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The Prairie: A Tale (1827) is a historical novel by James Fenimore Cooper, the third novel written by him featuring Natty Bumppo, his fictitious frontier hero, who is simply known as "the trapper" in it. Chronologically The Prairie is the fifth and final installment of the Leatherstocking Tales. It depicts Natty in the final year of his life still proving helpful to people in distress on the American frontier. Continuity with The Last of the Mohicans is indicated by the appearance of the grandson of Duncan and Alice Heyward of The Last of the Mohicans and the noble Pawnee chief Hard Heart, whose name is English for the French nickname for the Delaware, le Coeur-dur. Natty is drawn to Hard Heart as a noble warrior in the likeness of his dear friend Uncas, "the last of the Mohicans."

Characters

  • The trapper, Natty Bumppo in his 87th and final year is still useful in the struggles of justice on the prairie. He is tied by close friendship to the grandparents of Captain Duncan Middleton.
  • Ishmael Bush, rugged squatter, who is contemptuous of the law to the point that he desires to leave it behind in leading his large family west over the Nebraska prairie.
  • Esther Bush, Ishmael's hard, careworn wife, mother of his 14 children (seven sons and seven daughters).
  • Ellen Wade, the niece of Esther's deceased first husband, who lives with them as their ward since she was orphaned. Ishmael intends to marry her to his son Asa, but she is in love with Paul Hover.
  • Abiram White, kidnapper of Inez de Certavallos-Middleton and murderer of his nephew Asa Bush.
  • Inez de Certavallos-Middleton, beautiful, petite bride of Captain Duncan Uncas Middleton, daughter of a wealthy landowner in Louisiana.
  • Captain Duncan Uncas Middleton, grandson of Major Duncan Heyward and Alice Munro-Heyward of The Last of the Mohicans, who rescues his bride from Abiram White and sees to the proper burial of Natty Bumppo at the end of the narrative.
  • Paul Hover, country-wise, impetuous bee-hunter, who is betrothed to Ellen Wade.
  • Dr. Obed Bat or Latinized as Battius, a physician-naturalist. He had joined himself to the Bush caravan as family physician, but he took the opportunity of going into the wilderness to make forays into the surrounding country to gather specimens of flora and fauna. Like the character of David the psalmodist in The Last of the Mohicans he both provides comic relief and a foil by which Cooper may compare the relative merits of Natty Bumppo's frontier practicality with theoretical knowledge. Obed and David are also similar to Hetty Hutter in The Deerslayer as people held in awe and unmolested by the native Americans because of their mystical qualities as medicine men. When Obed learns of Inez and her circumstances, he joins her husband's party to rescue her.
  • Asinus, Dr. Battius's trusty donkey, whose bray proves to be a life-saving measure for the doctor and his friends in the face of stampeding bison and hostile Native Americans.
  • Hector, Natty's wise old hunting dog, who dies before Natty but is preserved through primitive taxidermy as a comfort to the dying frontiersman. His plaintive whine is the precursor of danger in the narrative.
  • Mahtoree, a brave and crafty Teton Sioux chief, who wants Ellen and Inez for his fourth and fifth wife. He is killed by Hard Heart.
  • Hard Heart, a brave, handsome, and trustworthy Pawnee warrior, who helps Natty and Middleton escape from their enemies and manages an amazing escape from certain death at the hands of the Tetons. He becomes the husband of Tachechana, Mahtoree's widow, and protector and benefactor of her aged father, Le Balafré, and Natty Bumppo, who comes to love him like a son. His name links him to Natty's admired Delawares, whose nickname in French is le Coeur-dur, "hard heart."
  • Weucha, a treacherous Teton brave, who proves to be inept to the point of being dramatically killed by Hard Heart.
  • Le Balafré, French for "the scarred one", so named by the French Canadian traders and soldiers, he is the very aged Teton father-in-law of Mahtoree, father of Tachechana, who as a character corresponds to Tamenund in The Last of the Mohicans.
  • Tachechana, Youngest wife of Mahtoree.


Plot

Following the example of Daniel Boone, who is said to have thought "a population of ten to the square mile inconveniently crowded.",James Fenimore Cooper, The Prairie: A Tale, (New York: New American Library, 1964), 10. Natty Bumppo has left his home in New York state to a place more remote: the prairie of Nebraska. He meets a large family of squatters traveling west in search of a homestead and led by their independent and indomitable patriarch Ishmael Bush and matriarch, his wife Esther Bush. The conflict of the plot centers around Abiram White, Ishmael's brother-in-law, kidnapping a young bride Inez de Certavallos-Middleton from her family in Louisiana and transporting her as a captive in a covered wagon with the complicity of Ishmael himself. Her husband Duncan Uncas Middleton, an artillery captain in the United Statesmarker armed forces, has led a detachment of his soldiers to rescue her. He receives the ready help of Natty and a "bee hunter" Paul Hover, who is trailing the Bush caravan in order to be with his beloved Ellen Wade, niece by marriage to Esther Bush. Middleton is the grandson of Natty's dear fellow adventurers of The Last of the Mohicans. When Ishmael, Esther, Abiram, and six of Bush's sons are away from their encampment looking for the eldest son Asa, whom Abiram had secretly murdered, Middleton, Natty, and Paul manage to capture the encampment and make off with Inez and Ellen. They then are captured by Teton Sioux warriors in their flight from the Bushes. They escape from the Tetons through a Pawnee attack against the Teton village only to fall into the hands of Ishmael Bush and his sons. Natty is suspected of the murder of Asa until the truth of Abiram's guilt is revealed. Abiram is executed in curious fashion as the Bush family makes their way back east. Middleton, Inez, Paul, and Ellen travel back east to Louisiana and Kentucky while Natty lives out his last year in a Pawnee village located on a tributary of the Missouri Rivermarker. Middleton and Paul return just in time to witness Natty's noble death and bury him.

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