James Fenimore Cooper's "The Pioneers"

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James Fenimore Cooper's "The Pioneers"

The 18th century romantics saw nature as restorative, good, and a place to connect with God. James Fenimore Cooper was a romantic, and in his book The Pioneers there is much tension between nature and civilization in America’s new frontier. History in America seems to begin with the settlement of any given wilderness, and yet those who settle the wild land are often wasteful, arrogant, and abusive. Natty Bumppo stands in stark contrast to the settlers. In “The Slaughter of the Pigeons”, Sheriff and Billy Kirby slaughter pigeons just for sport. It is April when the villagers see “a flock the eye cannot see the end of” migrating northward. They believe that when these birds come back on their way south in the fall, “these rascals will overrun our wheatfields.” Pigeons are “devils.” Using a six-foot ducking-gun and a miniature swivel cannon, the settlers kill countless pigeons, imposing their will on nature. Then all the townspeople, young and old, begin to leave their houses with their weapons aimed, hoping to kill the bird. To some of the pioneers, dead and wounded pigeons are a boon. Richard Jones says they will provide “food enough to keep the army of Xerxes for a month, and feathers enough to make beds for the whole country…every old woman in the village may have pot pie for the asking.” It truly is the kind of senseless carnage that occurs in war, and the settlers feel proud of their power.
This is not true, however, as the pigeons are left to rot. “None pretended to collect the game, which lay scattered over the fields in such profusion, as to cover the very ground with the fluttering victims.”