One Thousand White Women, a Book Review

Updated on June 4, 2020
Marie Flint profile image

Marie studied at Michigan State University four years in English (creative writing). She writes content, poetry, and stories.

This story is engaging, creative, and winner of the Regional Book Award.
This story is engaging, creative, and winner of the Regional Book Award. | Source

Fergus, Jim; One Thousand White Women, St. Martin's Griffin, New York; 1998, pp. 434 ISBN 978-0-312-19943-2

I read a fair amount of printed material offline and regard myself somewhat as a naturalist, so I respect American Indian stories and culture. Imagine my delight when I came upon this story based on a proposal Cheyenne Chief Little Wolf, realizing the plight of his people, made to the United States Government in 1874. In factual history, the proposal was flatly and outrightly refused.

Fergus, however, creates May Dodd as the female protagonist who, along with 49 other women, the first of an experimental installment plan, accepts Chief Little Wolf's offer and volunteers to marry a Cheyenne brave and bear a child(-ren).

The original proposal was not one-sided. The women were to be accepted in exchange for 1,000 horses, half of them tamed and the other half wild. Chief Little Wolf based his offer on the Cheyenne matriarchal structure, which assigned children to the mother's tribe. He knew his people must assimilate into the white man's culture or be annihilated. To the chief, the plan was the most humane and expeditious means of accomplishing this daunting task..

Frankly, from the way I've been treated by the so-called 'civilized' people in my life, I rather look forward to residency among the savages.

— May Dodd, protagonist in "One Thousand White Women"

About the Author

Jim Fergus came into the world under the auspices of Aries on March 23, 1950. The birthplace was Chicago, Illinois. He is of French descent and graduated from high school in Massachusetts. Later in 1971, he finished his major in English from Colorado College.

Fergus travels extensively and bases his freelance writing career in Rand,Colorado, which, according to the notes at the back of the novel, has a population of 13. Current internet resources differ, however, with population count ranging from 4 to 49. In any event, it's a small, small town, perfect for the seclusion required by a writer.

Jim Fergus published his memoir A Hunter's Road in 1992. One Thousand White Women is his first novel.

Details about Fergus and his writing are given in the following video interview.

Layout of the Book

Lately I've been seeing novels written with chapters divided between two or three protagonists. One novel I read, Garden of Stones by Sophie Littlefield had chapters intertwined between past and present, about 30-year differences. I missed story continuity and decided to just read the "past" chapters first, then go back through and read the present. So, I think there's a lot of experimenting by today's novelists.

Fergus, however, even though the book is somewhat experimental in its presentation, created a cohesive, chronological and systematic order through the form of a journal layout. Instead of chapters, the story is divided into "notebooks," some with a quote from Shakespeare. (May Dodd, the main character, turns out to be quite an authority on the Bard.) With each notebook are dates, just as one might see in a real journal kept routinely by an aspiring journalist or writer. The notebook titles, along with the dates covered are listed below.

Notebook I - A Train Bound for Glory (March 23 - April 11, 1875)

Notebook II - Passage to the Wilderness (April 13 - May 8, 1875)

Notebook III - My Life as an Indian Squaw (May 12 - May 22, 1875)

Notebook IV - The Devil Whiskey (May 23, 1875 - June 17, 1875)

Notebook V - A Gypsy's Life (July 7, 1875 - September 14, 1875)

Notebook VI - The Bony Bosom of Civilization (September 14 - October 18, 1875)

Notebook VII - Winter (November 1, 1875 - March 1, 1876)

All-in-all, the reader gets acknowledgements, author's note, introduction, prologue, the journal, a "codicil" by Abbot Anthony, and an epilogue by J. Will Dodd who tells how he received his grandmother's journals.

As adjuncts to the story, the book also contains a bibliography outlining Fergus' resources that helped him base this novel. There are 21 listings.

Finally, at the very end there is a reading group section to enable readers to get together and discuss the book. Presented are the author's essay explaining how his imagination was inspired by historical fact to create the novel. He also answers some personal questions about his writing and gives his biography in third-person voice. The questions spur thoughtful discussion by getting readers to compare their perspectives on Native American and modern American cultures and values.

