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One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd - Jim Fergus 7 July 2011

I have just completed reading a most intriguing compilation of notebooks, written by one May Dodd, and presented by Mr. Jim Fergus. Purportedly Miss Dodd was part of a secret program on the part of the US government to present 1,000 white women as brides to the Cheyenne to assist in their assimilation in the white culture. The savages apparently have some belief that children belong to the mother's tribe and that any children born of these unions would allow a peaceful merging of the two cultures. In exchange, the Cheyenne were to give the Great White Father 1,000 horses.

May Dodd, along with several other women, many drawn from prisons and insane asylums, were sent to the Nebraska territory in March of 1875, as the vanguard of the promised brides. The further West they moved, out of the bosom of civilization, more and more women reconsidered, though a few hardy souls kept their promise. They were to live among the savages for a period of two years, during which time they were to intermarry, bear children, Christianize, and civilize the savages. May Dodd, alone among the women recorded her experience, filling several notebooks with journal entries and letters home to her family in Chicago. These journals have been handed down through generations amongst the Cheyenne as part of a sacred treasure.

Upon completion of my own reading of her journals, I found the idea a unique way to tell the story of the West. The period of time when United States expanded ever westward, displacing and destroying the tribes of the indigenous people has long fascinated and horrified me in equal measure. While it is clear that knowledge of the Cheyenne and their customs was impressive, the journals were full of modern anachronisms not suited to the era in which these journal entries were supposed to have been recorded. Additionally, while I can accept that there were women during the late 19th century who flouted convention, it is unlikely that one, let alone several, women were as cavalier towards societal rules as May and her companions were, especially in a foreign culture as that of the Cheyenne. I also find it unlikely that the Cheyenne would have allowed them to get away with it and merely laugh at the white women's antics as depicted. This alone, confirmed by the note at the end, made it quite clear that this was a fictional account, though it was intended to be read as factual. Despite these large flaws, the story itself was interesting and made for enjoyable reading. I look forward to exploring some of the books included in the bibliography.