Review: One Thousand White Women
In 1874, the Cheyennes proposed trading the US government horses for one thousand white women. Their chief said,
My duty is to see that my People survive. To do this we must enter the white man’s world – our children must become members of your tribe. Therefore we ask the Great Father for the gift of one thousand white women as wives, to teach us and our children the new life that must be lived when the buffalo are gone.
Of course, the government rejected the offer but were shocked when women volunteered to go. Many of the women, like May Dodd, who volunteered were trying to get out of bad situations. May’s family had committed her to an asylum – she planned to spend the required two years with the Cheyennes and then return home. As May and the other women in the first group begin their journey, she keeps a journal of her experiences as a record to share with her children.
I read One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus for my book club. I have to admit that the premise of the book didn’t grab me initially. The book started out slowly for me, picked up speed in the middle, and dragged at the end. Overall, I thought the book was okay, but I didn’t love it. Even though the subtitle calls the book May’s journal, it didn’t read like a journal to me since there is very little emotion and lots of dialogue in the entries. The characters weren’t well developed and many of them felt like caricatures or stereotypes. May felt like a modern day woman plopped down in the 19th century and she came across as unbelievably perfect to me.
I did enjoy the insight into the life of the Cheyenne people and appreciated the respectful tone Fergus used when writing about them. I learned a lot about their lives and the way the white people treated them. I admit I cringed at the actions of many of the white people.
When my book club met, most people felt the same way I did about One Thousand White Women, but two people did love it. Having said that, I think we had one of the best discussions we’ve ever had – we spent quite a while discussing this book. The one thing we all agreed on was that, even though the book is told from May’s point of view, it felt like it was written by a man.