What Happened to Cooper’s Sixth Leatherstocking Tale?

Steven P. Harthorn (University of Tennessee)

Presented at the 15ᵗʰ Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 2005.

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 2005 Cooper Seminar (No. 15), The State University of New York College at Oneonta. Oneonta, New York. Hugh C. MacDougall and Steven Harthorn, editors. (pp. 55-61).

Copyright © 2007, James Fenimore Cooper Society and the College at Oneonta.

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

It seems surprising that, after James Fenimore Cooper revived his character Natty Bumppo to commercial and critical successs with The Pathfinder and The Deerslayer in 1840 and 1841, no additional installments in the Leatherstocking series were forthcoming from his pen despite nearly ten more years of activity as an author after their appearance. As the Leatherstocking tales stand today in the order of their publication, the fifth tale, The Deerslayer, concludes the series (which encompasses The Pioneers, 1823; The Last of the Mohicans, 1826; The Prairie, 1827; The Pathfinder, 1840; and The Deerslayer, 1841). Already in his 1841 Preface to The Deerslayer, Cooper writes, “‘The Leather-Stocking Tales,’ form now something like a drama in five acts; complete as to material and design, though quite probably very incomplete as to execution” — language that would seem clearly to affirm that the fifth treatment of Natty would be the last. Again, in his 1850 “Preface to the Leather-Stocking Tales” for the revised Putnam edition, he writes of The Deerslayer as “completing the series as it now stands.” 1

Yet shortly after Cooper’s death and in the half-century that followed, several people, most with close and credible connections to Cooper himself, put forward a tantalizing possibility-that Cooper was contemplating a sixth tale in the series, perhaps filling in the long gap in Natty’s career between The Last of the Mohicans and Pathfinder (both set during the French and Indian War, ca. 1757-58) and The Pioneers (set in post-Revolution America, ca. 1794) by portraying Natty’s exploits during the Revolutionary War. Present-day knowledge about this potential but never-realized development in Cooper’s career is scarce, tending to exist in a state of vague anecdotal awareness where it exists at all, and not discussed at length in print. 2 To date, nobody has assembled the surviving evidence to piece together what happened to Cooper’s contemplated sixth Leatherstocking tale. Why Cooper, who presumably would have had much to gain commercially by capitalizing further on the revived celebrity of Natty Bumppo, never published such a tale is a fascinating literary mystery. Though many of its details must as a matter of course remain unsolved, the knowledge that can be gained about it says much about Cooper’s decision-making processes as an author, providing a glimpse of a significant path not followed in his career.

The first published allusion to Cooper’s plan for a sixth Leatherstocking tale comes from Cooper’s well-known contemporary William Cullen Bryant. Bryant, a poet and longtime editor of the Democratic New York Evening Post, maintained long and cordial, if not particularly frequent or intimate, connections with Cooper, publishing Cooper’s “A.B.C.” letters during the 1830s and often acting as a virtually solitary voice of support for Cooper when the Whig papers were attacking him. In his “Discourse on the Life and Genius of Cooper,” the keynote speech at a memorial service held in Cooper’s honor on 25 February 1852, Bryant made the following remarks:

“He was contemplating, I have since been told, another Leatherstocking tale, deeming that he had not yet exhausted the character, and those who consider what new resources it yielded him in the Pathfinder and the Deerslayer, will readily conclude that he was not mistaken.” 3

Bryant’s words come second hand (“I have since been told”), perhaps from the Cooper family, Rufus W. Griswold, or any of the other friends and associates of Cooper who organized the memorial service in his memory. Details, unfortunately, are few in his brief allusion to the tale.

The second source, a personal reminiscence of Cooper by his friend George Washington Greene, treats the matter in more detail. Greene (1811-1883) had first met Cooper at General Lafayette’s house in Paris and renewed his acquaintance during Cooper’s later years in America. His comments about the unwritten Leatherstocking tale appear in his book Biographical Studies, published in 1860, but internal evidence within his reminiscence of Cooper (such as reference to the ongoing efforts to organize the Cooper memorial) suggests a date of composition circa late 1851 or early 1852, shortly after Cooper’s death. He gives the following account:

