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One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus

One Thousand White Women (1998)

by Jim Fergus

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***Spoilers ahead***

I had mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it is a beautiful story - full of descriptions of the Cheyenne Indian way of life and how May Dodd and the other white women adapted to it. On the other hand, it did seem completely ridiculous. The author seemed to assign a terrible cultural stereotype to each of the white women; from the fat Swiss girl with huge breasts and a terribly thick accent where pronunciation of words were phonetically spelt; to pale, red headed Irish twins who were devoutly Catholic and had incredibly thick accents also. The stereotypical descriptions of these women and many others (including English, African and a Southern Belle) were so over the top and ridiculous it ruined the whole story.

As many other reviewers have noted, the fact that a man wrote this from the perspective of a 19th century woman - it just didn't work. The whole plot device of using the journals to tell the story was lazy. May Dodd managed to keep a perfect chronological record of everything that happens around her even as she lay dying?! I mean if I got shot and was freezing to death, spending my last moments scribbling in a stupid book would just not happen.

Despite all of the books terrible faults, I actually did enjoy the story. The ending was so sad, reflecting the very tragic way in which the native Americans had their way of life brutally decimated. It left me feeling pretty depressed. ( )
  KittyBimble | Feb 22, 2015 |
Historical fiction. Heavy on the fiction!! In the mid-1800's, a Cheyenne Indian chief did request that the U.S. government provide his tribe with 1000 white women in order to assimilate Native Americans into white culture. The request, however, was rejected, and the exchange never occurred. Despite this, Fergus' novel, told from the perspective of May Dodd and her journals, is very entertaining. ( )
  marcal | Jan 13, 2015 |
I believe I learned about this book through Good Reads. The synopsis kinda sparked my curiosity, so I checked out an audio version of it to listen to while driving to and from work.

This is one of those WOW! books. I must honestly admit that I did not expect much from the book. I'm eating those words now.

Premise of the story is that a Cheyenne chief named Little Wolf makes a deal with Ulysses S. Grant for a trade of 1000 white women for 1000 horses. It took a while for the logic to sink in on this. His theory is that they wanted to make wives of the women, impregnate the women and when the children were a year old or so, send them to the white world. This way, they would become one people as they shared blood. Women, because they are matrilineal, so the children belong to the women. Once it sunk in a bit, it actually made sense. Course, the chance it would actually work with the white man, not so likely.

I actually had to do some research to find out if this was based on fact or not. The truth part was that the request was made. The fiction is that Grant agreed. At least as far as we know.

The story is told through the journal entries of May Dodd, one of the wives who had been in an asylum for promiscuous behavior (she lived with a man her family didn't approve of and wasn't married to). Most of the women in the story were from similar situations such as the twins who had been in jail for prostitution, Sarah - mental hospital, Phoeme, the beautiful, powerful negress, and the rest of the misfits.

Through her diary, you get to know the outcast women that are sold off for horses and travel with them as they enter the lives of the tribe and learn the ways of the nomadic tribe. Its a stark and beautiful portrayal of all that is good and bad in man, the beauty of the savage and the monster of the white man. I laughed, I cried, I cheered as I went through the book.

It's not a true story, but its written with such reality, such a feel of truth, that you walk away believing that maybe, just maybe, it might be. Its one of the rare novels I would seek out a copy to put on my shelf so I could refer to its beautiful words often. Well written, lyrical prose and characters that leave a deep mark in your heart.

www.sephipiderwitch.com ( )
  sephibitchwitch | Dec 3, 2014 |
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 |
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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
First words
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)

» see all 4 descriptions

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