Sometimes you can come up with really interesting story ideas simply by asking, what if things happened differently? This is what Jim Fergus did with One Thousand White Women. Taking the general history and changing one pivotal detail, he created almost a side trail of a story, where the end is the same but the journey there looked a little different.
One Thousand White Women is based on a real event– a Northern Cheyenne chief requested U.S. Army authorities arrange for 1,000 white women to be brides for Cheyenne warriors as a means to integrate the tribe with white society. Though in reality the U.S. authorities refused the request, Fergus’ book is birthed by the authorities saying yes.
May Dodd is living in an asylum, locked away by her family who believe she is promiscuous. When the opportunity to gain freedom is presented, May does whatever it takes to claim it, even though it means taking a long journey to become the wife of a savage she’s never met. Told through fictional diaries, May’s experience, as well as the other women who went with her, paint a picture of love, adventure, terror, and racism. Though May comes to love the Cheyenne people, it becomes clear that even though she doesn’t belong in white society anymore, she isn’t able to completely lose herself within Cheyenne culture, either.
I wasn’t quite aware that this book is alternate history when I first grabbed it, but it appears that Fergus did his research and paints a compelling picture of what could have happened, had the U.S. sent white women to marry Cheyenne warriors.
May Dodd represents a strong, independent woman, exactly the kind of woman who would have gone to the Cheyenne of her own free will, seeking freedom and adventure. The journal style makes the reading go by quickly and gives an interesting look into the minds of May and her friends. I think this story in particular benefited from being told in journal format.
Though a little cliche in the romance and love aspects, overall One Thousand White Women was an enjoyable read. However, it could warrant several trigger warnings, including sexual violence, violence, and genocide. Some scenes, though not explicit, certainly were enough to allow the imagination to fill in the gaps, and could be hard to read for some readers.