Albert Kaiser, author of The Indian in American Literature, writes that "the writer who more than anyone else impressed his conception of the Indian upon American and the world at large is James Fenimore Cooper..." (101). The story of Natty Bumppo the renegade frontiersman is inextricably linked to Natty Bumppo the Indian, as Natty's dual identity provides Cooper an opportunity to write about a subject he loved, yet knew little about.
Though Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales comprise America's introduction to the savages of the unsettled plains, Cooper admittedly had very little first-hand experience with Indians. For this reason, critics charge that Cooper's portrayal of the Indian barely resemble any that could be found in life. In Savagism and Civilization, Roy Pearce asserts that "Cooper was interested in the Indian not for his own sake but for the sake of his relationship to the civilized men who were destroying him. So far as we can tell, Cooper had little personal contact with Indians" (200). More interesting than Cooper's ignorance of his cardinal subject are the views that he holds of Indians, despite having never met one. Following are excerpts from Cooper's Notions of the Americans, published in 1852:
"Where there is much intercourse between the very strong and very weak, there is always a tendency in the human mind to suspect abuses of power. I shall not descend into the secret impulses that give rise to these suspicions: but in this stage of the world, there is no necessity for suspecting a nation like this of any unprovoked wrongs against a people like the savages. The inroad of the whites of the United States has never been marked by the gross injustice and brutality that have distinguished similar inroads elsewhere. The Indians have never been slain except in battle, unless by lawless individuals; never hunted by blood-hounds, or in any manner aggrieved, except in the general, and, perhaps, in some degree, justifiable invasion of a territory that they did not want, nor could not use. If the government of the United States was poor and necessitous, one might suspect it of an unjust propensity; but not only the facts, but the premises, would teach us to believe the reverse.
A great, humane, and, I think, rational project, is now in operation to bring the Indians within the pale of civilization."
(For more on Cooper's treatment of the American Indian, see Romancing the Indian.)