This novel is based on the premise that in the mid 1800s the Cheyenne tribe proposed to white authorities that they trade 1,000 white women for 1,000 horses. No evidence exists to suggest this ever happened, but author Jim Fergus has written two engaging books based on this supposition, “1000 White Women” (1998) and “The Vengeance of Women” (2017).
The latter, now in paperback, continues the story of several white women who joined the Cheyenne tribe and survived a massacre by the Shoshones. The massacre in the Cheyenne camp was in retaliation for an attack the Cheyenne warriors made on a Shoshone tribe because they were assisting the U. S. Army in its zeal to eliminate Indian tribes in the northern areas of our country.
Some of the characters are based on actual people and places, which lends authenticity to the novel. Little Wolf, a Cheyenne warrior known for his military prowess, Crazy Horse of the Lakota tribe, and Bighorn, are some of the historical people and places dramatized in the book.
The main characters Margaret, Molly, and Susie joined the group of white women who agreed to have children by Native Americans as part of the assimilation plan conceived by Little Wolf. He believed that a merging of the races was the only way for white and Native American cultures to survive.
The women were mostly former inmates of prisons or mental institutions (often wrongly placed by angry husbands, permitted at that time) or homeless. They had nothing to lose by joining the Native Americans.
Molly, Margaret, and Sally, are representative of the women who were part of the program, gaining a genuine respect for the Indian way of life. They admired the women and the men who could provide so well for each other. Most of the white women had children by their partners. They appreciated the deep sense of family prevalent in the Indian culture.
Following the massacre by the Shoshones, and desperately trying to escape the U. S. Army with its mission to annihilate the Indians, the women saw their children killed (baby hands were considered trophies), frozen or starved to death during their escape. Clinging to their native way of life, the families knew they could not survive the onslaught of the U. S. Army with its massive weaponry, bounty of horses, and sheer numbers of troops. The army had already killed the buffalo, the main source of food and shelter for the Native Americans.
Molly, Susie, and Margaret befriend the last group of 12 women who have volunteered for the white women program. They do not share their horror stories of the massacre since the women have no way to escape and because the army wants to cover up the plan to trade the white women for horses.
The story is told by way of journals which some of the captive women keep. These writings survive thanks to descendants of the captured women. Seventy years after the last massacre, in 1926, the journals are handed to a journalist in Chicago, and the women’s stories and the trade plan come to light for the first time.
I read “1000 White Women” and found it fully engaging. “The Vengeance of Mothers” is a fitting sequel as it provides closure by revealing the fate of the women who survived the brutal attack detailed at the end of the first book.