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One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus

One Thousand White Women (1998)

by Jim Fergus

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I don't think I've read a book like this before. It's an interesting alternative look at frontier history and US/Cheyanne relations. The various women in the book are nicely flushed out as characters rather than being cookie cutter versions of the narrator. I've read actual diary accounts from women on the frontier from this time period and the style of May's prose fits with those actual journels, making it hard to remember at times that this story is in fact a novel. ( )
  pussreboots | Aug 25, 2014 |
One Thousand White Women began with the premise that a Cheyenne chief went to Washington to meet Pres. U S Grant about growing Indian problems on the prairies; he wanted 1000 white women in exchange for 1000 horses. Grant agreed in hopes that white women would teach the Indians the white ways and would bear Indians' babies, thus bringing about Indian assimilation into the general population. Grant and his fellow politicians "recruited" women from prisons, insane asylums, and meaningless lives to be part of the 1000.

May Dodd, the journal-writer, was herself released from an insane asylums - where her parents had committed her for "promiscuity." In fact, May had just not followed the path and rules her wealthy parents had planned for her. Interesting premise: our narrator is rebellious and unreliable.

There are so many reasons I disliked this book:
1) The book was written by a male. I don't believe that he understands what it is to be a woman, and his lack of understanding is evident in many instances throughout the book.
2) There were three SPELLING errors in the book (besieged and sacrilegious to name two). Ugh.
3) I was irritated by the author using italics and misspellings to show brogue/dialect/accent.
4) The author's handling of sexual topics seemed gratuitous at times. Also Phemie didn't need to be topless to be a warrior woman.
5) It is totally unrealistic that any woman could write long hand journal entries the length of most of these.

I did like the Indian names throughout the book; for the most part, they made me smile.
  Kelslynn | Jun 8, 2014 |
What if our government had gone along with an idea presented to them by a chief of the Northern Cheyenne in 1854? This idea was to present the Cheyenne with 1,000 white women for them to take as brides. Since the Cheyenne are a matrilineal society (all children belong to the mother’s tribe), this seemed to the Cheyenne to be the perfect means of assimilation into the white man’s world. Of course, the USA didn’t even give this a thought. This novel is written exploring that idea. It is told as a journal from a white woman who might have gone to the Cheyenne as a bride to help the two cultures come together. It is so well done, that while reading it, you forget that it is fiction, and truly believe that May Dodd did exist, and did keep this journal of her experiences as the white bride of an Indian chief. The book does leave the reader wondering if maybe this would have been a good way for the two different cultures to come together – instead of the way the US really handled it. ( )
  peggy.short | Jun 3, 2014 |
for TLC book club; reread for book club. More believeable this time and heartbreaking what we did in the name of "civilization" ( )
  nancynova | Mar 29, 2014 |
I thought the premise of this book sounded really interesting, although it's not based on actual historical fact--Fergus imagines what might have happened if the government had consented to send "one thousand white women" out west as brides for Cheyenne men as a Cheyenne chief requested in the 1870s. May Dodd, Fergus's heroine, volunteers for the "Brides for Indians" program as a way to escape her painful past, and I looked forward to reading about her experiences adjusting to her new circumstances.

Unfortunately, poorly developed characters doom this novel. May herself is overly modern in her outlook and rather obnoxious as well, as one of those heroines who somehow convinces all the other characters in the book to share her overly high opinion of herself. (By way of example, all the other white women receive unfortunate Indian nicknames such as "Big Feet" or "Falls Down Woman", while May is christened "Swallow" because she's so graceful and beautiful...) I found it very hard to believe that a woman who grew up in the late 19th century would be so blase about going to "live with the Indians" and so cavalier about flouting their cultural rules without worrying about possible consequences. This obvious lack of historical accuracy made it hard for me to get lost in the book.

The other white women are all basically ethnic stereotypes, a fact that is only reinforced by Fergus's decision to have May faithfully write out their accents in her journal entries ("I don't care if he's daaaak as naaaght, Ah luuuve the man."). Meanwhile, not a single Native American character is developed beyond anything other than the "noble savage" stereotype and May repeatedly marvels at their charming, "child-like" ways. Even after learning Cheyenne, she never seems to feel the need to try to have a conversation with her husband or with his wives. I had expected much more of a focus on cross-cultural differences and attempts to reach an understanding, and was disappointed to instead get relationships that never deepened beyond the superficial. All in all, I wouldn't recommend this book to others. ( )
  mrlzbth | Feb 7, 2014 |
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Women will love her, that she is a woman

More worth than any man; men that she is
The rarest of all women.

- William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, V.1
To Dillon
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23 March 1875: Today is my birthday, and I have received the greatest gift of all - freedom!
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
One Thousand White Women begins with May Dodd's journey west into the unknown. A government program, in which woman are brought west as brides for the Cheyenne, is her vehicle. What follows is the story of May's adventures: her marriage to Little Wolf, chief of the Cheyenne nation, and her conflict of being caught between two worlds, loving two men, living two lives. Jim Fergus has so vividly depicted the American West that it is as if these diaries are a capsule in time.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312199430, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:34 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

An Indian request in 1854 for 1,000 white brides to ensure peace is secretly approved by the U.S. government in this alternate-history novel. Their journey west is described by May Dodd, a high-society woman released from an asylum where she was incarcerated by her family for an affair.… (more)

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