Thursday, September 2, 2010

Review: One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus

From the Back Cover:

In 1854 at a peace conference at Fort Laramie, a prominent Northern Cheyenne chief requested of the U.S. Army authorities the gift of one thousand white women as brides for his young warriors. Because theirs is a matrilineal society in which all children born belong to their mother's tribe, this seemed to the Cheyennes to be the perfect means of assimilation into the white man's world - a terrifying new world that even as early as 1854, the Native Americans clearly recognized held no place for them. Needless to say, the Cheyennes' request was not well received by the white authorities - the peace conference collapsed, the Cheyennes went home, and, of course, the white women did not come.

In this novel they do.

My Thoughts:

May Dodd is one of these women. Recruited by the government from an insane asylum in which she's been wrongly imprisoned, May seizes her only opportunity for freedom and embarks upon a terrifying and exciting journey. Traveling from Chicago to the Nebraska Territories with a group of forty other women, the first brides to be delivered to the Cheyenne, May dutifully records their experiences in her beloved journals and letters.

It's a diverse group of women, bound together by need and fear of the unknown, who slowly come to rely on and draw strength from each other. I did find a couple of the characters, particularly the Swiss immigrant and the southern belle, to be sterotypical, caricature-like even, and the inclusion of their accents to be overdone and annoying. But the other supporting characters were well-drawn and really added depth to the canvas. My favorites probably being Helen Flight, a naturalist and artist, and Gertie, who helps May maintain communications with the "civilized" world.

But the spirit of all of these women is channeled through May, whose journals describe their new life together - their journey by train and wagon through the plains, their transfer into the Cheyenne camp, and the difficulties and small victories of assimilating into a new way of life while struggling to maintain their own identities. May's strength, practicality, and humor in the face of adversity reassures and inspires the other women. She is the heart of their unusual family and the heart of this book. After turning the last page, I felt like I'd lost a friend, and I flipped back to the Shakespeare quote that opened the story, which had taken on a whole new meaning:

Women will love her, that she is a woman
More worth than any man; men that she is
The rarest of all women.

Nothing is easy for May and her sisters. The Cheyenne lead a hard life, and constant battle against the elements, other Indians, and the white man's whiskey take their toll. And when gold is found in the Black Hills and white settlers begin to pour onto the Cheyenne land, tensions rise and the women find themselves in a dangerous position.

May's journals tell a story that is gripping, startling, and harrowing; at time joyous and happy and at other times unbelievably sad. It's the kind of story that resonates and stays with you long after you've finished. A very good read all around.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5

*This review will also be posted as a Guest Review on Royal Reviews.


  1. I've heard others rave about this book as well; terrific review. It sounds like I need to add it to the list.

  2. Brilliant review! I've heard people say this is an incredible read :)

  3. Strangely enough I have not heard of this book. Sounds very good.

  4. Great review! I really enjoyed this book as well. You can find my review here. I have passed on the One Lovely Blog Award to you! =)


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