HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Redskins: Or Indian and Injin
Author: James Fenimore Cooper
Publisher: CSP Classic Texts, republished in 2009
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Teens and adults
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Cooper, James Fenimore. The Redskins: Or Indian and Injin (originally published in 1846; republished by The Co-Operative Publication Society, New York City, NY). My father really liked Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales about Natty Bumpo, such as The Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer, so that may be why he had this book too. When I found it among his library after his death, I assumed, having read the Leatherstocking Tales myself, that with a name like The Redskins it must be about Indians. There are some real, Native American Indians in the story but the main “Injins” are fake, as you shall see. Actually, this is the last volume of the anti-rent era Littlepage Manuscripts trilogy, narrating the history of three generations of a Dutch-descended American family starting from the mid-eighteenth century, in which the crisis is reached, and the cupidity and lawless spirit of the disorderly faction appear in their true light. I have not read the first two (Satanstoe set in 1758 and The Chainbearer set in the 1780s, both published in 1845), but it is now around 1840, and 25-year-old Hugh Roger Littlepage Jr., known as Hugh, has spent the last five years with his uncle of the same name, whom he calls Uncle Ro though most people refer to him as Hodge, travelling in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. However, when they return to Ro’s home in Paris, France, they find news about the Anti-Rent Movement in New York which threatens the vast holdings of Hugh known as Satanstoe at Ravensnest, in upstate New York, which was left to him by his late parents.
The two Littlepages return home secretly in disguise to see what is going on. The Anti-Renters, led by Seneca Newcome, brother of Hugh’s childhood girlfriend Opportunity Newcome, demand that wealthy landholders sell their land to their tenants at ridiculously low prices. They often dress up as Indians and commit acts of vandalism and violence in an effort to achieve their ends. Hugh’s grandmother and Ro’s mother, Mrs. Ursula Littlepage, Hugh’s sister Martha (Patt), and Ro’s two young wards, Miss Henrietta Coldbrooke and Miss Anne Marston, who all live at the Littlepage family estate, are in danger of being attacked, along with their friends Mr. Warren, the minister of St. Andrew’s Parish, and his daughter Mary whom Hugh thinks quite attractive. Ultimately, Hugh and Ro reveal themselves. But as the fake “Injins” are lying in wait and the Littlepage family, friends, and servants are prepared to defend their home, what will they all do when a group of real Indians from the West comes by to visit Susquesus, the aged Onondaga chief who long ago left his tribe to live on Littlepage land, on their way from a visit to Washington, DC, back to the prairies? Someone has said that this novel is notable for being one of Cooper’s most straightforward polemics, concerning contemporary unrest over property laws, but a bit of adventure, a bit of mystery, and a bit of romance, as well as a good dose of history, are all included.
There is probably a reason why the Littlepage Manuscripts are not as popular and well-known as the Leatherstocking Tales. The Redskins was a little hard to get started because the first few chapters are mainly dialogue between Hugh and his uncle to set the stage. However, it does get more interesting as the plot continues. There are a few references to drinking alcohol. The language is not bad, with some euphemisms and the word “Lord” occasionally used as an interjection, but at least in my edition any time the “d” word is said, it is spelled “d—–d.” I found it interesting that while situations change, many things remain the same. Today we don’t have “Anti-Renters” demanding the forced transfer of property from the owners to the tenants, but we have the socialist left, the Democrat Party, the Obama administration, and the Occupy Wall Street protesters all demanding that the “mean, evil rich” pay their “fair share” by the forced transfer of wealth from the producers to the demanders. Cooper noted in his introduction, “It does not rob the poor to make the rich richer.” There are also some choice words for the newspapers of the day. “Alas! The machinery which can be used to give currency to truth is equally efficient in giving currency to falsehood.” Can you say “main stream media”? And Cooper has something to add about “the omnipotence of majorities” which can relate to how the press today tries to manipulate public opinion with its use of “polls.” In addition, references to the Bible are found, Hugh expresses “a profound feeling of gratitude to God” for his blessings, and Susquesus speaks of learning about “the Son of the Great Spirit” from Mary Warren. All in all, though it was a bit slow at times, I enjoyed reading the book.