I have always regretted that I did not make a memorandum of my last conversation with Cooper. It was at Putnam’s that I met him — just after the appearance of the first volume of the new edition of his works; an edition which, with that of Mr. Irving’s, would, to all who know the history of them, have been sufficient to associate the publisher’s name with the annals of American literature, even if he had given no other proofs of his right to a place there. Cooper was in excellent spirits, though the disease which not long afterwards assumed so fatal a form, was just beginning to make itself felt. We walked out together, and, after a short stroll, went to his rooms at the Globe, and sat down to talk. I had never found him so free before upon the subject that interested me most — his own works and his literary habits. He talked about “Leather Stocking” — confessed freely his partiality for that exquisite creation of his happiest moments, and told how glad he had been to revive him again. “I meant,” said he, “when I brought him on the stage anew, to have added one more scene and introduced him in the Revolution; but I thought that the public had had enough of him, and never ventured it.” I tried to persuade him that the public interest had been excited, rather than satiated, by this resuscitation of their old favorite, and that the great questions of that great period would suggest things to the earnest, single-hearted woodsman, which, combined with the interest of the real historical characters that might be introduced, would afford him, perhaps, fuller scope than he had ever yet had for the development of his original conception. Washington and Natty Bumpo [sic]; another revolutionary battle, described like Lexington and Bunker Hill; and some scene that belongs to real history engraved in our memories by the same graphic power which has consecrated so many that owe their existence, as well as their interest, to the imagination of the poet. “I have thought a good deal about it,” said he, “and perhaps I may do it yet.” But the works he had already in hand claimed his immediate attention, and before he found himself free for new labors, the progress of his disease had become too rapid to leave much room for other thoughts than those with which his mind, naturally inclined to devotion, had long been familiar. 4

Greene’s account is not an ideal piece of evidence: as he himself admits, he must rely on memory recorded some time after the fact. Also, the tone of the piece tends toward the flattering. Yet there is much of interest here, particularly as it purports to relate first-hand Cooper’s own thoughts about the tale, if not his exact words. Greene’s account names the Revolution as the proposed setting, and places Cooper’s latest contemplation of the tale near the end of his life, attributing the non-appearance of the tale to Cooper’s declining health and prior obligations. Bryant’s brief remarks would seem to corroborate this chronology. But Greene’s account adds another chronological wrinkle through its purported quotation from Cooper himself about the possibility of an earlier contemplation of the work, one which was to have taken place around the time when he “brought [Natty] on the stage anew” — namely, the early 1840s — but which was abandoned when Cooper calculated that “the public had had enough” of Natty.

A third account appears several decades after Bryant’s and Greene’s statement, in the pages of Bryant and His Friends: Some Reminiscences of the Knickerbocker Writers by James Grant Wilson (1832-1916). This work was published in 1885, not long after Thomas Lounsbury’s James Fenimore Cooper, the first full-length biography on Cooper. In his brief essay on Cooper, Wilson includes excerpts of recent correspondence with the Cooper family, including “the novelist’s son,” Paul Fenimore Cooper, and “Another member of Mr. Cooper’s family,” unnamed but possibly Susan Fenimore Cooper (or, presumably, one of Cooper’s other three daughters). This unnamed family member, in addition to lamenting the shortcomings of Lounsbury’s treatment of Cooper, divulges a few details about her father’s plans:

“Cooper intended writing another Leatherstocking tale of the date of the Revolution, the scene to be laid at Niagara. I have always regretted that he did not carry out this plan; for he greatly admired Niagara, and would doubtless have left us some fine descriptions of that grand cataract.” 5

This brief statement, though significant for its writer’s close connection to Cooper, unfortunately yields little to clarify the chronology of Greene’s account or to explain the reasons Cooper did not carry out his plan. It does, however, include an interesting detail mentioned in no other account: that (at least at some point) Cooper contemplated “laying his scene” at Niagara Falls, a setting he portrayed as early as 1821 at the end of his first Revolutionary War novel, The Spy.

