James Fenimore Cooper and the Conservation Schism

Nelson Van Valen * (Beloit College)

Published in New York History, Vol. LXII, No. 3 (July 1981), pp. 289-306.

Copyright © 1980, New York State Historical Association, and placed online with its kind permission .

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

“Your reasoning is mine; for once, old hunter, we agree in opinion. ... ”

“No, no; we are not much of one mind, Judge. ... ”

This exchange between Natty Bumppo and Judge Temple in Cooper’s The Pioneers points to an enduring conflict within the conservation movement.

A STAPLE OF RECENT American conservation history has been the so-called conservation schism. According to this concept, a conservation movement came into being soon after the Civil War in an effort to protect the country’s limited and rapidly diminishing natural resources, particularly forests, from wasteful exploitation. In the 1890s, however, principally because of irreconcilable differences over the proper function of the reserves created by the recently-enacted Forest Reserve Act, the movement split into two antagonistic wings — the utilitarian, dedicated to the wise economic use of natural resources, and the preservationist, committed to the protection of wilderness for its aesthetic and spiritual qualities. The two wings were personified by Gifford Pinchot and John Muir, Some students would hold that with the subsequent creation of the United States Forest Service and the National Park Service, the two wings were institutionalized. And during the early years of the present century, they fought their epic battle over California’s Hetchy Hetchy Valley. 1

[290] This essay contends, however, that the first major struggle between utilitarian and preservationist was not that between Pinchot and Muir over California’s Yosemite National Park but the almost equally famous, albeit fictional, contest between two equally redoubtable antagonists, Marmaduke Temple and Nathaniel Bumppo, over New York’s Lake Otsego wilderness. Thus the first significant manifestation of the conservation schism appeared not at the turn of the nineteenth century but more than two generations earlier with the publication of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Pioneersin 1823.

With the emergence in recent years of the third American conservation movement, Cooper’s commitment to conservation, especially in his semi-autobiographical The Pioneers, has come to be widely recognized. Roderick Nash assigns Cooper several pages in his widely-read Wilderness and the American Mind, Donald R. Noble has contributed an informative analysis in “James Fenimore Cooper and the Environment,” and a study guide to The Pioneersdirects the student to consider that fundamental work as conservationist propaganda. 2 What is not widely recognized, however, is the striking ambivalence in Cooper’s conservation commitment, an ambivalence that is seen clearly in the sharply conflicting attitudes toward wild nature of pioneer developer Marmaduke Temple and backwoodsman Natty Bumppo.

In a key episode in The Pioneers, Natty denounces the wasteful fishing practices of the settlers. Judge Temple, overhearing, declares, “Your reasoning is mine; for once, old hunter, we agree in opinion.” 3 Some otherwise discerning scholars have uncritically taken the Judge at his word. Edwin Fussell, for example, writes, “Despite their failings out, Leatherstocking and the aristocratic Judge Temple are more often than not on the same side-especially with respect to the conservation of natural resources.” 4 Yet when Temple [291] makes his statement, Natty quickly rejoins, “No, no; we are not much of one mind, Judge. ... ” 5 Only by employing a definition of conservation so all-embracing as to be useless can developer and backwoodsman be placed “on the same side.” It is true, of course, that both Temple and Bumppo recognize a need to protect natural resources. But as Noble observes, their motives and their goals are quite different. 6

There is no ambivalence, of course, in the attitude of Judge Temple’s pioneers toward the natural environment. The pioneers are exploiters. Adherents to what Stuart Udall [292] once labelled “the myth of superabundance,” they practice what Michael Kammen has recently characterized as “resourceful wastefulness.” 7 The attitude of the settlers toward wild nature is typified in the attitude of woodchopper Billy Kirby toward trees. In Billy’s eyes trees are “a sore sight at any time,” obstacles to be overcome, a task to which Billy applies himself with enthusiasm, for until the trees are removed, crops cannot be grown. And yet trees may also have value if Billy is privileged to work his will on them. Billy is not, as are other settlers, merely clearing a patch of ground on which to grow crops; he is clearing land for others, carrying on a commercial sugar- making operation, and beginning a commercial timber and firewood enterprise. When the reader first meets him, Billy is busily engaged in chopping down maple trees, singing the while, “’Tis fuel, food, and timber.” Even the stumps have value. Unlike trees, they do not shade the land and thereby prevent the growing of crops, and when uprooted, they can be arranged in fences that will “turn anything bigger than a hog.” Billy has been told that in Europe rich men keep great oaks and elms “just to look at.” He simply cannot understand why anyone would do such a thing when the trees “would make a barrel of pots to the tree.” Billy is the complete exploiter. He doubtless would concur heartily with another pioneer who can think of only two uses for a standing tree — to bear fruit and to provide perches for monkeys. 8

