In my historical fiction perusals of Amazon.com, I had come across the title “One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd” by Jim Fergus. After seeing it several times, I finally checked out a copy. The story goes as follows, there is this fictional author who had always heard about his Great Great Grandmother May Dodd, who went into an insane asylum, or “out west” as the family called it, and vanished from family history. While researching some historical papers, he comes upon the “Brides for Indians” program. The US Government, under Ulysses S. Grant, wants to assemble a group of women to intermarry with the Cheyenne Indians, in order to assimilate them into the white world and in exchange get 1000 horses. There is outrage of course and the program is called off before it begins, but lo and behold, many women start volunteering to take part in the venture. Quietly, it is reinstated.
As the number of brides falls short of the promised 1000, the program is extended into jails and, in May’s case, insane asylums. May was put into an asylum by her wealthy family for the insanity of living with and having two children by a man, a poor man, whom she is not married to. Life in an insane asylum post civil war isn’t good. It is horrible. May hears about the program and figures it can’t be worse than what she is enduring and volunteers. And there is where our adventure begins, as we read her story in the journals she writes in, every step of the way, as we see her marry Little Wolf and live life on the prairie as an Native American does. We also follow the lives of several of her travel mates, a faded Southern belle, a proud ex-slave, a religious fanatic, Irish twins and many others. All have stories, interesting stories.
The story moves along well and is absolutely brilliant. The author vividly captures the feel of the west and the stories of the women. Along with the tragedy of the fate of the Native Americans, be it through whiskey or white man, there are some valid comments of what is society, what is religion and who has the right to say what people should do and believe. I highly recommend this touching and fascinating book to anyone interested in this period of history. I really felt that I was reading an actual set of journals, getting a glimpse into something I would never see otherwise. As I read the last page, I wanted to start it all over again. Yes, it is that good. I still miss May and her friends.