In addition to this testimony by a Cooper family member, Wilson makes his own statement:

During Cooper’s last autumn on earth he was contemplating another Leatherstocking story to cover the interesting Revolutionary period, deeming that he had not entirely exhausted the charming and original character; but he was unfortunately turned aside from he purpose by the cold water thrown on the project by his publisher, who expressed doubts of its success, and the danger of its injuring the commercial value of the series. As Bryant remarks in his admirable address on Cooper, “Those who consider what new resources it yielded him in ‘The Pathfinder’ and ‘The Deerslayer’ will readily conclude that he [Cooper] was not mistaken.” 6

Clearly, Wilson owes a significant debt to Bryant (even in effect plagiarizing Bryant’s line, “deeming that he had not yet exhausted the character”), yet he includes other information mentioned in no previous testimony. Wilson’s account squares with Greene’s in placing Natty Bumppo in the American Revolution but offers a very different explanation for Cooper’s not writing the tale, ascribing the decision against it to Cooper’s publishers rather than Cooper’s own sense that the public had “had enough” of Natty. The date Wilson mentions, too — “During Cooper’s last autumn” — suggests that Cooper may have attempted to act on the reply he had given Greene not long before: “perhaps I may do it yet.” Exactly where Wilson acquired his information is not easy to ascertain, but another account exists that effectively backs his statements.

This fourth account dates to 1889, a few years after the publication of Wilson’s Bryant and His Friends, and appears in the form of a letter to the editors of the literary periodical The Critic in September 1889, the centennial anniversary of Cooper’s birth. The writer of the letter is O.B. Bunce — probably Oliver Bell Bunce (1828-90), who, in addition to being an avid Cooper enthusiast, was also writer of at least three novels himself, putting out one of them, Life before Him, in 1860 with W.A. Townsend, publisher of the well-known “Darley edition” of Cooper’s writings and one half of the firm Stringer & Townsend, who published Cooper’s later novels. Writing in response to a retrospective article on Cooper by Brander Matthews, Bunce offers the following testimony:

There is one noticeable gap in the Leatherstocking series that must have been remarked by all readers of those books. This is that while Natty Bumppo figures in the series before and after the War of the Revolution, yet he is not carried through that memorable period. Natty Bumppo in the Revolution would stand, if Cooper had not forgotten his skill, an entrancing figure, and great is the pity that the world has it not. I happen to know that Cooper had at one time contemplated a volume that should supply this missing link in his old hero’s life. About 1840 Cooper’s works passed into the hands of Stringer and Townsend, a popular publishing firm of that period. I am informed by a member of that firm that shortly after this transfer Cooper went to his publishers and proposed a Revolutionary story with Bumppo for the hero. But his new publishers strangely enough discouraged it. “I shall never forget,” said my informant, in telling me this story, “the shadow that came over Mr. Cooper’s face on finding his plan was not approved.” The reason for discouraging the project was the apprehension that if unsuccessful the new volume would prove an injury to a series that stood as it was at a high pecuniary value. I, for one, can but think it a great pity that a publisher’s overcaution should have prevented the production of a romance that could scarcely have failed to prove a delightful accession to American letters. 7

Bunce corroborates the accounts of Greene, Wilson, and the unnamed Cooper family member in naming a Revolutionary setting for the story; he also echoes Wilson’s claim that discouragement from his publishers was responsible for sinking Cooper’s plans, professing to have his information on good authority from a member of Stringer & Townsend. Unfortunately, the round date Bunce names — “About 1840” — is an impossible one in light of the other details in his account. Cooper did not quit publishing with Lea & Blanchard until 1844, and the firm of Burgess, Stringer, & Co. — predecessors of Stringer & Townsend — did not exist before 9 December 1843. 8 Stringer & Townsend, however, did make several transactions with Lea & Blanchard for copyrights to Cooper’s tales, purchasing in 1849 the rights to the Leatherstocking tales along with those for nine other works that Cooper had disposed of to Lea & Blanchard. 9 Given these realities, Bunce’s 1840 date cannot stand alongside his claim of having first-hand information from a member of the Stringer & Townsend firm, casting an air of doubt over his ability to recall dates and perhaps over the reliability of the rest of his details. Perhaps The Critic simply misread his date.