And yet his awareness that trees need not be viewed solely as obstacles — that they can be viewed as a resource, that they can be made to provide “fuel, food, and timber” does not mean that Billy takes good care of the trees. On the contrary, his sugar-making operation is carried on by the careless gashing of the trees, described by Cooper as “an extremely wasteful, and inartificial arrangement.” Nor is there any concept of sustained yield in Billy’s head. He is not a tree farmer, he practices resourceful wastefulness. [293] Though archetypical, Billy is not unique. Judge Temple’s cousin and the sheriff of Templeton, Richard Jones, uses sugar maple wood for fireplace fuel. Still, in the minds of Kirby and the other settlers there is no cause for alarm about the future in the probably fatal wounding of the maples and the cutting down of the other trees — oaks, elms, and beeches — for, Kirby assures us, “If there’s plenty of anything in this mountaneous country — as clearly there is — it’s trees.” Richard Jones repeatedly echoes this view that “there are trees enough here for all of us, and some to spare.” 9 The resourceful wastefulness of Cooper’s exploitative pioneers is based upon the myth of superabundance.

These attitudes — that wild nature in being is at best a difficult obstacle and at worst a serious danger; that it is potentially valuable, but only in a narrow, materialistic way; that man exploits wilderness by resourceful wastefulness; and that the wilderness is superabundant, inexhaustible — appear again in the attitudes of the pioneers toward wildlife. Soon after her arrival in Templeton, Judge Temple’s daughter, Elizabeth, and her female companion find their lives threatened by a panther. They are saved only by the heroic self-sacrifice of their noble dog, Brave, and by the nick-of-time arrival and unerring shooting eye of Natty Bumppo. 10

But it is not only panthers that menace the lives of the inhabitants of Templeton; so, too, do other wild creatures — for example, passenger pigeons. When in the spring the villagers sight “a flock the eye cannot see the end of” approaching on its annual northward migration, Richard Jones warns that upon the return southward migration in the fall, “These rascals will overrun our wheatfields.” And Billy Kirby complains of having been obliged to sow his wheatfield “twice and three times.” Just as trees are “a sore sight” to Billy, so pigeons are “divils.” When, with the aid of all available weapons, including a six-foot ducking-gun and a miniature swivel cannon, the pigeons are finally dispersed, Jones shouts, “Victory! Victory! We have driven the enemy from the field.” Once again, however, because man has worked his [294] will on wild nature, a threat has been turned into a boon. To Richard Jones and the other pioneers a dead or wounded pigeon is as appealing a sight as a charred stump. The “divils” will not overrun wheat fields, and they will also, says Jones, provide “food enough ... to keep the army of Xerxes for a month, and feathers enough to make beds for the whole country.” At the very least, “Every old woman in the village may have pot pie for the asking.” Not surprisingly, however, many birds are left to rot on the scene, for as one settler boasts, he himself had killed as many pigeons that day as Rodney had killed Frenchmen. Clearly there is no thought that if the semi-annual carnage continues year after year, the huge flocks may someday dwindle and disappear and not return — to overrun wheat fields or to provide the stuff of beds and pot pies. 11 The myth of superabundance dominates.

