Natty "Hawkeye" Bumppo

Created by James Fenimore Cooper

"I would dare to speak truth, Hurry, consarning you or any man that ever lived."

-- Natty reveals his code in The Deerslayer

Honorary private eyes throughout history for a thousand, Alex.

No, James Fenimore Cooper's NATHANIEL "NATTY" BUMPPO (aka "Hawkeye," "Leatherstocking," "The Pathfinder", "Deerslayer" and "La Longue Carabine") is not a private eye. But the five novels that comprise Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales form a major link between the chivalric tradition of the Arthurian legends and the myth of the American frontiersman/ private eye as knight (cf: Marlowe, Chandler, Archer, etc., etc., etc.), and as such, I think he deserves a mention.

Although born to white parents, young Nathaniel grew up among the Mohican tribe, learning their ways and becoming a skilled and virtually fearless hunter and tracker, possessing extroadinary physical prowess and skill with the long rifle, and astounding knowledge of the wilderness, which soon made him and his "faithful Indian companion" Chingachgook much sought after as a scout in the interminable violence of the American frontier. But Hawkeye is also a noble and wise figure, driven by a rigid code of honour, and he walks an uneasy path between white and native, refusing to ally himself completely with either.

To read the books is to subject yourself to what now seems like ponderously brain-clogging prose, but the actual story is timeless. Replace Hawkeye's wilderness with the new urban wilderness of the mean streets, and you're almost home.

Hawkeye -- a "man without a cross" -- is arguably the foundation upon which the American frontier hero (and thus the hard-boiled American private eye) was built. Certainly, the similarites are there, and Hawkeye does all sorts of P.I. things, like being an outsider working mostly alone in a corrupt and violent world, trying to hold on to a rigid and personal code of honour, carrying a gun and doing what must be done, and working on a wandering daughter job or two (or quest, if you like).

UNDER OATH

  • "You have there the myth of the essential white America. All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer."

-- D.H. Lawrence on Bumpo's character in The Deerslayer in Studies in Classic American Literature.

THE LEATHERSTOCKING TALES

  • The Deerslayer (1841)
  • The Last of the Mohicans (1826)
  • The Pathfinder (1840)
  • The Pioneers (1823)
  • The Prairie (1827)

This is the order in which the stories take place. As you can see, they weren't written in order...

RELATED LINKS

Sure, he's the true ancestor of almost every private eye. But, as Bob Toomey pointed out on Rara Avis in February 2000, "It's hard to take Cooper seriously after reading Mark Twain's (essay). In fact, a lot of more recent writers could benefit from Twain's comments.

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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