Friday Book Whimsy: One Thousand White Women

According to a footnote from Jim Fergus, the author of One Thousand White Women, during the presidential term of Ulysses S. Grant, consideration of a program by which white women would volunteer to wed members of Indian tribes as a way of assimilating the Indian people into white culture was actually considered. Considered and, not surprisingly, dismissed.  One Thousand White Women is the story of what might have happened had the program actually taken place.

May Dodd, the feisty daughter of well-to-do parents in the mid-1800s, left home to live with (but not marry) a man of lesser means. The unmarried couple have two children before May is sent by her parents to an institution for the mentally insane. Her diagnosis? Promiscuity.

She is all but kept as a prisoner, understandably unhappy to be confined and without her children, and there is little-to-no chance of ever seeing the light of day again. So when she learns about a new program being offered by the U.S. government that allows women to volunteer to marry Cheyenne Indian men and have their children, she is eager to join. It is her only hope of getting out of the institution.

What follows is a story about the female friendships, about attitudes of whites for Indians and Indians for whites, about the settlement of the Old West, and an eye-opening look at the treatment of the Indians at the hands of the U.S. government.

I thought the author’s use of May’s journal to tell her story was interesting, and found the writing to be compelling. It was a clever way to provide a peek at the life of Native Americans as they were being pushed out of their own lands. May Dodd’s loyalty and commitment to doing good made her a likable character. While her independence struck me as quite unrealistic in 1875, I hope that even in those days, a few women were able to stand up for themselves and fight for the rest of them.

I’m not sure the idea would ever have worked in real life, which is why it was never carried out. It made for a good story, however.

Here is a link to the book.