One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus – review

In September of 1874, Cheyenne Chief Little Wolf traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with the Great White Father, President Ulysses S. Grant. He came with a proposal that would ensure a future for his people, an opportunity to peacefully assimilate into the white culture rapidly taking over their homelands. Little Wolf asked President Grant to gift the Cheyenne tribe one thousand white women, to marry into the tribe and produce children. Completely logical to the Indian way of thinking, the women could begin to teach them the ways of white civilization, and the children born of mixed blood would be the first bridge bringing the two peoples together. He offered a fair trade of horses for the women.

Although publicly claiming disgust at the proposition, Grant agreed to participate. In great secrecy the government scoured prisons and insane asylums for female ‘volunteers’ to join the Brides for Indians program. In exchange for their participation, marriage to a Cheyenne tribesman for the period of two years or birth of one child – whichever came first, they would be rewarded with their freedom.

The story opens to May Dodd, headed west on a train with several other women in March of 1875 – the first installment of women to marry into the Cheyenne tribe. May had eagerly accepted the government’s offer. Having been confined to a lunatic asylum by her parents for the sickness of Promiscuity, she imagined the unknown and possible horror of living with savages could only pale in comparison to the nightmare of the asylum and the ‘treatments’ she had endured.  The story is told through her letters and journal entries.

In this incredible journey May finds the love, friendship, and freedom she had always dreamed of, and a level of betrayal she had never known possible.

This well written story quickly pulled me in, painting beautiful and cruel pictures of the last days of freedom for the American Indian, the strength and commonalities of women across all cultures, and the wonderful generosities of our great government.

A definite keeper, already back in rotation to re-read.

 

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