Fortunately, a fifth piece of evidence supports Bunce’s story, if not his chronology, by providing the very piece of testimony by “a member of” Stringer & Townsend to which he refers. On 8 December 1895, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle published an article on the aged William Adee Townsend (1814-1899), co-partner of the firms Burgess, Stringer, & Co. and Stringer & Townsend, containing passages from the publisher’s autobiographical reminiscences (present location unknown). Townsend’s role in publishing Cooper’s novels is given a prominent role in the article, and his own words convey an anecdote about the contemplated sixth Leatherstocking tale that unmistakably resembles the account given by Bunce, albeit with more precise detail and chronology:

About nine months prior to his death Cooper called on us to obtain our views of his purpose to compose a sixth tale to the series, which should introduce Leather Stocking in scenes of the revolution. We discouraged him. He appeared much surprised and disappointed, and at once abandoned the project. Still, the series was a perfect one as it was left. The life of Leather Stocking was now a complete drama in five acts, beginning with the first warpath in the Deerslayer, followed by his activity and his love experience in the “Last of the Mohicans” and the “Pathfinder,” and his old age and death in “The Pioneers” and “The Prairie.” 10

In calling the series “a complete drama in five acts,” Townsend uses language similar to Cooper’s own in his 1841 preface to The Deerslayer; both publisher (as the article attests) and author shared a fondness for drama-or perhaps Townsend had Cooper’s words before him when writing his memoir.

If Townsend’s statement is reliable, a date somewhere around late 1850 can be assigned for this late contemplation of a sixth Leatherstocking tale, making his 1850 statement about The Deerslayer’s “completing the series as it now stands“ (emphasis added) take on a more ambiguous, open-ended look, if indeed he was contemplating an addition to the series around the same time or shortly after writing these words. George Washington Greene’s meeting with Cooper, wherein the novelist hinted “perhaps I may do it yet,” must have occurred sometime before he presented his idea to Stringer & Townsend — say sometime around mid- to late-1849 or early 1850. Interestingly, Greene writes that his interview with Cooper took place “at [George Palmer] Putnam’s,” Cooper’s other publisher at the time, whereas the accounts of Bunce and Townsend have Cooper stopping in at Stringer & Townsend to discuss his idea. By 1850 Putnam was publishing Cooper’s new works, 11 so why Cooper would be seeking the views of Stringer & Townsend on the proposal is not clear. At any rate, considering Stringer & Townsend’s investment of considerable capital — $2100 — for copyrights to Cooper’s tales, their possible reluctance to meddle with the existing series is understandable. Misgivings about Cooper’s artistic direction also may have come into play; as Townsend hints in another part of his reminiscences: “The didactic element in his nature had now gained complete mastery over the artistic.” Quite possibly, too, signs of Cooper’s declining health might have made any bargaining for a new work of fiction a risky proposition.

Unfortunately, in his surviving correspondence Cooper is mum about his plans for adding to the Leatherstocking series. If Cooper’s plans proceeded far enough that he actually started writing a story, no partially written manuscript has been found to verify this or to show how far he actually got before abandoning the project. There is, however, one fascinating piece of manuscript evidence, previously undiscussed, that speaks to Cooper’s plans for a sixth Leatherstocking tale. Held in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society, the document is a small half-sheet of manuscript notes in Cooper’s hand, containing ideas for a new work of fiction. Such scraps are uncommon Cooper artifacts since the author did not work from written outlines in planning his works. As his daughter Susan writes, “He never prepared a sketch, or notes of any kind, while writing a work of fiction. A vague outline once drawn in his own mind, the filling up seemed to follow without effort; he frequently planned the details of the different chapters while walking to and fro in the long hall of the house, or, sailor-fashion, on the ‘quarter-deck’ in the grounds.” 12 Miss Cooper’s views are partisan ones, to be sure — one can point to Mercedes of Castile or a number of other works to demonstrate that the “filling up” did not always seem to follow “without effort” — yet surviving documents seem to back her claim that Cooper seldom committed his plans to paper. These circumstances make practically any surviving notes relating to Cooper’s planning process valuable sources of information about Cooper’s creative processes, and ones relating to the Leatherstocking tales must be considered especially worthy of attention, given the prominence of the series both in the Cooper canon and the canon of American literature.

