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One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd Paperback – Bargain Price, February 15, 1999
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An American western with a most unusual twist, this is an imaginative fictional account of the participation of May Dodd and others in the controversial "Brides for Indians" program, a clandestine U.S. government^-sponsored program intended to instruct "savages" in the ways of civilization and to assimilate the Indians into white culture through the offspring of these unions. May's personal journals, loaded with humor and intelligent reflection, describe the adventures of some very colorful white brides (including one black one), their marriages to Cheyenne warriors, and the natural abundance of life on the prairie before the final press of the white man's civilization. Fergus is gifted in his ability to portray the perceptions and emotions of women. He writes with tremendous insight and sensitivity about the individual community and the political and religious issues of the time, many of which are still relevant today. This book is artistically rendered with meticulous attention to small details that bring to life the daily concerns of a group of hardy souls at a pivotal time in U.S. history. Grace Fill --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
Long, brisk, charming first novel about an 1875 treaty between Ulysses S. Grant and Little Wolf, chief of the Cheyenne nation, by the sports reporter and author of the memoir A Hunter's Road (1992). Little Wolf comes to Washington and suggests to President Grant that peace between the Whites and Cheyenne could be established if the Cheyenne were given white women as wives, and that the tribe would agree to raise the children from such unions. The thought of miscegenation naturally enough astounds Grant, but he sees a certain wisdom in trading 1,000 white women for 1,000 horses, and he secretly approves the Brides For Indians treaty. He recruits women from jails, penitentiaries, debtors' prisons, and mental institutionsoffering full pardons or unconditional release. May Dodd, born to wealth in Chicago in 1850, had left home in her teens and become the mistress of her father's grain-elevator foreman. Her outraged father had her kidnaped, imprisoning her in a monstrous lunatic asylum. When Grant's offer arrives, she leaps at it and soon finds herself traveling west with hundreds of white and black would-be brides. All are indentured to the Cheyenne for two years, must produce children, and then will have the option of leaving. May, who keeps the journal we read, marries Little Wolf and lives in a crowded tipi with his two other wives, their children, and an old crone who enforces the rules. Reading about life among the Cheyenne is spellbinding, especially when the women show up the braves at arm-wrestling, foot-racing, bow-shooting, and gambling. Liquor raises its evil head, as it will, and reduces the braves to savagery. But the women recover, go out on the winter kill with their husbands, and accompany them to a trading post where they drive hard bargains and stop the usual cheating of the braves. Eventually, when the cavalry attacks the Cheyenne, mistakenly thinking they're Crazy Horse's Sioux, May is killed. An impressive historical, terse, convincing, and affecting. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
I did enjoy the descriptions of the prairie, daily life among the Cheyenne, and the sisterhood that formed among the other brides and the main character. What I didn't enjoy was the stereotypes of the characters. The women were all ethnic cliches: the large, lumbering Swiss woman; the African warrior princess; the haughty, racist Southern belle; the lesbian muleskinner; the redheaded, Irish criminal twins; etc. The main character, May Dodd, was tall, beautiful, smart, determined, strong, unflappable, supportive, a natural leader, and basically unbelievably perfect. She has a brief fling with a handsome, influential Army officer, then marries the chief of the village. The one character I really did like and find believable was the Catholic priest who lived in the village.
She and her fellow brides run roughshod over the village, breaking cultural taboos and even beating and shaming their men in public. From what I know of Native American culture, the older wives ran the tipi and the younger ones were meek and obedient. The men were not likely to tolerate a disobedient wife, especially one who barges into their sweat lodge and refuses to leave.
I was also distracted by the difficult-to-read font used for the non-English words and the accents of the non-American brides. The Swiss lady says "I vill go der yah You kom vid me!" Sometimes the curly font made it almost impossible to detect what was being said.
I thought the end of the book was a little rushed too. I wanted to know more about Wren, May's daughter, and about the years on the reservation. I will say that I'm glad the author didn't give us a romance novel happy ending. I was so afraid May was going to run away with the Army officer and live happily ever after. What happened was tragic but more true to our Pioneer history.
Overall it wasn't horrible, and I'm glad I read it, but I can't honestly recommend it to anyone who loves books with deep, complex characters or who want their historical fiction to be somewhat realistic. If you want a quick read in the vein of a romance novel, this isn't a bad one.
Women in that time in had little way to be independent Without a husband or family to support them... not much of a life. What if the proposal was secretly accepted and the gov't asked, secretly, for volunteers?
Now the story with characters so real, so rich, begins.
The main character, May Dodd, was one of the volunteers and kept a journal. She volunteered to escape life in an insane asylum...as did others. Many women were sent to asylums for reasons hard... nearly impossible... to believe today. Others were widows, former slaves, prisoners, adventure seekers, poor. Each one became totally, real to me - and I could not help but love each of them. I am stunned by Jim Fergus' ability to create so many women, each so very different from eachother, each so complete and detailed. Without effort, I came to know each of the women.
Then, on their travels, I saw the country in the 1860s and met soldiers, women passing as men, good and bad people, and saw the casual shooting of the 'endless' buffalo and other animals. Finally, they and I met the Cheyenne. I learned how they lived. Their lifestyle was described with rich detail - not as a 'noble savage' picture or as 'evil savage' - but as a complete way of life. With the women, I was able to grow in understanding - sometimes approval - sometimes anger.
Fergus tells the story of the wives, the husbands, love, sex, religion, danger, and politics. The discovery of gold in the Black Hills - land that the Cheyenne and other tribes had been promised would belong to them forever - changes everything.
Despite Jim Fergus making it clear that "One Thousand White Women" is a work of fiction - but the characters - they will become 100% real to you. They certainly did to me.
It succeeds on two other levels as well, though.
Firstly, it describes Cheyenne society and customs, the western world, and American life in the 1870's - all in fascinating detail.
The other way is different. You know, modern society had forced people into an independent, individualized life, and a lot of people have been casualties of that. In this book, the author, Fergus, managed to describe life as a disenfranchised person sees it. As someone who has been hurt and abandoned by everyone, including those closest to him or her - abandoned by society, friends, and family so that the person must live in isolation or slavery or that person must completely run away and start all over again. Each of the white women had experienced that abandonment and pain. The author described a way of getting out of that world by running away and joining a completely alien world - the Cheyenne nation - and being accepted completely by them.