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One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd [Paperback]

Jim Fergus
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 15 1999
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.

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From Booklist

An American western with a most unusual twist, this is an imaginative fictional account of the participation of May Dodd and others in the controversial "Brides for Indians" program, a clandestine U.S. government^-sponsored program intended to instruct "savages" in the ways of civilization and to assimilate the Indians into white culture through the offspring of these unions. May's personal journals, loaded with humor and intelligent reflection, describe the adventures of some very colorful white brides (including one black one), their marriages to Cheyenne warriors, and the natural abundance of life on the prairie before the final press of the white man's civilization. Fergus is gifted in his ability to portray the perceptions and emotions of women. He writes with tremendous insight and sensitivity about the individual community and the political and religious issues of the time, many of which are still relevant today. This book is artistically rendered with meticulous attention to small details that bring to life the daily concerns of a group of hardy souls at a pivotal time in U.S. history. Grace Fill --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

Long, brisk, charming first novel about an 1875 treaty between Ulysses S. Grant and Little Wolf, chief of the Cheyenne nation, by the sports reporter and author of the memoir A Hunter's Road (1992). Little Wolf comes to Washington and suggests to President Grant that peace between the Whites and Cheyenne could be established if the Cheyenne were given white women as wives, and that the tribe would agree to raise the children from such unions. The thought of miscegenation naturally enough astounds Grant, but he sees a certain wisdom in trading 1,000 white women for 1,000 horses, and he secretly approves the Brides For Indians treaty. He recruits women from jails, penitentiaries, debtors' prisons, and mental institutionsoffering full pardons or unconditional release. May Dodd, born to wealth in Chicago in 1850, had left home in her teens and become the mistress of her father's grain-elevator foreman. Her outraged father had her kidnaped, imprisoning her in a monstrous lunatic asylum. When Grant's offer arrives, she leaps at it and soon finds herself traveling west with hundreds of white and black would-be brides. All are indentured to the Cheyenne for two years, must produce children, and then will have the option of leaving. May, who keeps the journal we read, marries Little Wolf and lives in a crowded tipi with his two other wives, their children, and an old crone who enforces the rules. Reading about life among the Cheyenne is spellbinding, especially when the women show up the braves at arm-wrestling, foot-racing, bow-shooting, and gambling. Liquor raises its evil head, as it will, and reduces the braves to savagery. But the women recover, go out on the winter kill with their husbands, and accompany them to a trading post where they drive hard bargains and stop the usual cheating of the braves. Eventually, when the cavalry attacks the Cheyenne, mistakenly thinking they're Crazy Horse's Sioux, May is killed. An impressive historical, terse, convincing, and affecting. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars AN ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME... Feb. 24 2008
By Lawyeraau TOP 100 REVIEWER
This is a highly original work of historical fiction. Written as if were a personal journal, the story captivates the reader right from the get-go. The book is premised upon a real life incident where, at a nineteenth century peace conference, Native Americans of the Northern Cheyenne tribe suggested to the United States Army authorities the trading of one thousand horses for one thousand white woman as a way of promoting assimilation. While this proposal was never agreed to, it does form the basis for this book, where such an agreement does, in fact, takes place.

Written as the journal of May Dodd, a free thinking, intelligent, and independent woman, it is through her eyes that the reader sees events unfold, as the first group of women are traded and introduced to life on the western frontier as brides for male members of the Cheyenne tribe. The reader will discover what drove these women to engage in such an adventure and what it was that happened to them.

