One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus

1000 White WomenI believe I learned about this book through Good Reads.  The synopsis kinda sparked my curiosity, so I checked out an audio version of it to listen to while driving to and from work.

This is one of those WOW! books.  I must honestly admit that I did not expect much from the book.  I’m eating those words now.

Premise of the story is that a Cheyenne chief named Little Wolf makes a deal with Ulysses S. Grant for a trade of 1000 white women for 1000 horses.  It took a while for the logic to sink in on this.  His theory is that they wanted to make wives of the women, impregnate the women and when the children were a year old or so, send them to the white world.  This way, they would become one people as they shared blood.  Women, because they are matrilineal, so  the children belong to the women.  Once it sunk in a bit, it actually made sense.  Course, the chance it would actually work with the white man, not so likely.

I actually had to do some research to find out if this was based on fact or not.  The truth part was that the request was made.  The fiction is that Grant agreed.  At least as far as we know.

The story is told through the journal entries of May Dodd, one of the wives who had been in an asylum for promiscuous behavior (she lived with a man her family didn’t approve of and wasn’t married to).  Most of the women in the story were from similar situations such as the twins who had been in jail for prostitution, Sarah – mental hospital, Phoeme, the beautiful, powerful negress, and the rest of the misfits.

Through her diary, you get to know the outcast women that are sold off for horses and travel with them as they enter the lives of the tribe and learn the ways of the nomadic tribe.  Its a stark and beautiful portrayal of all that is good and bad in man, the beauty of the savage and the monster of the white man.  I laughed, I cried, I cheered as I went through the book.

It’s not a true story, but its written with such reality, such a feel of truth, that you walk away believing that maybe, just maybe, it might be.  Its one of the rare novels I would seek out a copy to put on my shelf so I could refer to its beautiful words often.  Well written, lyrical prose and characters that leave a deep mark in your heart.

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