of Cooper’s mythic and national story, trying to reimagine its inclusiveness. But as Nina Baym has said of Lydia Maria Child’s Hobomok, the books are “finally less about Indians versus whites than about white women versus white men, and especially about white women’s desire to be recognized and empowered within male-dominated white society.” 32 Their national allegory makes room for white women not just as child bearers but as actors. Yet Stephens’ attempts at racial mixing and at giving a woman power ultimately reinscribe gender and racial boundaries. Oakes Smith attempts a kind of cosmopolitanism, a kind of middle ground, suggesting a potential for fruitful dialogue even if such intercourse fails to fructify. And Skinner reimagines gender roles but only by playing Indian, with the negative baggage that that entails. Ultimately, like Cooper, all three women appropriate Nativeness to whites and let the actual Natives disappear.


1 According to Henry Nash Smith, the Beadles’ editor told a reporter in 1884 that the stories they published were inspired by Cooper’s work (Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth [1950; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970], 92 [ACLS Humanities E-Book]).

2 Shelley Streeby notes that about a third of the earliest of the Beadle dime novels, between 1860 and 1865, were by women, in American Sensations: Class, Empire, and the Production of Popular Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 229. Admittedly, as David Kazanjian argues, the dime novel is an “unruly” genre, hard to pigeonhole with respect to, for example, content or readership (“The Dime Novel,” The American Novel, 1870-1940, ed. Patricia Wald and Michael A. Elliott, vol. 6 of The Oxford History of the Novel in English [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014], 274-75), but for my purposes here I’m going to hew to the volumes designated as dime novels by Beadle and Company.

3 Michael Denning, Mechanic Accents: Dime Novels and Working-Class Culture in America (London: Verso, 1987), 73.

4 I might stress that my focus is on the frontier dime novel, which addresses the contested border between white settlements and Native territory — and is not to be confused with the Western dime novel, an overlapping category that would exclude novels set on the seventeenth-century {23} frontier, in the East, and would include the later outlaw and mining camp dime novels that do not focus on colonist/Native frontier relationships.

5 Phillips D. Carleton was perhaps the first critic to make a case for the Indian captivity narrative as a genre worthy of attention by literary critics, in “The Indian Captivity,” American Literature 15.2 (May 1943): 169-80 (JSTOR). Since then there have been hundreds of critical studies.

6 Mrs. E. Oakes Smith, The Sagamore of Saco, Dime Novels 142 (New York: Beadle, 1868), back cover (

7 [W. Everett], review of Beadle’s Dime Books, North American Review, July 1864, 308 (

8 See Denning 51; also Mark I. West, “The Role of Sexual Repression in Anthony Comstock’s Campaign to Censor Children’s Dime Novels,” Journal of American Culture 22.4 (Winter 1999): 45-49. In 1900 Firmin Dredd reminisced that the early dime novels, despite their “literary inadequacy,” “were entirely wholesome and far removed from the viciousness and the brutality which mark their successors in the later seventies and early eighties” (“The Extinction of the Dime Novel,” Bookman, March 1900, 48 [American Periodical Series Online]).

9 See Bill Brown, headnote to Seth Jones, in Reading the West: An Anthology of Dime Westerns, ed. Bill Brown (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1997), 165. By way of comparison, Stephens’ Malaeska was reprinted four times by the Beadles; the other dime novels that I address in this essay, one or two times.

10 M. B. Stern, “Stephens, Ann Sophia (Mar. 30, 1810-Aug. 20, 1886),” in Notable American Women: 1607-1950, ed. E. T. James, J. W. James, and P. S. Boyer (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971) ( See also Madeleine B. Stern’s “Ann S. Stephens: Author of the First Beadle Dime Novel, 1860,” Bulletin of the New York Public Library 64.6 (June 1960): 303-22. Christine Bold suggests that “Malaeska to a degree exposed the human cost of the western movement,” unlike “the male-centered dime novel,” which extolled “triumphant images and nationalistic narratives” (“Malaeska’s Revenge; or, The Dime Novel Tradition in Popular Fiction,” in Wanted Dead or Alive: The American West in Popular Culture, ed. Richard Aquila [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996], 24). For an illuminating discussion of Stephens’ novel as an allegory of Cherokee Removal and as displacing racial issues with gender concerns, see Yu-Fang Cho, “A Romance of (Miscege)Nations: Ann Sophia Stephens” Malaeska: The Indian Wife of the White Hunter (1839, 1860),” Arizona Quarterly 63.1 (Spring 2007): 1-25.

11 J. Fenimore Cooper, The Prairie: A Tale (1827; New York: Hurd, 1877), 25 (Internet Archive). Or in the words of the historian Francis Parkman, the half-breed was “a race of rather extraordinary composition, being, according to the common saying, half Indian, half white man, and half devil” (quoted in Harry J. Brown, Injun Joe’s Ghost: The Indian Mixed-Blood in American Writing [Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004], 100).

12 This novel is sometimes titled just The Indian Princess. Events from Mahaska’s childhood are told in Stephens’ dime novel Ahmo’s Plot; or, The Governor’s Indian Child (1863).