Entertaining and engaging, this is a skillfully developed story and a worthy debut novel. The only criticism is that the voice of May Dodd seems, at times, to be almost too contemporary and serves to distract the reader a bit, and some parts of the story read as if it were a romance novel. Moreover, the book seems more focused on the plot, rather than on character development, although this does not take away from the enjoyment of the overall story, as the plot is so intriguing. Those who like the historical fiction genre will not be disappointed by this imaginative and ambitious novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars makes you think. . . Oct. 29 2006
This book will join other classic fiction about the west. And like the best westerns (at least in my opinion) is at least based on some historical fact. In the case a little known Brides for Indians program. This was a semi top secrete program the US government instituted with the Cherokee Indians as a way to assimilate the Indians into civilized society. The author takes this actual historical situation and writes a truly original piece of western fiction! This is one of the best books I have read since "Lonesome Dove."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Alternative history June 13 2004
I don't think I've read a book like this before. It's an interesting alternative look at frontier history and US/Cheyanne relations. The various women in the book are nicely flushed out as characters rather than being cookie cutter versions of the narrator. I've read actual diary accounts from women on the frontier from this time period and the style of May's prose fits with those actual journels, making it hard to remember at times that this story is in fact a novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye opener that really gets to you April 13 2004
Having been recommended this book by my mother, I was determined to prove her wrong and not like it. But, by the 10th page, I was already lost, thoroughly engrossed in May Dodd's world.
The book is very well written and, although a man, Jim Fergus has a unique gift for capturing the feminine and spunky spirit of May Dodd.
It tells of the Cheyenne and their outlook on life, nature, and respect of all things. I was ashamed of America's tactics to the Indians and at times I had to stop and let the words soak in.
I am a voracious reader, and I usually finish books this size in a day. Yet this book is different, it pulls at your heart strings and it took me a week to read it, after dinner and during breaks in the day, almost as if it were a delectable treat.
Although you wish for a happy ending, you read the book knowing the whole time that it cannot be.
So savor this book, I really, truly recommend it; it is one of the best books I have ever had the pleasure to read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I didn't want it to end Feb. 28 2012
By Suzanne
This book was chosen for me by our book club. It has to be one of the best books I have read in a long time. May Dodd is the type of woman we all want to be; strong, true to herself and a real leader. The story is very believable and I learnt so much from that time in history. It took me a while to finish the last 100 pages as I just didn't want it to end. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.

Marie Suzanne Dillon, author of Two Weeks in Vieques.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great premise, cliched writing Aug. 20 2003
By A Customer
Upon a strong recommendation of a friend of mine, I read this book. The premise is terrific and the story kept me engaged throughout - the writing was fine, in that the images were vivid and the pacing quick and entertaining. If only the author could craft characters with a bit of complexity and depth! The racist Southerner (who realizes the errors of her ways), the proud and strong Black Woman, the noble but conflicted passionate Captain - how much more cliche can you get? This book also confirmed to me why men should not write love scenes - I rolled my eyes at nearly every passionate embrace. But, if you're looking for entertainment and not mind-expanding literature, it would be great book for the beach!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Heart Touching Read June 29 2004
This was a wonderful story filled with rich characters, great detail and touching emotion. Good thing I didn't have anything pressing to do the day I started it...I was hardly able to put it down.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Well Done Historical Fiction May 3 2004
One Thousand White Women is an interesting novel in which Jim Fergus plays a little "what if" with history. In the mid-1800s, several prominent native American leaders proposed a trade--one thousand white women for brides for the native Americans in exchange for one thousand horses. As far as we know, the offer was never accepted, but Fergus takes the ball and runs with it. One Thousand White Women is the story of May Dodd, a young women from Chicago who had been institutionalized by her family for "promiscuity." She had fallen in love with a man below her station and had two children before her family caught up with her. Her participation in the "exchange" program offered her an escape from her wrongful detention. Most of the other women in the program were similarly situated--women seeking escape from mental institutions, prisons, and other undesirable situations answer the call of their government to live with the Cheyenne. May's adventure is interesting as well as heartbreaking. She is a charming narrator and her story is full of ironic humor. The writing at times can get a little clunky, but that is my only complaint about this engaging novel.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An Extraordinary Book
I just finished this book and I was actually depressed to put it down. One of the very best books I have ever read. Read more
Published on March 10 2004 by Amy G.
2.0 out of 5 stars Unsatisfying characters, interesting premise
Although the premise of this book is creative and the writing style is polished, the characters and story left plenty to be desired. Read more
Published on Jan. 25 2004 by R. Punzel
4.0 out of 5 stars Satisfying, though sometimes depressing read
Read this book only if you are truly interested in Indian life and their various conflicts with the white world in 1870's Old West. Read more
Published on Dec 14 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Touching Fictional Account of Historical Event
A woman in an unhappy life takes the opportunity to partake in a government program to pacify American Indians by sending 1000 white women to be their wives. Read more
Published on Oct. 22 2003 by R. Platten
4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing and Entertaining
Unlike other reviewers, I bought the plausability of this story. Either way, this is a strong piece of literature that will stay with you long after you've finished. Read more
Published on Oct. 20 2003 by "zwert"
4.0 out of 5 stars Forget plausibility - just read for fun
Putting aside the implausible plot of this novel, it is really a pretty good read. Once I got past the premise, I really enjoyed reading about the life of May Dodd who seemed to... Read more
Published on Oct. 15 2003 by Mary Reinert
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