[295] Except for the fact that they can hardly be seen as threatening, the settlers hold much the same attitude toward fish that they do toward pigeons. Just as they use cannon against pigeons, so against fish, disdaining hook and line — “nibble, nibble, nibble” — the settlers employ much more destructive means, a seine fifty to sixty fathoms long that enables them to “haul them in by the thousands.” “I call that fishing,” exalts Richard Jones. After the first haul, Billy Kirby exclaims, “The Lord condemn me for a liar if there ain’t a thousand bass.” There are also pickerel and lesser fry. Although Elizabeth Temple suggests that the fish “must prove a great blessing to the country, and a powerful friend to the poor,” in actuality the settlers take only a very few of the choicest bass — Lake Otsego bass being particularly firm and rich — leaving the others to rot. Richard Jones scornfully rejects the suggestion that the bass are beginning to disappear. 12 Again the myth of superabundance and its corollary resourceful wastefulness dominate.

His settlers’ prodigal waste of natural resources shocks Marmaduke Temple. He particularly deplores “the wastefulness of the settlers with the noble trees of this country,” especially the hardwoods — beeches and maples, elms and oaks. Temple has seen a settler fell a tree and use but a small part of it, leaving the remainder to rot. Angrily berating his cousin Richard Jones for burning maples in his fireplace, he expresses his alarm that the settlers “are already felling forests as if no end could be found to their treasures, nor any limit to their extent. If we go on this way,” he concludes, “twenty years hence we shall want for fuel.” Temple is much alarmed by a visit to Billy Kirby’s sugar-making operation. He finds it conducted in a manner that he describes variously as slovenly, careless, wasteful, and extravagant. He reproaches Billy for the probably fatal wounds he quite unnecessarily inflicts on the trees. “The trees are the growth. of centuries,” Temple admonishes the wood-chopper, “and when they are gone, none living will see their loss remedied.” 13

[296] The pigeon shoot appalls Judge Temple. Half the birds shot from the air remain alive. Temple feels their eyes on him. He seeks to end the sport, “if sport it be,” but without success. He can, however, end the suffering of the victims; Temple pays the boys of Templeton to bring him the heads of the grounded birds. 14 Seine fishing similarly outrages Judge Temple. Observing the huge pile of dying fish on the lakeshore, he comments, “This is a fearful waste of the choicest gifts of Providence,” and adds, “But like all the other treasures of the wilderness, they already begin to disappear before the wasteful extravagance of man.” To Elizabeth, her father “seems melancholy, as if he actually thought that a day of retribution was to follow this hour of abundance and prodigality.” 15

It is in his revulsion against his settlers’ wasteful practices that Judge Temple comes to see himself in strange alliance with Natty Bumppo. On the occasion of the fishing excursion, Natty denounces seine fishing as “a sinful kind of fishing,” calling it “sinful and wasty to catch more than can be eat.” It is in response to this outburst that Temple declares the two men to agree in opinion, and despite Natty’s vigorous denial, certainly at first glance the two men do, indeed, appear to be of one mind, for clearly both reject the myth of superabundance and its corollary the practice of resourceful wastefulness. 16

In his old age, Natty flees the “Yankee choppers,” ironically to the treeless Great Plains of the upper Mississippi Valley. Natty goes West “in search of quiet.” “I have come to these plains,” he explains, “to escape the sound of the axe.” True, when the wind is from the east, Natty still hears “the sound of the axes and the crash of falling trees.” “But surely the choppers can never follow” him out onto the treeless plains. Upon learning of the Lewis and Clark expedition, however, Natty feels less secure. “It will not be long,” he fears, “before an accursed band of choppers and loggers will be following ... to humble the wilderness. ... ” Still, if the choppers and loggers do attempt to follow Lewis and [297] Clark, they will find that “nature has cheated ... [them] of the pleasure of stripping the ‘arth of its lawful trees,” For “a hand which can lay the ‘arth bare at a blow has been here and swept the country in very mockery of their wickedness.” God had created the barren plains as an object lesson “to warn men of what their folly may yet bring the land.” 17

Yet it is much more than the silence and solitude of later Forest Service and Park Service brochures that Natty seeks on the Great Plains. It is the “wickedness” of the settlers that he attempts to escape. “I took my leave of the waste and wickedness of the settlements,” he announces at one point. Throughout his life and particularly in his later years, Natty denounces the “waste and sinfulness” of the settlers, who “strip the ‘arth of its trees.” Noting in his mind’s eye the regrettable change his people have wrought upon the landscape, Natty says, “It is ... chiefly their waste that has done it.” Near the end of his life, in exile from his beloved forests on the Great Plains, Natty makes it explicit, “I came hither to escape the wasteful temper of my people.” In a symbolic confrontation with Billy Kirby, Natty exclaims, “Heaven knows I would set out six trees afore I would cut down one.” 18 Apparently like Marmaduke Temple, Natty Bumppo regards the forest as a limited resource to be carefully husbanded.

