James Fenimore Cooper would be alive today, at least in hearts and minds, if Mark Twain hadn't hammered a stake through the heart of Natty Bumppo.
Cooper's demise as the quintessential author of the American frontier stems from a quirky essay written 44 years after his death, says Dan Porter, director of the New York State Historical Association.Mark Twain's "Literary Offenses of Fenimore Cooper" put Deerslayer, Leatherstocking and Natty's other incarnations out to pasture somewhere on the prairie of forgotten adventure tales. Natty Bumppo was the frontiersman who appeared in Cooper's stories found in the "The Leatherstocking Tales," including "The Last of the Mohicans," "The Pathfinder," "The Deerslayer" and others.
"Mark really did him in," Porter said.
The historical association is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Cooper's birth. This summer, Porter hopes to shepherd 150,000 visitors to Cooperstown's Fenimore House and the Farmer's Museum, both devoted to pioneer life.
Unlike Twain, who remains popular, Cooper has been "relegated to the status of having written adventure books for kids and shoved on the shelves of schoolchildren who would be just as happy to shove him back," said Cooper aficionado Hugh MacDougall.