It’s the 1870s and the United States Government has made an agreement with the Cheyenne: 1000 white women as brides in exchange for 300 horses. A secret program, this exchange takes place right before the end of the American Indian War… One of the biggest shames of our nation’s past.
The Vengeance of Mothers by Jim Fergus is the journals of Margaret Kelly and Molly McGill, two “participants” in the program. These women come from the ranks of prisoners, prostitutes, lunatics and actresses that make up the bulk of the exchange. The story follows the women’s experience as they try to integrate into Cheyenne society, and the love and friendships that they forge along the way.
“Perhaps this country has opened us up to a new way of being, while at the same time binding us ever more tightly together. We have little left to hide from another, and no pretenses… Life in the wilds allows certain freedoms not available to the so-called civilized world.”
The second in the series, this book is a fantastic read for those interested in Native American culture and the warrior tribes of the time. Through the eyes of the women we learn about Cheyenne culture and beliefs, getting a rare (and what unfortunately seems like often silent) perspective from the tribal women and children of the atrocities surrounding the wars. I was surprised at how accepting the Cherokee were to others: they were not racist and were very accepting toward women, children and the elderly, something unheard of in white American society during the same time. Families were their priority and the men took their duties to their wives and children very seriously.
“‘Aye, funny ain’t it, how they asked for white women in the trade,’ says Susie, ‘and our government sent ’em Phemine [a black woman] in our group, and a Mexican Indian, as dark-skinned as them, in this one?’
‘That’s somethin’ I’ve always admired about these folks,’ says Gertie. ‘They don’t judge people by the color of their skin. Remember, Phemie, how the first name they gave you when you come here was Black White Woman? But that was just a way to call you, to identify you, they didn’t judge you by it or think any less a’you.'”
Told through two different journals the story is told in alternating point of views. Margaret Kelly is Irish and the journal is written in her brogue and colloquialisms, making it seem like she was right there having a conversation. Molly is a farmer’s daughter who lost her daughter and murdered a man. Once a school teacher in Upstate New York her language is crisp and precise, leaving nothing out.
This story was a little slow to start for me, probably because I didn’t read the first book. But around a third of the way through the plot quickly picked up and I was right there with the women. As a mother their tales were relatable to me and I gained a new appreciation for that period in history. Jim Fergus was great about keeping true to the period, though he did take some literary license with the Bride Program (it is under debate whether or not this was a real exchange). Overall 4 out of 5 stars from this reader!
If you’re interested in American history this short video from the History Channel does a great job of detailing the Battle of Little Bighorn, a major part of the novel for Molly and Margaret.
I also liked this (older) video portraying the Native American perspective of the battle. Because every story has two sides.
*Thank you to Net Galley and the author for providing me with a free copy in exchange for a honest review. All opinions stated here are my own.