Natty also appears to be of one mind with Judge Temple in the matter of wildlife. Particularly on the occasion of the notorious pigeon-shoot do Natty’s views seem to be virtually indistinguishable from those of the Judge. Natty is, of course, deeply distressed by the slaughter of the pigeons, and his dogs, Hector and “the slut,” appear to share their master’s anguish. Natty is able to hold his sentiments to himself until the introduction of the swivel cannon; then he can contain himself no longer. “It’s wicked,” he declares, “to be firing into flocks of God’s creatures in a wasty manner, to kill twenty and eat one.” Natty shoots a single pigeon for his dinner-shooting it, of course, on the wing with a single shot from his rifle — and then goes home, for, he says, “I don’t relish to see these wasty ways.” As Natty explains his posi[298]tion, sounding almost exactly like Judge Temple, a pigeon’s flesh “is made the same as all other creature’s, for man’s eating,” but “the least of things is made for use, not to destroy.” “Use,” admonishes Natty, “but don’t waste.” And Natty, again like Judge Temple, warns of heavenly retribution to come: “The Lord won’t see the waste of his creatures for nothing, and right will be done to the pigeons as well as others, by and by.” 19

Again on the occasion of the seine fishing outing, Judge Temple and Natty appear to be of one mind; indeed, it is on this occasion that Temple so states. Arriving on the scene in his canoe, fishing spear in hand, Natty is invited by Judge Temple to help himself to a boatload of fish from among the “multitude of victims ... that will be lost as food for the want of mouths to consume them.” “No, No, Judge,” Natty replies, “I eat of no man’s wasty ways.” Natty goes on to explain that if fish offered furs or hides, man might be justified in taking them by the netful. “But,” says Natty, “God made them for man’s food, and for no other disarnable reason.” Hence Natty calls it “sinful and wasty to catch more than can be eat.” Not for the best of old country rifles would Natty “be a party to such a sinful kind of fishing.” Natty and Indian John then take their canoe out onto the lake, where Natty spears, at a depth of eighteen feet, a ten-pound “salmon-trout” for their own eating. 21

If Natty and Judge Temple are so obviously in agreement in rejecting the myth of superabundance and its corollary resourceful wastefulness, what is it that divides the two men, something so clearly seen by the illiterate backwoodsman and yet so completely invisible to the educated developer? A further probing of the attitude of each man toward wild nature reveals that despite the evident sincerity of his “your reasoning is mine” statement, Judge Temple’s attitude toward wild nature is much closer to that of his settlers than it is to that of Natty Bumppo. True, Judge Temple, unlike the settlers, does show genuine concern for the welfare of what he refers to as “the noble trees of the country.” They are “treasures,” “precious gifts of nature,” “jewels of the forest.” [299] Their protection, Temple declares, is “the first object of my solicitude.” In order to protect the trees, he resolves “the instant the snow is off the earth to send a party into the mountains to explore for coal,” and he also plans to induce the state legislature to pass timber laws, just as at his behest the legislature has already passed fish and game laws. In the case of his precious sugar maples, he even dimly foresees tree farming, to the merriment of Richard Jones.

