One Thousand White Women is alternative history at its finest. The book is based of a historic event that occurred in 1854 – Cheyenne Native Americans at a peace conference with Americans requested a gift of one thousand white women. I know, your first reaction, especially if your a feminist like me, is HELL TO THE NO. But the Cheyenne explained that in their culture, children belong to their mother’s tribe. One thousand or so progenies that came from unions with these white women could create a bridge between the two cultures and ultimately stop the violence occurring the west as more American settlers invaded Native American land. It’s a pie in the sky idea that my cold, cynical heart laughs at, but my sociology degree wants to see how this turns out. Luckily enough, Fergus also wanted to see what would have happened in the US government had gone along with this crazy idea.
The main character of the story is May Dodd, an upper-class women who has unceremoniously been dumped into an insane asylum, who chronicled her life in journals. May had the audacity to fall in love with one of her father’s employees and shack up in sin with him without bothering with a marriage ceremony. May has two children in less than two years when her family decides that they are tired of her embarrassing them and has her committed for “promiscuity”. She languishes in the asylum until the government begins a covert operation to provide the requested one thousand white women to the Cheyenne.
When word of the Cheyenne proposal is leaked to the public, most are outraged. But then, some women began to volunteer. The government decides that maybe this plan could work after all, but don’t want to see any fall out if it doesn’t, so they secretly begin recruiting. They send agents out to gather volunteers from prisons and asylums. If a women is fit enough to bear children, they are given the option to to their duty for their country. May and her nurse, who is also disenchanted with asylum life, snap this deal up and become part of the first delivery to the Cheyenne. May’s group consists of her nurse, an escaped former slave, a drunken Southern belle, a pair of conniving Irish twins, a British naturalist and an evangelical twit.
Fergus did his research on what these women would be confronted with in their new families/tribes. May’s journal entries are filled with everyday minutia of what life was like for a nomadic Native American tribes. It’s a glimpse into a world I really don’t know enough about, but I was fascinated by the pictures Furgus painted. He also did a brilliant job of balancing the humanity of native Americans. It seems most accounts of Native Americans, even ones in school history books, paint the Native American as either naive innocent children or bloodlust savages. Fergus instead shows them as being human; Native Americans aren’t intrinsically bad or good, they just have a different perspective on life. May herself has some prejudices against the Cheyenne when she first arrives (she finds them to be very boisterous and immature). However, throughout the book, May is given the opportunity to explain what about their culture makes them so. It really is a more complete portrait of Native Americans than you can get from history books.
There are some downers to the book. May can come across as holier-than-thou in some of her entries and in others she has just a “golly gee willikers” attitude. This probably has less to do with the book itself and has more to do with the type of people I like and dislike.
How I Got It: Barnes & Noble
Price: Full price. (As much as I love reading, my second greatest joy is getting books for less than the original price.)