by Jim Fergus
Why did you choose this book? I like historical fiction and this was available as a book clus set
When did you read this book? February 2012
Who should read this book? readers of historical fiction
Here is a synopsis of ‘One Thousand White Women' from Goodreads, where it rates 3.80 stars.
One Thousand White Women is the story of May Dodd and a colorful assembly of pioneer women who, under the auspices of the U.S. government, travel to the western prairies in 1875 to intermarry among the Cheyenne Indians. The covert and controversial "Brides for Indians" program, launched by the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, is intended to help assimilate the Indians into the white man's world. Toward that end May and her friends embark upon the adventure of their lifetime. Jim Fergus has so vividly depicted the American West that it is as if these diaries are a capsule in time.
I really did like this book. It read as a memoir, and I usually am NOT a fan of memoirs, but this one had a historical context and did not talk of ‘everyday’ events, so was very interesting!
The story starts when the Cheyenne Indians bring a proposal to President Grant to exchange 1000 white women for 1000 horses in an effort to integrate the Indian population into ‘white’ society. The idea was that the offspring would be accepted by whites. May Dodd volunteers as a bride in order to escape a mental institution to which she was committed as a result of her ‘insanity’. She was judged insane because she is from a wealthy family and chose to live without marriage, and bear two children to a ‘working class’ man! The women are committed to marrying and living with the Cheyenne men for 2 years. The story recounts the events starting with the train taking the women west.
I thought the book did a good job showing some of the attitudes of the military towards the Indians during that time; basically that they were ‘sub-human’ and expendable. And although this story was entirely fictional, it did give some historical context. It showed both the good and the bad of both sides. There were scenes where the Cheyenne were very considerate of their wives and scenes of horror. Some were pretty unrealistic; for example, May enters a lodge in which females of off-limits, and the men are too stunned to react. I somehow doubt that would have happened! Also, May seemed pretty preoccupied with the sex with her Indian husband; a little unrealistic for any woman of that time, but particularly when they are adjusting to language and culture shock, and primitive conditions. I chalk that up to this being a male author! I have to say, I was a little disappointed in how May’s story ended but I don’t think it was unrealistic.
One thing to remember is that this is a work of fiction. It is easy to get confused, because it is kind of a ‘book within a book’. The fictional author prefaces his story explained his family background and how he discovered the diaries. Some readers have mistaken this to be a preface by Jim Fergus, and become confused, thinking that this ‘Brides for Indians’ program really existed. It didn’t! This makes a great book club read. There are so many possibilities for discussion!
My Rating: ★★★★ 4 Stars
Counted for these challenges:
Support Your Local Library Challenge
Historical Fiction Challenge
New Author Challenge