The scene shifts to the woods a few miles west of the traveling party. An Indian warrior named Chingachgook is in earnest conversation with a white hunter and scout named Hawkeye. They discuss their respective ancestries and Indian history. Chingachgook says that the his tribe, the Mohicans, were unified until the white man came. The Dutch introduced alcohol (“fire-water”) to his people, and then they began to lose their land. Now he calls his son, Uncas, the last of the Mohicans. At that moment, Uncas comes and sits with them. He says that their ancient enemies, the Maquas, are in the woods. The Maquas are also referred to as the Iroquois, and they are in alliance with the French. Hawkeye then spots a deer, but leaves it to Uncas to kill. Uncas then puts his ear to the ground and says he hears the horses of white men approaching.
Hawkeye hails the party of Heyward and the ladies as they approach. It transpires that they are lost. Magua, the Indian guide, has led them astray. When Hawkeye hears that the guide is a Huron he is immediately suspicious. His suspicions are not allayed by the fact that Magua is supposedly an ally of the English. Hawkeye tells Heyward that they have traveled only a few miles from Fort Edward. Because he suspects Magua of treachery, he offers to shoot him in the leg, but Heyward stops him, saying that he is not certain of the man’s guilt. Heyward then decides that he will apprehend Magua himself, but Magua becomes suspicious and runs off into the thicket. Uncas and Chingachgook pursue him; there is a shot.
Chapters three and four complete the introductions of the major characters. It is clear that Hawkeye, although he has certain ineradicable prejudices against Indians, nonetheless understands and admires them. He insists that he is completely white, but that does not mean he always defends white customs and society. In Chapter III, for example, he decries the practice in white society of recording history in books, rather than telling it orally in the village, as is the Indian custom. He prefers the latter because falsehoods can more easily be challenged that way, and everyone can stay informed. In contrast, in white society, many people do not read books, so are ignorant of the history of their people. At the end of Chapter III, Hawkeye again emphasizes that he is a “man without a cross,” i.e. his blood is entirely of the white race, even though he has lived with the Indians long enough that such a “cross” might be expected. This reveals Hawkeye as a man who in a sense straddles two cultures, the English-American and the Indian. It is a sign of the possibility of the creative intermixing of different cultures.
Chingachgook’s regretful story about the decline and imminent extinction of the Mohican tribe can be taken in a wider sense to apply to the entire Indian race, since it foreshadows by only a few generations the suppression of the various Indian cultures and ways of life throughout North America. The novel then becomes in part a record, even a lament, of the extinction of the native culture.