One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd
by Jim Fergus
This novel is a western with a twist: the recounting of a fictional agreement between President Ulysses S. Grant and the Cheyenne Sweet Medicine Chief, Little Wolf, wherein the U.S. government traded 1,000 white women for 1,000 horses, as told through the detailed journals of the fictional May Dodd, a participant in this “Brides for Indians” program.
Torn from her children and committed to an insane asylum by her family for taking up with a man beneath her class (official diagnosis: “promiscuity”), young May is offered release from her bondage if she will volunteer to serve in a top-secret government program whereby 1,000 white women (all “volunteers” but also outcasts – asylum inmates like May, prostitutes, women with poor matrimonial prospects, and the like) will marry Cheyenne braves and produce children with them, such children which are viewed as potential gatekeepers to assimilate the Indians into white culture.
May, along with the rest of the first installment of white women volunteers, heads out to the prairies to live among the savages, but not before May has a quick, passionate affair with an Army Captain charged with escorting the women on their journey into the wilderness. Once among the Indians, the women, gradually overcome their fear of the Indians and their disdain for life away from the comforts of civilization. May herself is chosen by Little Wolf to be his wife, and she grows to love and respect him. As the women conceive children with their Cheyenne husbands and assimilate into Indian culture far more than they ever manage to introduce the Indians to the ways of white civilized culture, the U.S. government has second thoughts about fulfilling its end of the bargain with the Cheyennes and decides to not only renege on its promise to deliver the balance of the 1,000 white brides, but to take back by force land given the Indians. And so, any peaceful relations between the Indians and the while people are lost, and May and her fellow volunteer brides are, of course, caught in the middle.
This book has received very good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and won a Fiction of the Year Award in 1999. I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t think it was a stellar book. The story is an interesting one, but parts of it seem very contrived and highly unlikely (for instance, identical twin sisters marrying identical twin brothers and each producing a set of twins – I don’t think the author understands the hereditary factors of producing twins, especially that identical twins are not hereditary at all; a small thing, perhaps, but as a mother of twins myself, this bit of unreality bugged me), and I could have totally done without the cheesy romance aspect of the story. More than anything, though, I just found May to be annoyingly full of herself, and generally unlikable. That really took away from the story for me.
This is the current pick for my book club; out of five stars, I’d probably give it two and a half.