The Prairie

Cooper, James Fenimore

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: May-02-2006


This is the last of Cooper’s Leatherstocking tales, in which his hero, Natty Bumpo, is on the frontier as an old man living and reliving his experiences in the developing West. As the reader follows Leatherstocking in his final venture, he/she repeatedly encounters an interesting character, Obed Bat (or Battius, as he is sometimes called because of his propensity for imposing Latinate terms on everything he sees).

Dr. Bat claims to be a medical practitioner who has chosen to study the natural world, the flora and fauna of the prairie. In a novel that is replete with unintentional comedy, Dr. Bat invites apparent, intentional and pointed ridicule. He chronically mistakes his own donkey for new species of wild animal; his vapid attempts at providing any kind of serious medical advice to the various travelers he encounters remind the reader of the tenuous position of the medical practitioner in the early to mid nineteenth century.

Although this adventure is the last trip for Natty, Dr. Bat’s presence is a major portion of the old-fashioned charm of Cooper’s novels. The unlikely collection of characters in this novel keep meeting, even though they are independently trekking across the vast land between the Mississippi and the Platte. There are, of course, buffalo and Sioux--friendly and otherwise--who must be tamed or overcome.


Many modern readers may determine that this tale, like others by Cooper, is silly and fraught with unlikely events. But, as a piece of American history as well as the history of literature in this country, it must be accepted on its own terms. The novel provides contemporaneous insight into the questionable practices of "doctors" who chose to join, for whatever reason, the westward movement. Dr. Bat is a charicature of the eclectic nature of medicine in the first quarter of the nineteenth century and thus can be a legitimate study of the evolution of medicine in America.


First published: 1827


New American Library

Place Published

New York



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