The document reads as follows:

Hints for the New Book —

A clergyman of simplicity, and divided loyalty — “He can preach ten times as well as I.” Two political zealots, who convert each other — Leatherstocking listening and at a loss to decide. Connect the girl with these two disputants; one might be the father, and the other the priest. An Irish immigrant, with Pott for a model. 13

The title, “Hints for the New Book,” as well as the directions to “connect” the “girl” with as-yet unfinalized characters (“one might be the father ... “) imply that these jottings were written in the early stages of planning for a new work of fiction, which, by the unmistakable reference to Leatherstocking, would seem to be a Leatherstocking tale. Yet from the details mentioned, the “New Book” Cooper is planning here does not correspond even loosely to any of the five existing tales in the Leatherstocking series. In light of the later testimonies of Bryant, Greene, Bunce, and Townsend, it seems reasonable to conclude that these manuscript notes do indeed verify Cooper’s contemplation of another tale in the Leatherstocking series.

But when? Locating the source of the “Pott” Cooper refers to as a model for an Irish immigrant character would potentially be a great help in dating the document, but so far Cooper’s source remains elusive. At any rate, though, these notes seem more characteristic of Cooper’s later work than of his novels of the 1820s, with social and religious touches such as a clergyman of “simplicity” and “political zealots” who convert each other. A few possibilities for the date can be narrowed down based on the existing evidence. One, of course, is that these notes are the germ of the idea that Cooper presented to Stringer & Townsend in late 1850 but soon abandoned after the publishers’ rejection. It is hard to discount this possibility entirely, but the testimony of George Washington Greene, together with an existing work in the Cooper canon, suggest a more plausible alternative.

Recall that Greene’s account actually mentions two different times when Cooper thought about adding a tale of Natty Bumppo during the Revolution to the existing series. Greene has Cooper not only uttering “perhaps I may do it yet” circa 1850 but also recollecting an earlier intention sometime around the time The Pathfinder and The Deerslayer made their appearances: “’I meant,’ said [Cooper], ‘when I brought [Natty] on the stage anew, to have added one more scene and introduced him in the Revolution; but I thought that the public had had enough of him, and never ventured it.’” Such a remark would suggest that Cooper’s contemplation of a sixth Leatherstocking tale as documented in the “Hints for the New Book” occurred sometime around 1841, when The Deerslayer was published, or in the next few years that followed. But it may be possible to be even more precise, setting a cutoff date around late 1842 or early 1843, because by that time, Cooper seems to have begun transforming his idea for a sixth Leatherstocking tale as outlined in the “Hints for the New Book” into a frontier novel, one that would be published but would not involve Natty Bumppo at all.

On 5 September 1843, Lea & Blanchard published a Cooper novel called Wyandotté, or The Hutted Knoll. Except for its preliminary chapters, which describe the founding of a wilderness settlement near Unadilla Creek in central New York by the retired British Captain Hugh Willoughby in 1764-65, the novel is set during the Revolutionary War. Willoughby’s settlement, the “hutted knoll” of the story’s subtitle, is populated with a number of souls, including Willoughby’s chaplain from his military days, Reverend Mr. Jedediah Woods. Although the quotation “He can preach ten times as well as I” never appears in Wyandotté, Woods does enjoy a reputation for sound preaching and could be well enough suited to be a priest of “simplicity.” As for the “divided loyalty” mentioned in the “Hints,” when news of the impending Revolution reaches the wilderness settlement, Woods finds himself at odds with Captain Willoughby, the former supporting the cause of the Americans while the latter holds firm for the rights of Great Britain. This very difference causes the friends to engage in a series of friendly but increasingly spirited discussions about the relative merits — politically and theologically — of colonists and king. Both men — Cooper often calls them “disputants” as in the “Hints” before their mutual conversions (67, 78, 79) 14 — advance arguments so persuasive to the other that, amazingly, they find themselves leaning toward the other side, until at last Captain Willoughby finds himself siding with the Americans while Reverend Woods transforms into a staunch loyalist. As Mrs. Willoughby explains to her son, British Major Robert Willoughby (recently returned from duty in New England), regarding Reverend Woods and Captain Willoughby as they warmly debate, “They have been arguing about the right of parliament to tax the colonies, I believe, my dear, and over persuaded each other, that’s all. It is odd, Robert, that Mr. Woods should convert your father” (78). Here, indeed, are “Two political zealots, who convert each other — ” as the “Hints” suggest. As for Cooper’s instructions to “Connect the girl with these two disputants; one might be the father, and the other the priest,” Wyandotté follows the plan here as well, albeit with a twist. Captain Willoughby has a natural daughter, Beulah, in addition to his natural son, Robert, but the main “girl” of Wyandotté is Maud Meredith, an orphan who has lived with the Willoughbys since childhood and who is treated as a full member of the family by all. Maud, however, remains conscious of the difference, which allows for the unusual development of a love plot involving her and Robert Willoughby as the story develops. Finally, Cooper’s idea of “An Irish immigrant, with Pott for a model” finds its counterpart in Wyandotté in the character of Mike (originally Pat) O’Hearn, a hearty and loyal County Leitrim man who serves in the Willoughby household. Again, it would be helpful if the “Pott” that serves as Cooper’s model could be identified, but as of yet no positive identification can be made. Cooper may be referring to a minor literary character or perhaps to a local townsperson.