Characters of One Thousand White Women

The characters are comprised of real-life names, acting characters, persons who are only mentioned by name, and Cheyenne tribal members. From these four categories of characters, I touch only upon those colorful female characters best known to the protagonist May Dodd. All participate in the Brides for Indians (BFI) program, except Gertie. These colorful women are as follows:

Helen Elizabeth Flight is a British avian artist, fake BFI volunteer, and sporting markswoman.

Ada "Black Ada" Ware gets her nickname from her widow's garb.

Sara Johnson is youthful, frail lady who evokes May's protective instincts. Sara doesn't speak until she becomes the first volunteer to fluently speak Cheyenne.

Margaret "Maggie" and Susan "Susie" Kelly are red-headed identical twin prostitutes who had been incarcerated for grand theft and continue to practice pickpocketing and the like.

Daisy Lovelace is a former Southern belle who carries pet poodle Fern Louise.

Gretchen "Miss Potato Face" Fathauer previously worked as a chambermaid; she is a robust, stocky Swiss woman with coarse features.

Euphemia "Pheme" Washington from Canada carries genetic heritage from the warrior Ashanti African tribe.

Narcissa White is an extreme evangelical woman sponsored by the American Church Missionary Society.

Gertie "Dirty Gertie," a.k.a. Jimmy the Muleskinner who drives and tends the mules for the U.S. Army. She hides her female identity with men's clothing.

Marie Blanche de Bretonne became orphaned in Chicago when her French parents were killed by robbers.

Literary Style

The language presented carries authenticity of dialog, scenery, and depth of style comparable to the early days of the westward movement and socio-political environment concerning the Native Americans by the United States Government during the late 1870s. Voice is in the first-person narrative.

The following excerpt illustriously depicts the scene between U.S. soldiers and the Cheyenne during the peace proposal speech given by Chief Little Wolf.

" . . . and the row of soldiers flanking the hall fell into formation, bayonets at the ready position. In response, the Cheyenne chiefs all stood up in unison, instinctively drawing knives and forming a circle, shoulders touching, in the way that a bevy of quail beds down at night to protect itself from predators."

Exquisite dialogue of Margaret Kelly appears on page 45:

"Wouldn't 'appen to 'ave a bit of tobacco on ye, Missy, would ya now?

Daisy Lovelace answers Margaret with equally colorful dialect:

"Ah'm afraid naught," says the woman in a slow drawl, and in not a particularly friendly tone.

These types of conversational dialogue appear consistently throughout the book, as well as phrases in the Cheyenne and French languages.

Another masterful passage appears when May describes her consummation of the marriage on pages 170-171.

I then fell into a deep slumber and had the strangest dream . . . my husband was now in the tent . . . dancing softly, noiselessly, his moccasined feet rising and falling gracefully . . . danced like a spirit around me . . . . I began to become aroused, felt a tingling in my stomach . . . . I lay on my stomach breathing shallowly and pressing myself against the blanket . . . . I tried to reach him, but he moved away . . . . as if with feathers, teasing and brushing . . . . my body trembled, shook and bucked, and in my dream I was not a human being any longer with a separate consciousness, but became a part of something older and more primitive, truer . . . .

An American Indian Dreamcatcher
An American Indian Dreamcatcher | Source

Summary

The author has taken an recorded historical event and masterfully created a fictional world of a woman outcast by her well-to-do family and institutionalized during the westward movement when the United States Government was eliminating and relocating Native American Indian tribes. She joins the BFI program to escape her dismal, hopeless life in an insane asylum.

The subject matter is for a mature adult reader due to the basis of sexuality necessary to tell the story. The narrative is filled with adventure, romance, humor, colorful characters, convincing dialogue, and unique scenery descriptions.

For a male author to meticulously create a piece of historical fiction in a woman's voice and present something of the Cheyenne culture, I wholeheartedly applaud his success.

Additional Novels by Author Jim Fergus

The Wild Girl: The Notebooks of Ned Giles (Hyperion Books) 2005

The Last Apache Girl (Hyperion Books) 2005

Marie Blanche (Le Cherche Midi, Paris) 2011

The Vengeance of Mothers (St. Martin's Press) 2017

Resources and Credits

U.S. Beacon and Best Places (comparative population of Rand, CO)

© 2020 Marie Flint

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    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      6 weeks ago from Jacksonville, FL USA

      I am sorry you were distressed by the ending, Denise. The fictional character May Dodd never existed, nor did the Brides For Indians program.

