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In the Classroom > Picturing America Lessons

The Truth Behind The Last of the Mohicans

Lesson created by: Deerfield Teachers' Center Staff

Grade Level: High School


5-B N. C. Wyeth, The Last of the Mohicans, cover illustration, 1919

Last of the Mohican

N. C. Wyeth (1882–1945). The Last of the Mohicans, cover illustration, 1919. Oil on canvas. Collection of the Brandywine River Museum. Anonymous gift, 1981.Reprinted with the permission of Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division from The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, illustrated by N.C. Wyeth. Illustrations © 1919 Charles Scribner's Sons; copyright renewed 1947 Carolyn B. Wyeth.

Other Resources Needed for this Lesson

Portrait of Samson Occom

Portrait of Samson Occom

Portrait of Samson Occom


  • Students will understand that the character of Uncas as represented in both James Fenimore Cooper's novel, The Last of the Mohicans, and the cover image for the book created by N.C. Wyeth are stereotypes.
  • Students will examine factual evidence from primary and secondary sources about the lives of 18th c. Mahican and Mohegan peoples and compare the realities to the information they gleaned from the book and painting.
  • Students will create their own more realistic version of Uncas via artwork or written description.

Focusing Statement

Students will examine this image of Uncas from James Fenimore Cooper’s novel, The Last of the Mohicans, for evidence of stereotyping. Students will also read primary and secondary sources for more accurate information, and create their own version of Uncas in words or pictures.

Background Information

James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Last of the Mohicans in 1826. The story takes place in 1757, during the French and Indian War, and the man in the image represents Uncas, who, along with his father, are to Cooper the "last of the Mohicans". Cooper was a very popular writer during his time and this book was read by many. A little over 90 years later, N.C. Wyeth created this painting of Uncas in 1919, to serve as the cover image for a later printing of The Last of the Mohicans.

N. C. Wyeth (1882 – 1945), who grew up on a farm in Needham, MA, is considered one of America’s greatest illustrators.  Though Wyeth desired recognition as a serious painter throughout his career, he achieved fame and the bulk of his income from his illustrations for popular adventure novels, advertisements, magazine covers and stories, posters, and murals.  His Treasure Island illustrations are considered his masterpiece.  They are among hundreds he completed for 25 of the Scribner Classics, The Last of the Mohicans among them.  Wyeth learned early on to emphasize the use of dramatic effect in his work and to have personal knowledge of his subjects.  As a young artist, he made three trips to the west to work and live among the cowboys and the Navaho.  By age 25, he was heralded as “one of our greatest, if not our greatest, painter of American outdoor life.”  Settling down on 16 acres in Chadds Ford, PA, and summering in Port Clyde, Maine, he raised three accomplished visual artists among his five children, the most famous being beloved American painter Andrew Wyeth.

Examining Expressive Content

  • What do you see?
  • How would you describe Wyeth’s depiction of Uncas?
  • Describe the setting in which Wyeth chose to put Uncas.
  • What decisions did Wyeth make in regard to composition, viewpoint, and size to achieve the desired character?

Suggested answers to these questions

Teaching Plan

  1. Read the following excerpt from The The Last of the Mohicans about Cooper's Uncas. How does he compare to the painting? If you note any differences, why might Wyeth have chosen to make them?
  2. "At a little distance in advance stood Uncas, his whole person thrown powerfully into view. The travelers anxiously regarded the upright, flexible figure of the young Mohican, graceful and unrestrained in the attitudes and movements of nature. Though his person was more than usually screened by a green and fringed hunting-shirt, like that of the white man, there was no concealment to his dark, glancing, fearless eye, alike terrible and calm; the bold outline of his high, haughty features, pure in their native red; or to the dignified elevation of his receding forehead, together with all the finest proportions of a noble head, bared to the generous scalping tuft. It was the first opportunity possessed by Duncan and his companions to view the marked lineaments of either of their Indian attendants, and each individual of the party felt relieved from a burden of doubt, as the proud and determined, though wild expression of the features of the young warrior forced itself on their notice. They felt it might be a being partially benighted in the vale of ignorance, but it could not be one who would willingly devote his rich natural gifts to the purposes of wanton treachery. The ingenuous Alice gazed at his free air and proud carriage, as she would have looked upon some precious relic of the Grecian chisel, to which life had been imparted by the intervention of a miracle; while Heyward, though accustomed to see the perfection of form which abounds among the uncorrupted natives, openly expressed his admiration at such an unblemished specimen of the noblest proportions of man."
    from The Last of the Mohicans, James Fennimore Cooper, 1826, excerpt from Ch. 6
  3. Now examine the following primary and secondary sources and make notes on the realities of the lives of 18th c. Mahican and Mohegan people. How were their lives different from what is depicted in the novel and painting?
  4. List the ways in which Wyeth and Cooper stereotype Uncas. Think about Cooper’s choice of language, the characteristic features that both the artist and writer highlight, etc. For instance, in the painting consider the expression on Uncas’s face.
  5. Think about Cooper's title, The "Last" of the Mohicans. Describing certain Native individuals as being "the last of" was a common phenomenon in the 19th and 20th centuries and in most, if not all cases these people were not the last of their tribes. As you have seen, Mahicans and Mohegans have been here all along and in fact, the Mohegans gained federal recognition in 1994. Why then, did people of European descent in the 1820’s think that so many Native peoples were vanishing? In areas where Native people did really “disappear” or seem to, why might this be so?

Suggested answers to these questions

Putting It All Together

Create your own image of Uncas to show something more realistic for a Mahican or Mohegan living in the first half of the 18th C. What items or landscape features will you include? Will you keep the same angle? What items of importance or symbols might you put in the picture? Will you include other people? What message will you give? Draw your version of Uncas or provide a written description and be ready to explain how and why your image is different.


Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts & Literacy

Grades 6-12

  • Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
  • Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework

Concepts and Skills, Grades 8–12
10.Distinguish historical fact from opinion.

Massachusetts Art Curriculum Framework

Observation, Abstraction, Invention, and Expression. Students will demonstrate their powers of observation, abstraction, invention, and expression in a variety of media, materials, and techniques.

Critical Response. Students will describe and analyze their own work and the work of others using appropriate visual arts vocabulary. When appropriate, students will connect their analysis to interpretation and evaluation.

Interdisciplinary Connections. Students will apply their knowledge of the arts to the study of English language arts, foreign languages, health, history and social science, mathematics, and science and technology/engineering.

By the end of extended study in grades 9–12 students will:
5.11 Analyze a body of work, or the work of one artist, explaining its meaning and impact on society, symbolism, and visual metaphor
5.12 Demonstrate an understanding how societal influences and prejudices may affect viewers’ ways of perceiving works of art

Common Core Standards

English Language Arts Standards » History/Social Studies » Grade 9-10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

Grade 11-12
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6 Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.8 Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Literature » Grade 9-10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7 Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment (e.g., Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” and Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus).

Grade 11-12
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3 Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7 Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.)

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