With all these similarities, it seems appropriate to conclude that the nascent idea for a Leatherstocking tale documented in the “Hints for the New Book” eventually became transformed into Wyandotté. Such a connection not only clears up part of the mystery surrounding the sixth Leatherstocking tale (at least Cooper’s earlier contemplation of one) but also sheds light on some of the obscurity clouding the origins of Wyandotté. As Thomas and Marianne Philbrick have noted in their Historical Introduction to the recent scholarly “Cooper Edition” of the work, the reasons why Cooper wrote Wyandotté have been unclear, for “Border life in the early phases of the American Revolution was not, one would think, an inevitable subject for the novelist in 1843, and nothing in his correspondence or in his daughter Susan’s accounts of his literary career explains the origins of Wyandotté“ (xvi). The Philbricks mention various theories, such as James H. Pickering’s claim that Wyandotté was a response to the “naively patriotic tone” of The Life of Joseph Brant (1838) by William Leete Stone, whom Cooper was suing for libel, or that Wyandotté’s theme was inspired by its summer publication, which would coincide with the pending completion of the Bunker Hill monument in June 1843 (xvi-xvii). As the Philbricks themselves note, neither of these conjectures is very satisfactory. But a connection between Wyandotté and the “Hints for the New Book” gives Cooper a clearer motive for writing a tale of “Border Life in the early phases of the American Revolution.” As O.B. Bunce suggests, the Leatherstocking series as it stands leaves a “noticeable gap” in the career of Natty Bumppo by lacking a tale of his exploits during the Revolution, making it natural for Cooper to be contemplating a story to fill that gap. If he were indeed contemplating such a tale, perhaps around the time he sent Richard Bentley the vague notice that “I shall commence a new work in a few days, several subjects suggesting themselves” in September 1842, 15 it seems more likely, if not “inevitable,” that the subject of “Border life in the early phases of the American Revolution” would be on Cooper’s mind.

There is still, of course, the matter of what to make of “Leatherstocking listening and at a loss to decide” — the one line of the “Hints for the New Book” with little to no direct correlative in Wyandotté — in light of what apparently happened to the story. Why did Cooper write Wyandotté rather than a sixth Leatherstocking tale? According to Greene’s reconstructed conversation, Cooper recalled giving up on the idea of a sixth treatment of Natty Bumppo because he “thought that the public had had enough of him” — an explanation that sounds plausible and satisfactory enough given Cooper’s dissatisfactions at the time and the doubts he had already expressed in 1841 about The Deerslayer, but strange given the critical and commercial success that greeted both The Pathfinder and The Deerslayer. It is difficult to imagine that Cooper could have believed a frontier romance without Natty Bumppo would be a better seller than one containing him. Conceivably other factors, particularly artistic ones, could have played a role in Cooper’s decision to abandon the project. One possibility is that Cooper found himself constrained by a small but significant detail from his first Leatherstocking tale, The Pioneers, wherein Natty Bumppo is revealed to be the lifelong servant (and, in old age, guardian) of Colonel Effingham, a loyalist. It is easy to see how this association would create an awkward situation for Cooper. During the French and Indian War described in The Last of the Mohicans and The Pathfinder, or during the “Old French War” era of The Deerslayer, Natty’s loyalties could easily be mixed without being divided. That is, he could be at once both a loyal British subject and an independent-minded American colonist without having to choose one side to the exclusion of the other. In the post-Revolution America of The Pioneers and The Prairie, issues of sovereignty likewise become nearly moot. But placing Natty Bumppo directly in the Revolution would force Cooper’s hand, requiring Natty to take a position and, in keeping with his character, to expound upon his reasons for doing so. Certainly Cooper was capable of handling this delicate task, careful as he was about handling the Revolution with nuance in The Spy, but perhaps he deemed the experiment too likely to meet with criticism no matter what position Natty might take. 16 Or perhaps it was simply too complicated to bring together a girl and her father, a priest, Leatherstocking, and an Irish immigrant in the way Cooper had originally envisioned (Cooper could hardly write in a love plot involving Natty, for instance, so another male lead would be required). Wyandotté also was written during a period of intense activity for Cooper — libel suits and other literary endeavors forming only a portion of it 17 — raising the issue of whether Cooper’s schedule gave him the time he desired to devote the extra attention required for a sequel involving Leatherstocking.

