One Thousand White WomenPosted: March 23, 2011
I’ve been spending as much time as possible reading instead of a lot of other things like blogging. I feel like I really hit the jackpot on my last library trip, so I haven’t been getting much sleep. Between the books and the croup-y baby, sleep has been sparse for me. In fact, I stayed up until 1:30 am finishing this book last night only to lay there thinking about it at least 30 minutes after I completed it.
This piece of historical fiction is inspired by an even in 1874 in which the great Cheyenne “Sweet Medicine Chief” Little Wolf went to Washington D.C. to meet with President Grant in the hopes of making a lasting peace for his people.
To secure the peace, Sweet Medicine Chief Little Wolf asked President Grant for a gift of 1,000 white women to become wives of the Cheyenne and to show his people the ways of the white man. The children born would then be a sort of bridge between the two cultures ensuring peace well into the future. In exchange, the Cheyenne would provide 1,000 horses to President Grant.
Since the Cheyenne are a matrilineal society (tracing ancestry through mothers, not fathers), the children would “belong” to the white man’s tribe; thus, the Sweet Medicine Chief offered the highest of honors known to his tribe. In reality of course, an appalled President Grant refused the offer.
One Thousand White Women, however, imagines that President Grant secretly agreed to the offer in an effort to move the Indians onto reservations more quickly.
The voice for most of the book is May Dodd, a scandalously sexually liberated woman who fell in love below her station. She has two children with her lover before her family has her committed to an insane asylum for her trespasses. It is there that she is recruited for, and agrees to participate in, President Grant’s secret “Brides for Indians” program. After two years, all the women will be free to leave the program and will receive an unconditional pardon from the jail, asylum or prison they were recruited from. May knows it is the only way to see see her children again.
The story is told through the journals May keeps upon leaving the asylum, her journey west and her experience becoming a squaw.
We learn about May and the other “Brides for Indians” who head West.
We learn about the West.
We learn about the Cheyenne people, beliefs and practices.
We learn about the United States’ Indian policies during this time period which lead to the killing of thousands of Native Americans, including May Dodd.
I found this book on International Women’s Day sitting on the shelf in the Good Reads section of my library.
I was intrigued. I was swept away. I have added it to my Good Reads section.
This is not a political book hell bent to revisit policies from this time. It is an attempt to tell the complicated story of a clash of cultures that resulted in the destruction of a land and a people. It is about friendship and women. It is triumphant and lovely and engaging and sad. It is, without a doubt, a book that celebrates women and relationships across cultures.