Wednesday, April 8, 2015

One Thousand White Women

By Celia Yeary

One Thousand White Women-by Jim Fergus
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In order to keep the plan unpublished, they offer the trip to women in prisons, asylums, and other restrictive situations.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."


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.

Celia Yeary
Novel: One Thousand White Women
Blurb for the novel
Jim Fergus's notes.


  1. Celia, that is fascinating! Thanks for sharing that. I've heard of the book, but I didn't know anything about it.

  2. I had no idea such an proposal was offered by the Cheyenne to the US president. Even though this is a fictional novel, I am intrigued by this "could have happened" scenario. This was a very interesting blog subject, Celia.

    1. There is no record of this offer ever being made. Fergus claims it was, but history profs find no documentation of it. Some think it could have been said as a joke during negotiations. The book is total fiction.

  3. Good morning, Celia. Interesting story here. Now, let me see if I have this correct? There really was no Mary Dodd? I read all the way to the end thinking the book he wrote was based on his true life relative. Now I think that was part of the author's imagination?

  4. Connie--The reviews--numbered in the high 100s--are interesting to read, too. His book was not liked or appreciated across the board. In fact, some believe the story was about one of his ancestors. Not true.
    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. Sarah--Thank you! I found it very entertaining. The book club I belong to here in town--I've been a member for about 30 years--chose this years ago as a selection, and most of my co-members did not like it. But I did. I imagine some just didn't like the idea of a western historical novel. Just my opinion.

  6. Linda--I'm not surprised you picked up on this. The author created J. Will Dodd, just as he created May Dodd. But this little explanation and name of her "relative" caused many to believe it was true. "He" added an authentication to the fictional story.
    You have a keen sense of understanding the truth in a book.
    Thank you for visiting--you know I appreciate it.

  7. This is so interesting, Celia. I'll have to get this book. As Sarah mentioned even though the original proposal failed, I'm fascinated by the "what if?"

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. I have the book, but it has yet to make it to the top of the pile. Hmmm?

    I do love taking pieces of history and then doing the What ifs. Some do it better than others. Guess this book needs to move up the pile.

    Thank you. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines

  9. Kirsten--it is a very fascinating story. The author did a good job of making readers believe it was true...which made it even better.
    I checked it out of our library years ago. Don't know if libraries would still have it, but it is no in ebook, when in 1998, it was not.
    Thanks for commenting.

  10. Doris--you have the book? I didn't know anyone knew about it anymore. Let me know what you think about it...whenever you get to it.
    I understand about a TBR pile...mine is ever growing.

  11. Celia, this book is on my keeper shelf and has been for years. I told my sister about it and she read it, but said she "KNEW" it was a guy writing it by some of the stuff he said. I don't know what it could have been. It was soooo original and authentic to me--one of my favorite books ever.

    I think it was amazing that they Cheyenne ever thought of proposing this--that's what made it so interesting to me--that it was based on fact. He took the idea and turned it into something wonderful, didn't he? I can't imagine anyone not liking it, but I know every book is not for every person.


  12. Considering all the secret (and often unethical) things our government has done and which has come to light the last few decades, I wouldn't find this story all that far-fetched or be surprised to learn it was true. An interesting bit of lore to read about.

  13. Cheryl--I spent some time on Amazon reading a few of the many reviews this book had. I checked out the one and two star reviews, and learned some female readers believe Jim Fergus was some kind of anti-feminist male. They thought the fact that he put May Dodd in an insane Asylum, based on the fact she's abandoned a child...or something like that...showed he was against women all the way. I don't know...probably not. Probably he just thought this up as he went along, certainly not trying to make a statement.
    I, too, thought it was intriguing. I read every word. More than half my book club gave it a thumbs down for being so against females. Again, I just didn't see that. It was just a story.
    He made May Dodd a very strong woman, who not only took care of herself, but others as well. Odd how each reader sees and thinks something different.
    It made me stop and think about my books and what some might wonder...that might not be true. However, the idea is not worth spending much time on.
    Thanks for commenting. I'm so glad to hear this book is on your keeper shelf.

  14. JD--oh, you are so right. I, too, wonder what our government has done in secrecy. Maybe we don't want to know.
    This story could have happened. I read that Pres. Grant's wife was present when the Cheyenne Chief came and made his proposal.
    She gasped and fainted to the floor.
    Maybe that's what killed the entire proposal. What if she had not been there? Hmmm.

  15. I've never heard this story before. I do believe I'll have to have a copy of this book. Fascinating, Celia!

  16. An incredible blog, Celia. You did have me going for a while...wondering how I'd missed this amazing historical event...How awesome the proposal became the seed for fiction. ..I agree with JD...after all the horrific things done to our first nations, this truly could have happened. xo

  17. Great post, Celia. I had heard about the book but have not read it yet.

  18. Linda L.--it is truly a fascinating story. All fiction, remember, even though it will make you wonder.

  19. Tanya...yes, I though JD had a good point. We might not really want to know what our government actually did through so many decades.
    But this story is fiction, even though the premise was taken from a real event. But how many of us have written novels based loosely on a real event?
    Thanks for your comment.

  20. Caroline--it's a good one. I do hope you read it somewhere along the way.

  21. Hi Celia, LOL, I love your comment about using something loosely from a real event...I invented a fictional cousin of Jesse James who also survived the Northfield robbery and shootout for my first hero LOL. Great stuff today.

  22. Tanya-did anyone question you? Or just go along with the story? We can take any historical factual event and write a fictional story, I think.
    Good for you. I did not know you did that!

  23. My Mom and had the discussion tonight whether there really were journals.

    Given the epilogue, she thinks it's true. :). I say nay, the epilogue was just part of the book. ;)


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