Although we may never really know why Cooper’s idea for a sixth Leatherstocking tale turned into Wyandotté, or what plans for Natty crossed his mind in 1850 when he once again considered adding to the series, his “Hints for the New Book” suggest the flexibility and fertility of his creative processes. If Wyandotté was Plan B for Cooper, it surely did not suffer artistically because of it. Cooper was remarkably capable of pulling together wide ranges of materials from both books and life to create dramatic, stirring narratives out of his flashes of inspiration-the final product sometimes quite different from the original plan.


1 James Fenimore Cooper, The Deerslayer; or, The First War-Path [1841] (Albany: SUNY Press, 1987) 1, 5. Lea & Blanchard quickly followed up The Deerslayer with the publication of a collected set of the Leatherstocking Tales in early 1842 (Cost Books, Lea & Febiger Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania).

2 See, for instance, the brief mention in James Franklin Beard’s “Cooper and the Revolutionary Mythos,” Early American Literature 11 (1976): 103.

3 William Cullen Bryant, “Discourse on the Life and Genius of Cooper,” Memorial of James Fenimore Cooper (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1852) 68.

4 George Washington Greene, “Personal Recollections of Cooper,” Biographical Studies (New York: Putnam, 1860).

5 James Grant Wilson, Bryant and His Friends: Some Reminiscences of Knickerbocker Writers (New York: Fords, Howard, & Hulbert, 1885) 241.

6 Wilson 239.

7 O.B. Bunce, “To the Editors of The Critic,” The Critic 12 (14 September 1889): 126-27.

8 Contract forming Burgess, Stringer, & Co., 9 December 1843; James Stringer Papers (MSS PP 034), Special Collections, Temple University.

9 Contract for stereotype plates and copyrights of various Cooper works, 21 September 1849; Lea é Febiger Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

10 “Published Cooper’s Works: William Adee Townsend and His Interesting Reminiscences,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 8 December 1895: 21. Credit is due to Hugh C. McDougall, Founder and Secretary-Treasurer of the James Fenimore Cooper Society, for finding and forwarding this article following an inquiry I made about potential additional references to the unwritten sixth Leatherstocking tale.

11 The Ways of the Hour appeared on 10 April 1850, and Putnam had made arrangements with Cooper to publish his non-fiction The Towns of Manhattan, unfinished at the time of Cooper’s death, the majority of the completed portion subsequently lost to fire while in press.

12 Susan Fenimore Cooper, Introduction to the “Household Edition,” The Crater (New York and Cambridge: Houghton, Mifflin, & Co., 1884) xiii-xiv.

13 James Fenimore Cooper Manuscript Collection (Box 1, Folder 30), American Antiquarian Society.

14 Page citations are from Wyandotté, or The Hutted Knoll. A Tale [1843], Edited, with an historical introduction, by Thomas and Marianne Philbrick (Albany: SUNY Press, 1982).

15 JFC to Richard Bentley, 22 September 1842: in The Letters and Journals of James Fenimiore Cooper, ed. James Franklin Beard (6 vols; Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1960-68) 4:315. Of course, Cooper just as well may be referring to any number of other ideas.

16 In Wyandotté, Robert Willoughby, the character most likely filling something resembling the role Cooper originally envisioned for Natty Bumppo, retains his position in the British Army.

17 See Thomas and Marianne Philbrick, “Historical Introduction,” Wyandotté, or The Hutted Knoll. A Tale (Albany: SUNY Press, 1982) xv-xvi.