But why is Judge Temple so solicitous of the protection of the forest? To answer this question is to establish Temple’s kinship with his settlers. Temple treasures the precious jewels of the forest only for their worth in narrow economic terms. Temple repeatedly refers to the trees as “mines of comfort and wealth.” Thus Temple is closer to Billy Kirby — “’Tis fuel, food, and timber” — than he realizes. Judge Temple makes his kinship with Billy Kirby explicit when he tells him, “It is not as ornaments that I value the noble trees of this country; it is for their usefulness.” [300] This usefulness Temple is converting into a personal fortune. He has been motivated “to endure privation,” he says, “in order to accumulate wealth.” 21

Judge Temple has brought civilization, albeit of a rudimentary sort, to the wilderness, and he is proud of his achievement. Elizabeth Temple finds the country around Templeton even now “wild and unsettled,” and suggests that “it must have been a thousand times more dreary” five years previously upon her father’s first arrival. Judge Temple agrees with his daughter. When he had first viewed the wilderness he could discover no vestiges of man, no clearings, huts, or roads. “Not an opening was to be seen in the boundless forest.” Temple had viewed the scene “with a mingled feeling of pleasure and desolation” — pleasure in anticipation of what he might make of the wilderness before him, and desolation in recognition of the dangers and obstacles confronting him. The country then “lay in the sleep of nature”; Judge Temple “awoke it to supply the needs of men.” Temple had come to Lake Otsego “with a view to people the land.” He now, Cooper tells us, “contemplated, with philanthropic pleasure, the prospect of affluence and comfort that was expanding around him; the result of his own enterprise, and much of it the result of his own industry.” Because of him “civilization and its refinements had crept, or rather rushed, into the settlements.” Judge Temple never for a moment doubts the goodness of his works. He declares that he has tamed the wilderness and, gazing on his lands, adds, “I appeal to Heaven for a testimony to the uses I have put them to.” Clearly Judge Temple has no second thoughts about his successful efforts to civilize the wilderness. Nor does Temple have doubts about the future. His thoughts, says Cooper, are frequently “on the improvements that posterity were to make in his lands. To his eye, where others saw nothing but wilderness, towns, manufactories, bridges, canals, mines, and all the other resources of an old country were constantly presenting themselves. ... ” 22

Although certainly an improvement upon the unbridled reign of wild nature that had previously characterized the [301] Lake Otsego region, the civilization of Templeton is admittedly imperfect. In particular Templeton pioneers waste the bounty of nature. Judge Temple recognizes this and plans to take corrective measures. The New York legislature has (already passed fish and game laws; Temple plans to induce it to pass timber laws as well. Such laws, rigorously enforced by a vigilant magistrate, will halt the waste of nature’s bounty. 23

Clearly Judge Temple should have addressed his remark — “Your reasoning is mine, ... we agree in opinion” — not to backwoodsman Natty Bumppo but to woodchopper Billy Kirby. True, there are significant differences between the views of the two men — unlike Billy, Temple does not believe in the myth of superabundance and therefore does not practice resourceful wastefulness — but at bottom the two men are not at odds, for the interest of each in wild nature is solely economic. Temple, like Billy, is the complete utilitarian. It is because his interest in wild nature is so narrowly utilitarian that Temple is unable to understand that he and Natty Bumppo “are not much of one mind,” that Natty’s concern with wilderness is not utilitarian but aesthetic and spiritual-recreational in the broadest sense.

On the occasion of his first visit to Lake Otsego, Judge Temple had encountered Natty, who fulfilled his obligations as host “simply but kindly” — until he discovered Temple’s plan for a settlement, at which point, Temple later reported, “the cordiality of his manner very sensibly diminished, or, I might better say, disappeared.” Natty’s objections, Temple believed, “referred chiefly to an interruption to the hunting.” Certainly Temple might readily have come to this opinion, for Natty does complain, repeatedly and vehemently, about the decline of hunting. At first glance, Natty is what he appears to Temple to be — the old hunter, dependent upon hunting for his well-being and understandably alarmed, therefore, by an increasing scarcity of game. Again and again under varying circumstances Natty bitterly reproaches Temple for having driven God’s creatures from the wilderness, making game increasingly difficult to find. When Temple offers Natty a life of ease and plenty, Natty rejoins, “What [302] plenty is there where you may hunt a day, and nob start a buck, or see anything bigger than a mink, or maybe a stray fox?” Temple states that game laws will protect the game. Natty laughs in derision. He knows that it is not hunting that is making game scarce but the destruction of habitats by Temple’s clearings and betterments. “It’s the farmers that make the game scarce,” he tells Temple, “and not the hunters.” Temple would “turn good hunting-grounds into stumpy pastures.” When at the pigeon-shoot Temple proposes to “put an end to this work of destruction,” Natty responds, “Put an end, Judge, to your clearings. ... Wasn’t the woods made for the beasts and birds to harbor in?” 24

