Discoveries: Cooper's Last of the Mohicans—Was Not!

In his celebrated 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans, American writer James Fenimore Cooper's Indian character Chingachgook says of his son Uncas: "my boy is the last of the Mohicans."

The novel, a recognized American classic, is still read today—and numerous television and Hollywood movies have been based on Cooper's tale.

There's just one problem with all this—two, actually: Uncas was not the last one. And there never were any Mohicans in the first place!

Cooper set his story in northern New York in 1757 during the French and Indian War. The Indians living in that area during that time were the Mahicans. But Cooper made one of his main characters Uncas—a famous 17th century chief of a Connecticut tribe, the Mohegans. Whether by design or mistake, he combined the two tribes' names into Mohicans.

There were Mahicans, yes. And there were Mohegans as well. In fact, both tribes still exist today. But there were no Mohicans.

And that bit about Uncas dying in 1757 the last of his tribe? He wasn't even the last of the Uncas line!

In 1842, the last descendant of the great Mohegan Chief Uncas finally died: John Uncas, aged 89. His death notice was printed by the New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 28 December 1842, page 3:

Now, granted, James Fenimore Cooper was writing fiction. But in his historical novel The Last of the Mohicans he really stretched the truth!

There is an interesting postscript to this story, perhaps an example of life imitating art. The Mahican people (their ancestral name was "Muh-he-con-neok," or "People of the waters that are never still") were forced out of the Hudson River Valley into western Massachusetts, around Stockbridge, and called the Stockbridge Indians. Later, they were forced to move again, this time relocated all the way to the Northwest Territory (present-day Wisconsin). There they were joined by some Munsee Indians—and their descendants, living in Wisconsin still, are now a federally recognized tribe called the "Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians." That's right—they have adopted the more familiar "Mohican" as part of their formal tribal name! James Fenimore Cooper would no doubt be proud.