|THE ORIGINAL COVER|
ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN
A Review and Commentary
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.
One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Journalist Jim Fergus was published in 1998. It is written as a series of journals chronicling the adventures of an "J. Will Dodd's" ancestor--May Dodd-- in a "Brides for Indians" program of the United States government.
The premise of the story is that the Northern Cheyenne Indians are shrinking in numbers and seek a way to assimilate into white society. They decide to marry white women and have half-blood children, enabling the two cultures to blend naturally. The Cheyenne Chief Little Wolf approaches President Ulysses S. Grant with the proposal to trade 1000 white women for 1000 horses, an offer publicly refused by the government.
However, the U.S. government sees placating Indians as being to their benefit, so they begin the "Brides for Indians" program in which women who are physically healthy and of child rearing age may volunteer to go.
In order to keep the plan unpublished, they offer the trip to women in prisons, asylums, and other restrictive situations.
In Chicago, May Dodd was born into a wealthy family but she fell in love with a man who was "beneath" her, and bore his two children out of wedlock. Her family had her institutionalized in a mental asylum and had her children taken away.
The "Brides for Indians" program sounded like a way out of the asylum, so she joined and started a life of adventure.
The book is Fergus' debut novel based partially on fact blended with his wonderful imagination to tell a tale of a remarkable group of women who embarked on an adventure into the land of the Cheyenne in 1854.
"The women move out west to become the brides of Cheyenne warriors," Fergus said. "It is based on a true event."
FACT: In 1854 a group of Cheyenne chiefs requested of the white authorities one thousand white women as brides for their young warriors. The Cheyenne were a society in that any child born automatically belonged to the mother's rather than the father's tribe. As early as 1854 the Cheyenne saw that their life as they knew it as free people was going to be soon swallowed by the whites. They saw this as the perfect way to assimilate themselves into white culture. All of their offspring, from their way of thinking, would automatically be white people.
But, the peace conference where the Cheyenne made their proposal fell apart and the women were not actually sent to mate with the Cheyenne.
"But in my book they do," Fergus said.
Fergus was researching a non-fiction book about the Cheyenne for a biography of Little Wolf, chief of the Cheyenne nation, when he learned about the request for the women. He knew he could expound on the subject and turn it into a novel about what could have happened if the chiefs had not been refused.
"I wasn't sure just what I was going to do with the information at first," he said. "I thought it was going to be a non-fiction book. Then I thought it was going to be a collection of three novellas. My agent decided to drop the other two and turn this one into a novel. I was very intrigued by this, I couldn't get it out of my mind. I got to thinking what if it really did happen."
|NEW UPDATED COVER|
If one did not read the description carefully, one would read this novel as a true story--May Dodd's story.
There was no May Dodd.
There are some who maintain the tale is all true.
The author created this story, but he did use several non-fictional entities to his novel, including:
Chief Little Wolf of the Northern Cheyenne tribe.
Description of many Cheyenne beliefs.
The military forced move to the reservations.
Some other situations are adapted from real life, including Little Wolf's murder of a tribe member and exile.
One Thousand White Women can be found in ebook form, hardback, and paperback. I read this novel several years ago by checking it out of our city library.
Novel: One Thousand White Women
Blurb for the novel
Jim Fergus's notes.