Serendipity in the Stacks #11: One Thousand White Women

Subtitle this post: Many Brides for Many Brothers.

One Thousand White Women (1998) is the debut novel from Jim Fergus and it’s one of my favorite under-the-radar reads to suggest to fans of historical fiction.

In 1875 one thousand women made the perilous trek across the American prairie to become the wives of Cheyenne Indians in exchange for horses. May Dodd keeps a detailed journal of the One Thousand White Women and their adventures, friendships and histories on their mission to “civilize the natives.” Many of the women are former convicts or sanitarium patients. One is homely, one is a destitute Southern belle, and one a zealot. If the women stay married two years and produce children, they may have the option of leaving the tribe. For services rendered each woman will receive a parcel of land. This is a compelling historical novel with many colorful characters and tense situations.

Readers will immediately be drawn to the characters of inquisitive May, proud Euphemia, the rambunctious Kelly twins, and educated and cultured Daisy. May carefully describes the assimilation of the women into Cheyenne daily living, their difficulty learning the Cheyenne language, and the ceremony involving the selection of the brides and by the braves.

Fergus employs a moderate pace to ensure readers do not miss the intriguing details of the Cheyenne culture. The tone is a combination of May’s brisk no-nonsense attitude, innocent marveling at the unspoiled countryside, and curiosity about her new husband’s family. Look also for the beautiful bird paintings adorning each entry and after the last page is turned, carefully view the book’s cover art.

A good choice for book groups that enjoyed the historical detail in These is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 by Nancy Turner or the lively female protagonists in Little Bee by Chris Cleave.

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About the Author:

Kaite Mediatore Stover refuses to give up her day job as director of readers' services for The Kansas City Public Library to read tarot cards professionally or be the merch girl/roadie for her husband's numerous bands. Follow her on Twitter at @MarianLiberryan.

1 Comment on "Serendipity in the Stacks #11: One Thousand White Women"

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  1. Gary Niebuhr says:

    I included this title in Read Em Their Writes because I thought it was a crime fiction novel of some sort but more so that it makes a great book discussion title.

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