Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Might Have Been

One Thousand White Women, Jim Fergus
In 1854 the Cheyenne tribe and the U.S. government met to negotiate a peace treaty. Among the Cheyenne requests was that the United States give them one thousand white women as wives. The request was not in jest; the tribe believed that a child belonged to its mother's clan, so the children of these unions would help to integrate the Cheyenne and the whites. Naturally, the government rejected the request.

In this novel, Jim Fergus wonders what would have happen if they hadn't. The book is told from the point of view of May Dodd, a white woman who becomes part of the government's clandestine "Brides for Indians" program. The book flounders a little initially as the author tries to make the program seem plausible, but once the background ends and we meet the brides the novel is absorbing. The women in the program are all fascinating characters, and May's observations as she adjusts to her new life are both honest and often heart wrenching. Reading this book didn't really make me wonder what would have happened if the thousand white women had existed, but it did make me think about how different things could have been between the whites and the Native Americans in those turbulent decades when the white pioneers headed west.

Borrowed from the library


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