And yet it is perfectly evident — though, revealingly, it eludes Judge Temple — and of crucial importance that to Natty the woods are more than terrestrial happy hunting grounds and the wild creatures of the woods more than prey. Natty’s fundamental commitments are aesthetic and spiritual; the woods are his art gallery and his church. From this perspective, Judge Temple’s way with the wilderness is no less “wasty” than that of the pioneers, for Temple, too, destroys the essential aesthetic and spiritual qualities of the wilderness. “Go back and tell your Judge,” Natty directs at one point, “that ... I won’t have his wasty ways brought into my cabin.”

Natty describes the Lake Otsego wilderness as it appeared when he had first come upon it almost a half-century earlier as “a cheerful place” and “a comfortable hunting ground” — in fact, “a second paradise.” But he had soon found another place that was even more to his liking. And revealingly that place, a ridge overlooking the Hudson (where the Catskill Mountain House would one day be built), “was only to eyesight, and not for hunting or fishing.” Asked what he saw from the viewpoint, Natty replies, “Creation, ... all creation ... all that God had done, or man could do. ... ” Initially Natty had been attracted as much by man’s doing as by God’s. “When I first came into the woods to live,” he explains, “I used to have weak spells when I felt lonesomeness; and then I would go into the Catskills and spend a few days on that hill to look at the ways of man.” But it had been [303] many years since Natty had felt any need to look on. man’s ways. He now sought the consolation not of humanized nature but rather of wild nature.

And there was still another place that Natty treasured even more than the Catskill ridge and, like that ridge, Rot as a hunting ground but rather as a viewpoint. “The view from this second spot was “painted ... by no hand of man.” Natty calls it “the best piece of work I’ve met with in the woods,” for it is more covered with trees, and natural than other places — a place of trees and rocks and still and running water. When his companion, assuming that a place of such special beauty must be widely known, protests that he has never heard or read of it, Natty rejoins that “not a dozen white men have ever laid eyes on it.”

But it is not primarily aesthetic satisfaction that Natty finds in wilderness and wildlife. Primarily, he finds spiritual satisfaction. Natty’s favorite spot in the wilderness is not just a spot to make a man rhapsodize over the beauty of wild nature; “it is a spot to make a man solemnize” about God’s presence in the wilderness. Repeatedly Natty calls attention to “the power of God so manifest in this howling wilderness.” To Natty that “there is a God ... is ... clear in the wilderness.” Natty’s faith is secure, Cooper explains, because he has “imbibed his faith from the lights of nature, eschewing ... doctrine.” Natty “has spent his days ... where he could always look up into the windows of heaven,” and “has lived for seventy years in the very bosom of nature where he could at any instant open up his heart to God.” “God dwells unoffended in these hills,” and Natty “loves all that his bounty has given us.” Such insight is not for everyone, however. It is not for the casual wilderness sojourner, nor for the newly arrived Judge Temple and his settlers. “None knows how often the hand of God is seen in the wilderness,” says Natty, “but them that rove it for a man’s life.” 25

But however clear the evidence of God’s existence in the wilderness, Judge Temple’s settlements are obliterating such evidence and causing doubt, even among clergymen. Destroying wild nature, how can Temple and his settlers hope to find God? The woods and their wildlife were God’s crea[304]tions. Judge Temple and his settlers with their “wasty ways,” in their “wickedness and folly,” have filled the woods with clearings and “driven God’s creatures from the wilderness, where his providence has put them for his own pleasure,” destroying the wilderness environment in which it was possible for the seeker to find God and inviting His retribution. 26

One of the most helpful concepts to gain widespread currency among contemporary students of American history is that of internalized conflict, the idea that the conflicts re[305]sulting from certain large polarities that have characterized our national life are oftentimes best seen as occurring not between opposing groups but rather within the minds of individual Americans. One author speaks of “contradictory ideals and desires, held simultaneously and uneasily within the mind of the single individual,” another of “uncertainties, unresolved dilemmas and inconsistencies of individual.” 27 A principal American polarity, perhaps the principal American polarity — Perry Miller called it “the American theme” — has been that of nature versus civilization; and nature in America, Miller reminds us, means wild nature. 28 Probably no American writer is so commonly cited as exemplifying the internalization of the wilderness — civilization polarity as is James Fenimore Cooper in his Leatherstocking novels. Just as commonly, however, it is asserted that Cooper resolved this conflict, if not to the satisfaction of literary critics at least to his own, through the device of triumph and tragedy — the triumph, albeit tragic, of the greater good over the lesser, of civilization over wilderness.

