The following interview of Jim Fergus,
author of One Thousand White Women, by Cheryl Kravetz took place on
Saturday, May 2, 1998, at
310 South County Road, Palm Beach, FL USA.
Author Jim Fergus autographs
By Cheryl DuPree Kravetz
Author Jim Fergus autographed his book, "One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd" (St. Martin's Press) Saturday at Classic Bookshop in Palm Beach, where he announced the book has been optioned by CBS for a television movie.
The book is Fergus' debut novel based partially on fact blended with his wonderful imagination to tell a tale of a remarkable group of women who embarked on an adventure into the land of the Cheyenne in 1854.
"The women move out west to become the brides of Cheyenne warriors," Fergus said. "It is based on a true event. In 1854 a group of Cheyenne chiefs requested of the white authorities one thousand white women as brides for their young warriors. The Cheyenne were a society in that any child born automatically belonged to the mother's rather than the father's tribe. As early as 1854 the Cheyenne saw that their life as they knew it as free people was going to be soon swallowed by the whites. They saw this as the perfect way to assimilate themselves into white culture. All of their offsprings, from their way of thinking, would automatically be white people."
But, the peace conference where the Cheyenne made their proposal fell apart and the women were not actually sent to mate with the Cheyenne.
"But in my book they do," Fergus said.
Fergus was researching a non-fiction book about the Cheyenne for a biography of Little Wolf, chief of the Cheyenne nation, when he learned about the request for the women. He knew he could expound on the subject and turn it into a novel about what could have happened if the chiefs had not been refused.
"I wasn't sure just what I was going to do with the information at first," he said. "I thought it was going to be a non-fiction book. Then I thought it was going to be a collection of three novellas. My agent decided to drop the other two and turn this one into a novel. I was very intrigued by this, I couldn't get it out of my mind. I got to thinking what if it really did happen."
Fergus is a longtime correspondent for Outside magazine and a contributing editor of Sports Afield. His work has appeared in numerous national publications and he is the author of the non-fiction book, "A Hunter's Road."
While researching for "One Thousand White Women," Fergus lived in a 1972 Airstream trailer with his yellow lab, Sweetzer, following the trail of the Cheyenne through Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana. The trailer was filled with books about the Indians and for many months he lived and breathed the Cheyenne.
I wanted to get a sense of the land," he said. "I've always loved the Great Plains and have spent a lot of time traveling around them. In most cases the native prairie has been radically altered by modern agriculture, but in most cases you still get a feeling of the vastness and intrinsic drama of the country. It's still a very spiritual place, and by immersing myself in Indian themes as I traveled, I began to imagine what it was like to have lived there a hundred and fifty years ago."
Fergus revolves his story around May Dodd, a woman from a wealthy and prominent Chicago family who dared to fall in love with a man below her station and was committed to an insane asylum. She volunteers for the Brides for Indians program to gain her release.
"In those days it was possible for husbands, or families, to commit women to asylums under almost any pretense," he said. "For instance if a woman displayed symptoms of what is now commonly known as PMS, she might be locked up for the rest of her life."
May joins a colorful set of characters as she treks across the wild west.
Books by Jim Fergus.
One Thousand White Women
A Hunter's Road: A Journey With Gun and Dog Across the American Uplands
Please contact us for availability of this and other signed editions.
Last modified Wednesday, 15-Jun-2005 05:59:38 EDT