      Rather than focus on the situations of demise, I chose to delight in the colorful characters and dialog.

      The souls of individuals go through many lessons in life, some seemingly cruel (winter is cold), but the experiences are brief and redeemable. For every misdeed, I think of Longfellow's translation of the poem, 'Retribution,' by Friedrich Von Logau (17th C), "Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; / Though with patience he stands waiting, with exactness grinds he all."

      Do not despair. Pure light through the spectrum reveals every pure color of the rainbow.

      Blessings!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      6 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      I finished the book and was very surprised and distressed by the end. It took a week to process in my own mind and heart how any people could be so cruel and heartless and yet, this was actual history (in parts) and it is a legacy we have to admit happened. My husband was pointing out that this kind of thing happened in Vietnam and WWII and a number of other occasions. Which means to me that the same cruel nature is still in us. That potential to do good but the baseness to do evil anyway. I hate it. Thanks for the recommendation.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      2 months ago from Jacksonville, FL USA

      I'm glad you're enjoying the ebook, Denise. May Dodd is such a lovable character--at least, I thought so!

      I'm glad I didn't reveal a secret which you'll come upon much later in the book.

      Have fun!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      2 months ago from Fresno CA

      I purchased the ebook and I'm reading it now. I love it so far and she hasn't even made it to Cheyenne territory yet. Thanks for the recommendation.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      4 months ago from Jacksonville, FL USA

      I may just look up Thom's The Red Heart. Thank you for the read and comment, Chris!

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      4 months ago from Green Bay, Wisconsin...for now

      Your review of this book is enticing. A few years ago I read what I consider to be a brilliant piece of historical fiction by James Alexander Thom called The Red Heart. It tells the story of Francis Slocum who was raised by The Miami Indians. On that level, Jim Fergus's book reminded me of this. You caught my attention with your evaluation of many novelists who are "experimenting" with different forms such as multiple POVs. In my last short story I used that form and am not pleased with it. I enjoyed this article very much. Thanks for sharing it.

    • emge profile image

      MG Singh 

      5 months ago from Singapore

      Marie, your review is a revelation. I liked it and I want to read the book. Its something I never knew anything about. Thank you

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 months ago from The Caribbean

      Marie, thanks for introducing this book. There are so many interesting features: the author's voice, the mix of characters, the theme itself. Your review presents enough detail about every aspect of the book to make me want to read it. Excellent!

    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      5 months ago from Jacksonville, FL USA

      Thank you for the read, Kenna. I appreciate comments because I often reread the article and find some little correction to make.

      There are many citizens in our country from mixed racial marriages. Truly, we are the melting pot of the world.

    • Kenna McHugh profile image

      Kenna McHugh 

      5 months ago from Northern California

      I read a similar book about a relationship between and Indian and a white woman, where the white woman was an outcast. I can't remember the author or title because I read so many books. I did enjoy it and found the situation believable. I mean, what is a woman supposed to do during this period in history when she doesn't fit in with "normal" society.

      Anyway, thank you for the concise review of the book. It sounds good enough to read.

    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      5 months ago from Jacksonville, FL USA

      I could have posted an Amazon link or capsule, but that would have seemed a little spammy to me. In addition, it probably would have been snipped because I already gave my thoughts in the article and the capsule itself would have been blank (a no-no, according to current policy).

      I am so very pleased that persons reading this review are interested in actually reading the book. That, in itself, is success!

      I thank all of you for the read and comments.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 

      5 months ago

      Wow, what a great review and what an interesting novel it sounds. I must try and get this: it sounds fascinating.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      5 months ago from Sunny Florida

      This is a very interesting book review and I think I would like to read this book. Thanks for the review.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      5 months ago from Beautiful South

      The subject matter of the book is very interesting, whether the reader believes that the writing is or isn't exciting. The fact that you enjoyed the book enough to do a review is a credit to the author's ability. Looking at his other books listed, his others may also be written from a woman's point of view. It reminds me of the books by mid-century author Frank Yerby, a black man who wrote a bunch of Southern novels from the white woman's point of view. He was my favorite author back then. I will consider adding this one to my book list.

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