Summary: 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. -- St. Martin's Press
I received ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN: THE JOURNALS OF MAY DODD by Jim Fergus last December from a fellow book club member. Each year, we bring a wrapped new or used book to our holiday meeting and do a Yankee swap; and I lucked out and ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN. I was absolutely thrilled to receive this novel because I had heard such good things about it. Unfortunately, I didn't get around to reading it until my friend (the same one who gave it to me) selected it for our November 2009 book club pick.
I thoroughly enjoyed ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN, and I have to say that I thought the storyline was terrific. In 1874, the Cheyenne chief Little Wolf goes to Washington, DC to try to make peace with the white men (and at the same time assure his tribe's survival.) The Indians and the U.S. government agree to trade 1000 white women for 1000 horses with the hope that these women would marry men in the Cheyenne tribe and have babies. The government thought the women would civilize the Indians; and the Indians wanted to use their children to save their tribe and enter the white world. The idea that 1000 white women leave their current situations in life to head west and marry Cheyenne Indians sounded fascinating to me. I admit that I was a little curious about what type of woman would agree to this program.
While this agreement between the U.S. government and the Cheyenne Indians never really happened, the book was written in such a way that the reader could totally believe these incidents occurred. I thought Mr. Fergus did a wonderful job of telling this story and making the characters and incidents seem real. I also appreciated his descriptions of the west as well as the Indians' way of life. This book did not read like fiction or even historical fiction to me -- it seemed very authentic.
I'm always a little hesitant when a male author decides to write a book in a female's voice; however, I thought Mr. Fergus did a very good job with it. There were a few times when I wondered if a woman would really think or act as May did; but overall, I found her character to be believable. Although May was very ahead of her time as well as very outspoken, so she didn't have to be portrayed as a typical 1870s woman.
One thing that I found very entertaining about this book was the character development. I thought the author did an excellent job of creating female characters who were credible and had situations in life that would make them leave their families and homes to head west for the unknown. I also liked how the author developed these characters throughout the book and showed how each of them adapted to their new living conditions in their own way. Since the book told May's story through her journals, I especially appreciated her character. I found May to be a very strong and loyal woman; and she also had a great sense of humor. By reading her journals, I felt as if I really got to know and understand her; and I even liked seeing her fears and vulnerabilities come through in her writing.
The book's ending really packed a powerful punch to me. I guess I shouldn't have been all that surprised with it, but the last few pages of May's journal managed to affect me a great deal. I liked that the author included a Codicil as well as an Epilogue at the end of the book (written by different characters at different points in time) because it actually brought the entire story to a close for me. I also think these parts really contributed to the feeling that this book was a true story.
This evening, the Preschool Moms Book Club will be meeting to discuss ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN, and I'm predicting that it's going to be a very interesting meeting. I have spoken with a few of the women and they all seem to like the book. There is a readers guide available from the publisher with ten questions and another one available on the author's website with eleven questions. We certainly won't have a shortage of things to discuss. Personally, I'm very interested in talking about May's personality and actions, and I can't wait to see what my friends thought of her.