Sunday, December 27, 2020

Strongheart - Jim Fergus

Strongheart is the final chapter of the western trilogy that Jim Fergus began in 1998 with One Thousand White Women. In that first novel, President Grant and Cheyenne Nation chief Little Wolf agreed on an exchange of one thousand white women for one thousand of the tribe’s best horses. But don’t be mislead by that one-horse-for-one-woman trade because the entire trilogy is a strong pro-feminism statement about the power of women to adapt to new challenges while at the same time influencing the dominant culture in positive ways. 

All three books are based upon diaries and journals kept by some of the most influential women who joined the tribe: May Dodd, who was released from a Chicago mental institution so that she could be part of the initial trade; Irish twins Meggie and Susie Kelly; and Mollie McGill, whose words are so large a part of Strongheart. As a result, the reader experiences life with the Cherokee through the eyes of some of the strongest women imaginable exactly as they experienced it on a daily basis. 

Contemporary characters in Strongheart include Molly Standing Bear, descendent of one of the diarists, and JW Dodd, son of the man who first published a portion of the diaries in a Chicago magazine called Chitown when JW was just a boy. Molly and JW shared a mutual crush as pre-teens, and because of that, Molly has decided now to share more of the historical diaries that have come into her possession so that JW, as the magazine’s current editor, can publish them as his father did before him. 

Strongheart picks up the story shortly after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, a battle that would prove to be the short-lived immediate victory that would ultimately doom forever the way of life the tribes so precariously held on to. By this point in the story, the women have successfully married into the tribe and have children of their own. Sadly, however, many of the mothers and their children have been killed even before the Little Bighorn fight by surprise attacks on their villages by American soldiers. Now, the tribes have broken into smaller groups all in search of a place to safely make it through the coming winter. 

Despite the odds against them, a group of white warrior women and the Cherokee women who trained them, is determined to take up the fight for survival alongside their men. Others in the tribe make a different decision for themselves and their children. This is their story.

Bottom Line: The One Thousand White Women trilogy is about a group of courageous women who learn that they are more equal in the world created by “savages” than they ever will be in the “civilized” world from which they came - and some of them are not ready to give up that life even if they have to die to keep it. The story is rightly sympathetic to the plight of the women and their new families, but it shares that sympathy, too, with the often-bewildered boy soldiers who oppose them. Note, also, that there is much here that those interested in the sociology of America’s indigenous people during this tragic era are certain to appreciate. 

Jim Fergus


  1. I have the first book on my tbr shelf for next year. I've owned it for quite a few years. LOL

    I had to look twice at the photo of the author... I thought it was Clint Eastwood!

    1. I think you'll enjoy that first book in the trilogy a lot, Cath. It's my favorite of the three.

      You're right about the author. I've seen photos of him wearing buckskin and he really looks the part.

  2. Had to skim your review because now I am interested in reading the rest of the series!

    1. I don't think there are serious spoilers in it, Jeane, but you're wise to play it safe.

  3. I will definitely be reading this series next year!


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