There is a good deal of evidence in the five-volume Leatherstocking series to support this triumph-of-the-greater-good interpretation. To take but a single striking example, Natty Bumppo, who in The Pioneersis the great exemplar of freedom, becomes in The Prairiea man who speaks of the absolute, though unfortunate, necessity of laws in order to protect the weak or witless. 29 But when one focuses sharply on that particular aspect of the wilderness-civilization conflict so clearly presented in The Pioneers — the conflict between preservation and wise use — the triumph-of-the-greater-good resolution device is not present. Rather, in The PioneersCooper makes it clear that material progress, even material progress taken from the sponsorship of exploiter Billy Kirby and entrusted to the stewardship of wise-user Marmaduke Temple, can be achieved only at the sacrifice of aesthetic and, even more tragic, spiritual values. And nowhere in The [306] Pioneersdoes Cooper hint that he is willing to make that sacrifice. Rather, Cooper has internalized the conservation schism; simultaneously and uneasily he holds the contradictory ideals and desires of both preservation and wise use. He is “not much of one mind”; he does not “agree in opinion” with himself.


1 Samuel P. Hays, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency; The Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890-1920 (New York: Atheneum, 1972), pp. 141-146, 189-198; Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), pp. 129-130, 135-139; Nash, “John Muir, William Rent, and the Conservation Schism,” Pacific Historical Review, XXXVI (November, 1967), 422-433.

2 Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, pp. 75-77; Donald R. Noble, “James Fenimore Cooper and the Environment,” The Explorer, 14 (Winter, 1972), 15-18; Charles Leavitt, Cooper’s The Pioneers (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1966), p. 88.

3 James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912), p. 272.

4 Edwin Fussell, Frontier: American Literature and the American West (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), p. 32.

5 Cooper, The Pioneers, p. 272.

6 Noble, “Cooper and the Environment,” p. 16.

7 Stuart L. Udall, The Quiet Crisis (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963), pp. 54ff; Michael Kammen, People of Paradox; An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974), pp. 150-151; 290.

8 Cooper, The Pioneers, pp. 227-233; Cooper, The Pathfinder (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912), pp. 99-100.

9 Cooper, The Pioneers, pp. 227-233.

10 Ibid., pp. 314-318.

11 Ibid., pp. 246-255.

12 Ibid., pp. 256-267.

13 Ibid., pp. 99, 103, 231-232.

14 Ibid., pp. 254-255.

15 Ibid., pp. 265-266, 268.

16 Ibid., p. 272.

17 Cooper, The Prairie (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912), pp. v, 19, 60, 82-83, 92, 133, 219.

18 Ibid., pp. 92, 442; Cooper, The Pioneers, p. 345.

19 Cooper, The Pioneers, pp. 250-253.

20 Ibid., pp. 272-276.

21 Ibid., pp. 99-100, 103, 223-233.

22 Ibid., pp. 235-239, 331, 356-357.

23 Ibid., pp. 157-158.

24 Ibid., pp. 238-240, 298-299, 384, 402, 438.

25 Ibid., pp. 298-302.

26 Ibid., pp. 302, 379, 384; Cooper, The Deerslayer (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912), pp. 387-388; Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912), pp. 135, 217.

27 Marcus Cunliffe, “American Watersheds,” American Quarterly, XIII (Winter, 1961), 493; J. H. Hexter, Reappraisals in History (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1961), p. 210.

28 Perry Miller, Errand into the Wilderness (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1956), pp. 204-205.

29 Cooper, The Prairie, p. 23.

* Nelson Van Valen is chairman of the History Department at Beloit College, Beloit, Wisconsin.