The Last of the Mohicans is set in 1757, in what is now upstate New York near Saratoga Springs, during the French and Indian War. At its start, a young English Major named Duncan Heyward is to assist Cora and Alice Munro, daughters to Colonel Munro, as they travel from Fort Edward (commanded by General Webb) to Fort William Henry (commanded by Col. Munro). This band has, for its guide, a former Mingo, or Iroquois, now allied with the Delaware natives and the English, named Magua. The band sets off for Fort William Henry, meets up with a Christian singer of psalms named David along the path, and gets lost.
Heyward, spotting a scout named Hawkeye, also known as Natty Bumppo and who describes himself as a “man without a cross,” and two Mohicans (natives allied with the English and related to the Delawares) named Uncas and Chingachgook, asks them for advice in getting to the fort. Hawkeye says it is suspicious that Magua, a native runner, would get lost in the woods, and in confronting Magua, Hawkeye causes him to run away, deserting the band. Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook agree to escort the band the rest of the way, and attempt to protect them from Mingo (or Huron) attacks. But after the band hides in a cave and runs out of gunpowder, Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook retreat to send word to General Webb, and Magua and a group of Hurons capture Heyward, Alice, Cora, and David. Magua demands that Cora marry him, and Cora refuses. Magua then attempts to kill the remainder of the band, only to have his Huron allies killed by Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook, who have returned from their strategic retreat. The lives of all the members of the band are spared, and all the Hurons except Magua are killed. Magua escapes northward, near Lake George, and the band makes its way to Fort William Henry, where they are welcomed by Munro.
Munro has been attempting to withstand a French siege of his fort, led by French Marquis de Montcalm, but after learning that General Webb will not reinforce Munro, Munro hands over the fort to Montcalm. Montcalm assures Munro that the English soldiers and women and children will have safe passage from the fort back to their other encampments. But Montcalm does not do enough to stop Magua and other Hurons from massacring many of the English as they leave the fort. Munro, Hawkeye, Heyward, Uncas, and Chingachgook kill many Hurons, but do not catch Magua, who escapes to his Huron village with Alice and Cora, and is pursued by David.
The band divides up, with Heyward and Hawkeye going undercover to rescue Alice from the Hurons, and with Hawkeye then returning to rescue Uncas, who has been captured by the Hurons as well. Cora, who has been kept in a neighboring village of Delawares in an attempt, by Magua, to assuage tensions between these two tribes, still refuses to marry Magua. The Delaware patriarch, named Tamenund, states that Cora is Magua’s rightful prisoner, and that she must marry Magua. But Tamenund also rules that the Delawares have no quarrel with Uncas, who is descended from the Delaware line, or with Uncas’s friends Hawkeye, Heyward, and Alice.
After Tamenund permits Magua and Cora to leave the Delaware village in peace, Uncas leads Hawkeye, Heyward, and a group of Delawares in a final fight with Magua. An angry Huron kills Cora after she refuses, finally, to marry Magua, an angry Magua kills Uncas, and Hawkeye, using his rifle Kildeer, kills Magua. The novel ends with a joint funeral service for Cora and Uncas, attended by Chingachgook, Hawkeye, Heyward, Alice, and Munro, in which native and colonial cultures are blended in their dual sadness over the young people’s deaths. Tamenund states that the Mohican line of warriors has ended, since Uncas was Chingachgook’s only son.