Chingachgook is a fictional character in four of James Fenimore Cooper's five Leatherstocking Tales, including The Last of the Mohicans. Chingachgook was a lone Mohican chief and companion of the series' hero, Natty Bumppo. In The Deerslayer, Chingachgook married Wah-ta-Wah, who bore him a son named Uncas, but died while she was still young. Uncas, who was at his birth "last of the Mohicans", grew to manhood but was killed in a battle with the Huron warrior Magua. Chingachgook died as an old man in the novel The Pioneers, which makes him the actual "last of the Mohicans," having outlived his son.
Chingachgook is said to have been modeled after a real-life wandering Mohican basket maker and hunter named Captain John. The fictional character, occasionally called John Mohegan in the series, was an idealized embodiment of the traditional noble savage. The French often refer to Chingachgook as "Le Gros Serpent," the Great Snake, because he understands the winding ways of men's nature and he can strike a sudden, deadly blow.
The name is derived from the Lenape language, which is closely related to the Mahican language. In Lenape, xinkw- means 'big' and xkuk means 'snake'. Chingachgook is derived from Lenape xinkwi xkuk, 'big snake', pronounced [xiŋɡwixkuk]. The digraph ⟨ch⟩ in the spelling used by John Heckewelder, the source for the name, and the letter ⟨x⟩ in modern Lenape spelling both represent the voiceless velar fricative sound [x] (as in "Bach"), not the voiceless palato-alveolar affricate [t͡ʃ] (as in "church").
Cooper got the name from Heckewelder's book History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations who once inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighboring States (1818), which cited a Lenape word as "chingachgook" (in Heckewelder's spelling which was influenced by German), meaning "a large snake." He gave this word as such in the context of how to use the adjective xinkwi (pronounced IPA: [xiŋɡwi]) 'large', which Heckewelder spelled "chingue."
The first film portrayal of Chingachgook was by Wallace Reid in a 1913 film version of The Deerslayer.
Bela Lugosi played Chingachgook in two German silent films, Lederstrumpf, 1. Teil: Der Wildtöter und Chingachgook (Leatherstocking 1: The Deerslayer and Chingachgook) and Lederstrumpf, 2. Teil: Der Letzte der Mohikaner (Leatherstocking 2: The Last of the Mohicans), both filmed in 1920.
Jay Silverheels, best known for his role as Tonto on The Lone Ranger, played Chingachgook in the 1953 film version of The Pathfinder.
Lon Chaney, Jr. played Chingachgook in the 1957 TV series Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans.
Chingachgook, played by Gojko Mitić, was the main character of an East German western, Chingachgook the Great Serpent (1967), based on Cooper's novels.
In the BBC miniseries The Last of the Mohicans and The Pathfinder, Chingachgook was played by John Abineri.
Chingachgook was played by Ned Romero in the TV versions of The Last of the Mohicans (1977) and The Deerslayer (1978), by Russell Means in the 1992 film adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans, by Rodney A. Grant in the 1994 TV series Hawkeye and by Graham Greene in the 1996 TV version of The Pathfinder.
Many films portray Chingachgook with long hair, braided or flowing. A notable exception is the 1920 adaptation which faithfully represents him with a tuft on his shaved head, according to the novel.
In the Ordeal Ceremony of the Order of the Arrow, a program of the Boy Scouts of America, the Legend of the Order refers to an imaginary Lenni Lenape chief named Chingachgook. In the legend, Chingachgook's son, Uncas, is the original propagator of the Order. Chingachgook wanted to create a band of volunteers from all the nations of the Delaware River valley to support and protect their collective interests. Uncas volunteered to be the first member of such a group, and thus the Order of the Arrow was founded.
According to the Boy Scouts of America's Ordeal Ceremony, the correct pronunciation of the name is ching-gatch-gook. Professor William A. Starna, of SUNY Oneonta, says the initial "ch" sound would be pronounced more like the German guttural "h" than an English "ch." Chingachgook is an Algonquian word meaning big (ching) snake (achgook); hence the references to the character in the book as The Great Serpent.