Bird's Bloody Romance: Nick of the Woods

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1984





Publication Title

Southern Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of the South


In writing Nick of the Woods (1837), Robert Montgomery Bird specifically intended to correct what he saw as the mistaken picture of America's Indians presented in the romances of authors like Cooper. Bird makes his purpose explicit as early as his "Preface to the First Edition" when he writes that, "we confess, the North American savage has never appeared to us the gallant and heroic personage he seems to others. . . . We look into the woods for the mighty warrior, 'the feather-cinctured chief,' rushing to meet his foe, and behold him retiring, laden with the scalps of miserable squaws and their babes."1 By the time of the "Preface to the Revised Edition" of 1853, Bird specifically attacks "the genius of Chateaubriand and of our own Cooper" for casting "a poetical illusion over the Indian character" (32) and claims for himself that "if he drew his Indian portraits with Indian ink, rejecting the brighter pigments which might have yielded more brilliant effects, and added an 'Indian-hater' to the group, it was because he aimed to give, not the appearance of truth, but truth itself--or what he held to be truth--to the picture" (31). Yet in the same essay, commenting on the historical accuracy of Nathan Slaughter, Bird says, "The legend of Wandering Nathan is, no doubt, an idle and unfounded one. . . . It is enough, however, for the author to be sustained in such a matter by poetical possibility . . ."(34-35). Here Bird professes himself content with "poetical possibility," a quality which is at least as far from "truth itself" as the "poetical illusion" for which he had castigated Cooper only a few pages earlier.

Full text currently unavailable.