March 24, 2009

One Thousand White Women

Exploring Indian culture

One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus ... Pan BooksIn 1854, a Native American chief asked the US Army to provide his tribe with 1,000 white women as brides for his warriors.

His thinking was simple--the women's children would belong to the settlers' 'tribe', building a tangible bridge between the two peoples and providing a foundation for mutual understanding and real interest in a peaceful future.

The Americans weren't quite so convinced and turned the suggestion down flat, but this intriguing book imagines what might have happened had the authorities agreed.
One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd (Paperback)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

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 institutions offering 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 kidnapped, 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.
Comment:  When the white men (and women) instructed the "savages" in the "ways of civilization," I presume they said, "Don't fight a bloody Civil War and kill hundreds of thousands of your people like we just did. Don't exterminate whole species, buy and sell slaves internationally, or shoot your leader in the back of the head. Otherwise you'll end up 'civilized' like us."

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

It wasn't really that bad of an idea; quite a few women didn't have any problem being mail order brides.