13 {24} Mahaska predates the 1870 heroine in Edward Willett’s Silver-Spur, whom Smith points to as likely the first dime novel heroine to commit an act of violence (113).

14 Eve Allegra Raimon, The “Tragic Mulatta” Revisited: Race and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Antislavery Fiction (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004), 12 (ProQuest Ebook Central). Stephens may hint at some possibility for such probing responses when Mahaska, at her end, feels some stirrings of conscience, but the gesture is brief and belated.

15 Mrs. Ann S. Stephens, The Indian Queen, Dime Novels 70 (New York: Beadle, 1864), 88 (

16 Paola Gemme would counter that “it is difficult to forget that, for over three hundred pages, she has been let free to dream of her power among the Six Nations and kill her political opponents, not to mention engage in wars against inimical tribes and plan attacks against them” (“Ann Sophia Winterbotham Stephens (1810-1886),” Legacy 12.1 [1995]: 52). True enough. Yet unlike, say, Louisa May Alcott’s Jean Muir in the sensation story “Behind a Mask” (1866), Mahaska is still punished at the end.

17 Caroline M. Woidat, Introduction, “The Western Captive” and Other Indian Stories, by Elizabeth Oakes Smith, ed. Caroline M. Woidat (Peterborough, ONT: Broadview, 2015), 10, 25.

18 Mrs. Seba [Elizabeth Oakes] Smith, The Western Captive; or, the Times of Tecumseh, New World, October 1842, 3 ( smitrich#page/6/mode/2up).

19 Richard Slotkin, The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800-1890 (New York: Atheneum, 1985), 102.

20 Oakes Smith’s other dime novel, Bald Eagle; or, the Last of the Ramapaughs (1867) is more a romance of the Revolutionary War than a frontier tale inspired by Cooper — although the memory of a final view of Bald Eagle, perched high on a commanding rock, “silent, stern, gazing with an eye of rebuke upon the miserable interlopers who had robbed [his people and land] of their heritage” (99 []), may owe something to Chingachgook/John Mohegan’s final moments in The Pioneers (1823). Alice Felt Tyler calls Oakes Smith’s dime novels “ephemeral” (“Smith, Elizabeth Oakes Prince (Aug. 12, 1806 Nov. 15, 1893),” Notable American Women: 1607-1950 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971) (

21 Oakes Smith, The Sagamore of Saco, 25.

22 See Caroline M. Woidat for a discussion of how Oakes Smith uses the captivity narrative to question women’s restricted role in white society (“Puritan Daughters and ‘Wild’ Indians: Elizabeth Oakes Smith’s Narratives of Domestic Captivity,” Legacy 18.1 [2001]: 21+ [ProQuest]).

23 I’m using cosmopolitanism as defined by Kwame Anthony Appiah, as the valuing of “the variety of human forms of social and cultural life,” not insisting on “a homogeneous global culture” (“Cosmopolitan Patriots,” Critical Inquiry 23.3 [Spring 1997]: 621 [JSTOR]). For discussion of the many debates about cosmopolitanism, see Pauline Kleingeld and Eric Brown, “Cosmopolitanism,” {25} The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, Fall 2014 ed. (

24 Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815, 20ᵗʰ Anniversary Ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), xiii (ACLS Humanities E-Book).

25 Oakes Smith’s earlier Western Captive is perhaps more fully cosmopolitan, more fully invoking the middle ground, given the give and take between Margaret and Tecumseh, who almost proposes to her; she brings whites’ ideas of tidy housekeeping and culinary forethought to Tippecanoe while yet preferring the language of nature to the artificial words of “the blind devotee to human creeds” (23).

26 As I note in the introduction, my research focuses on literature for the young. Skinner’s novel specifically targets a young readership. As for the readership of dime novels, suffice it to say here that the earliest dime novels were marketed to a mid-nineteenth-century audience that did not yet strongly differentiate between adult and younger readers, and thus young readers were implicitly included in the target audience. Later in the century the Beadles and other publishers of what we generally refer to as dime novels more consciously targeted the young, publishing, for instance, half-dime novels — more affordable by the young. Not that the target age of the audience is of particular concern in this essay.

27 For a discussion of tomboys in 1930s children’s literature, in a history of American representations of the tomboy, see Michelle Ann Abate, Tomboys: A Literary and Cultural History (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008), 137-44.

28 Constance Lindsay Skinner, Author’s Note, Debby Barnes, Trader, illus. John Rae (New York: Macmillan, 1932), 243 (HathiTrust).

29 Philip J. Deloria, Playing Indian (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 182. In contrast with the contemporary Camp Fire Girls, whose Indian play was in the service of engendering middle-class feminine domesticity (111-14), Skinner’s Debby attempts a gender crossing as well.

30 C. A. Weslager notes that Delaware women didn’t play the direct role in choosing chiefs that some Iroquois women had, but the nation was nonetheless matrilineal (The Delaware Indians: A History [New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1972], 64).

31 Alternatively, in Annette Kolodny’s formulation, he could be seen as marrying the forest — see, e.g., The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975), 105.

32 Nina Baym, “How Men and Women Wrote Indian Stories,” New Essays on “The Last of the Mohicans,” ed. Daniel Peck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 7.