One Thousand White Women

One Thousand White Women

by Jim Fergus

Celia Miles (10/06/13): I read this book years ago, so my "review" is more memory of my feelings than (perhaps) facts. I was instantly engaged by the whole idea that such a program to aid in assimilation (or curtail native American/Indian resistance to being assimilated/lessened/diminished as a force)ever existed. Naive me, of course. Then I was with the women as they endured, managed, survived or didn't, all the way to the end. My sympathies swerved and veered through the hard lives of women and their "spouses." I've told several readers about the book--an eyeopener about a way of life and a way of government.
Rating: *****

Ricki Brodie (09/27/13): Imagine a Cheyenne Indian chief approaching President Grant and suggesting a swap of horses for “Brides for Indians,” or the BFI program as it was known. The chief’s idea was that in their culture the offspring took on the mother’s race or tribe thus if white women bore children with Indians it would help assimilate the Indians and possibly stop some the wars being fought. The government decided to participate sub rosa. But where to get the women? Some were recruited from prisons and asylums as our chronicler was and all were granted full pardons.

May who was “put away” by her family sought to escape the asylum and joined the first group of women to head west. Her journals tell the adventures of some of the white brides including a black former slave. She takes us on the journey to get to Indian country, the horrible reception by civilians and soldiers along the way, the marriages to Cheyenne warriors and their nomadic life on the prairie and the ultimate outcome. We feel May’s capacity for love and acceptance.

Fergus is able to portray the frustration, angst and range of emotions of such an undertaking. His language has you sitting in the tents with all the sights and smells invading your senses. I really liked this book; however, the author’s portrayal of the wives seemed to stereotypical. He gave a set of Irish twins a heavy brogue when they were speaking, a southerner a thick drawl laced with prejudice and a black former slave as a African goddess. I do not think it was necessary to push the dialogue that way. That being said, I put that aside and enmeshed myself n the story. I don’t know whether I could have survived the rigors of prairie life.
Rating: ****

Lois Shaevel: The subtitle is: The Journals of May Dodd. The author introduces a character in the prologue whose great-grandmother was committed to an asylum but was rumored to have run off to live with the Indians. The novel introduces us to May Dodd though her journals as she was offered release from the asylum in exchange for her agreeing to go out West and become a bride to a Cherokee warrior in a program offered through the U.S. government. These journals gives us a view of the hard journey and the hardships endured by her and the other women in the program as they adapt to the Cherokee way of life, learn the language and even bear children. I felt a real empathy for her and began to feel that the whites were the real savages. Although a work of fiction, I feel that it gives a good glimpse to a way of life that was thoroughly destroyed prior to the end of the nineteenth century.
Rating: *****

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