The Hunting Incident on Otsego Lake
from Chapters 26 & 27 of The Pioneers

from chapter 27 of a 1912 edition of The Pioneers
Chapter 26 begins at the home of Judge Temple. The Judge and his cousin embark upon an expedition for the supposed silver mine, and Oliver offers his company to Elizabeth and Louisa but is mildly rebuffed. Oliver then turns his attention to joining the Leather-stocking and the Mohegan, who are fishing for perch on the upper part of Lake Otsego.

Oliver rows a skiff belonging to the Judge out to meet his two friends who are in their bark canoe. When Oliver joins the pair, Natty nostalgically explains to the lad what life was like around the lake before the area was settled. Oliver listens attentively until their repose is broken by the braying of Natty's hounds, which the Leather-stocking immediately recognizes as heralding the chase of a deer. The trio observe the flushed buck jump into the lake and swim in their direction.

The chase of the buck commences in chapter 27. Natty contemplates but then eschews the use of his rifle, considering the weapon unsporting. Oliver first attempts to dissuade the pair in their endeavor, but after Natty misses with his first throw of his spear, Oliver joins in the chase and lassos the deer. Natty cuts the deer's throat and pulls the carcass into his canoe.

The impetus for Natty's musings on the days when he was the only white settler on the lake is the warning delivered by Oliver that he saw Hiram Doolittle sneaking about Natty's cabin. Natty threatens violence upon the interloper, and when Oliver warns him against it, Natty playfully questions Oliver's allegiance to his adopted Delaware tribe. Natty connects the rugged primitivism of the now-lost tribe of Indians to the life of the solitary settler, and he describes how the lake used to be as "a cheerful place, and I had but little to disturb me in it."

The Leather-stocking blames two factors for his loss of individualism, "the money of Marmaduke Temple, and the twisty ways of the law." To Natty, both money and laws are artificial constructs that can serve only to disrupt the natural way of pioneer life.

The buck's entrance into the lake is a temptation for Natty, not just to relive his youth but also to flaunt the current law. Natty slits the buck's throat almost sacrificially, proclaiming "So much for Marmaduke Temple's law!" and revels in the eden that Lake Otsego once had been. Cooper's ambivalence towards the Leather-stocking's celebrated actions can only be seen in the consequences that follow.

The above image is from the frontspiece of the Mohawk edition of The Pioneers published in 1912 by G.P. Putnam's Sons. It shows the pursuit of the deer through Otsego Lake as described in chapter 27.

American Studies at the University of Virginia