The Deerslayer: or, the First War-Path

Author: James Fenimore Cooper  | Date: 1841



THIS book has not been written, without many misgivings as to its probable reception. To carry one and the same character through five several works would seem to be a wilful over drawing on the good nature of the public, and many persons may very reasonably suppose it an act, of itself, that ought to invite a rebuke. To this natural objection, the author can only say that, if he has committed a grave fault on this occasion, his readers are in some measure answerable for it. The favorable manner in which the more advanced career, and the death of Leather Stocking were received, has created, in the mind of the author at least, a sort of necessity for giving some account of his younger days. In short the pictures, of his life, such as they are, were already so complete as to excite some little desire to see the ’study,’ from which they have all been drawn.

"The Leather-Stocking Tales," form now something like a drama in five acts; complete as to material and design, though quite probably very incomplete as to execution. Such as they are, the reading world has them before it. Their author hopes, should it decide that this particular act, the last in execution, though the first in the order of perusal, is not the best of the series, it will also come to the conclusion that it is not absolutely the worst. More than once, he has been tempted to burn his manuscript, and to turn to some other subject, though he has met with an encouragement, in the course of his labors, of a character so singular, as to be worth mentioning. An anonymous letter from England, has reached him, written as he thinks by a lady, in which he is urged to do almost the very thing he had already more than half executed; a request that he has been willing enough to construe into a sign that his attempt will be partially forgiven, if not altogether commended.

Little need be said concerning the characters and scenery of this Tale. The former are fictitious, as a matter of course; but the latter is as true to nature, as an intimate knowledge of the present appearance of the region described, and such probable conjectures concerning its ancient state as could be furnished by the imagination, enabled the writer to render it. The lake, mountains, valley and forests, are all believed to be sufficiently exact, while the river, rock and shoal are faithful transcripts from nature. Even the points exist, a little altered by civilization, but so nearly answering to the descriptions, as to be easily recognised by all who are familiar with the scenery of the particular region in question.

As to the accuracy of the incidents, of this Tale, in whole or in part, it is the intention of the author to stand on his rights, and say no more than he deems to be necessary. In the great struggle for veracity, that is carrying on between History and Fiction, the latter has so often the best of it, that he is quite willing to refer the reader to his own researches, by way of settling this particular point. Should it appear on inquiry, that any professed historian, the public documents, or even the local traditions, contradict the statements of this book, the writer is ready to admit that the circumstance has entirely escaped his observation, and to confess his ignorance. On the other hand, should it be found that the annals of America do not contain a syllable, in opposition to what has been now laid before the world, as he firmly believes investigation will show to be the case, he shall claim for his legend just as much authority as it deserves.

There is a respectable class of novel-readers- respectable for numbers, quite as much as for every thing else- who have often been likened to the man that "sings when he reads, and reads when he sings." These persons are exceedingly imaginative in all matters of fact, and as literal as a school boy’s translation, in every thing that relates to poetry. For the benefit of all such persons, it is explicitly stated, that Judith Hutter is Judith Hutter, and not Judith any one else; and, generally, that wherever a coincidence may occur in a christian name, or in the color of hair, nothing more is meant than can properly be inferred from a coincidence in a christian name, or in the color of hair. Long experience has taught the writer, that this portion of his readers is much the most difficult to please, and he would respectfully suggest, for the benefit of both parties, that they try the experiment of reading works of the imagination as if they were intended for matters of fact. Such a plan might possibly enable them to believe in the possibility of fiction.

There is another class of readers- less important certainly, in a republican country, inasmuch as it is materially in the minority- which is addicted to taking things as they are offered, and of understanding them as they are meant. These persons are advised to commence at chapter first, and to read consecutively, just as far as the occupation may prove agreeable to themselves, and not a page beyond it. Should any of this class reach the end of the book, and fancy the time spent in the perusal not entirely thrown away, the circumstance will afford its author sincere gratification.


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Chicago: James Fenimore Cooper, "Preface to the Deerslayer," The Deerslayer: or, the First War-Path Original Sources, accessed September 24, 2021,

MLA: Cooper, James Fenimore. "Preface to the Deerslayer." The Deerslayer: or, the First War-Path, Original Sources. 24 Sep. 2021.

Harvard: Cooper, JF, 'Preface to the Deerslayer' in The Deerslayer: or, the First War-Path. Original Sources, retrieved 24 September 2021, from