Book Review: One Thousand White Womenby Jim Fergus

Author: Jim Fergus
Title: One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd
Publication Info: New York : St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999.
ISBN: 0312199430
Summary/Review: This novel is built on the premise that in 1875 the Cheyenne tribe made an agreement with the Grant administration to bring 1000 white women to their lands as sort of mail-order brides in order to promote amity and civilization of the natives.  The government finds some volunteers and fills out the allotment of 1000 women with inmates from prisons and insane asylums.  The book is written as diary entries and letters from one of the latter, a woman named May Dodd placed in an asylum by her well-off family because she lived out of wedlock and bore children to a man of a lower class.

The positive aspects of this book is that it while May and her compatriots find love and much to admire in their new home, they Cheyenne are not idealized (a la Dances With Wolves).   May while appreciating  her new husband and free lifestyle never stops referring to the Indians as savages.  The book comes to a sad but inevitable end as the Americans lust for land leads to the conquest of the Cheyenne, white women included.

This book was better than I expected as I thought it would be a more flippant farce.  I did find that Fergus as a male author failed to write convincingly in the female voice.  For example, May suffers some traumatic experiences that are rather casually put behind her.  Still, it’s a unique framing for a historical novel and an enjoyable read.

Recommended books: The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth, Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.

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