Wednesday, July 8, 2015

One Thousand White Women and Snowy Egrets

This is a rather random post but I’m reading a book entitled One Thousand White Women - The Journals of May Dodd by the author Jim Fergus. 

I’m really enjoying this book and came across a passage today that I want to share, but before I do let me give you a little background on the book. 

The story is about May Dodd and her adventures in traveling across the country from New York to the American West in the year 1875 as part of a government program to send unmarried, fertile woman to marry and mate with Cheyenne warriors in hopes of assimilating future generations of the Cheyenne people with the white man’s world. 

The U.S. government has agreed to send the Cheyenne Nation 1,000 white women in exchange for 1,000 horses, 500 hundred wild horses and 500 that are already broken. The book has not and probably won’t explain the condition and value of the horses that the Cheyenne will be sending to the U.S. government but it does explain where these women will come from. 

A few will be women that volunteer, that are of a certain age and able to bear children. The rest of them will come from prisons and insane asylums where in exchange for traveling across country and marrying heathens, they will be given their freedom. 

Now I’m not big in politics, don’t throw my political opinion around as easily and frequently as do most people, especially on Facebook, but I will say that it doesn’t seem as though our government has changed much from 1875! 

In the part of the book that I want to share, the women have already arrive at Fort Laramie and are being detained there, basically as prisoners until they are shipped off to their new spouses. The ladies are gathered at the table for dinner and are discussing the latest New York fashion in hats. 

There is one lady named Helen Flight who is the author of a book entitled Birds of Britain and is working on a new book entitled Birds of America. Ms. Flight finds herself short of funds to continue her research on the Birds of America and thinks it a grand idea to head off to marry a Cheyenne warrior for the opportunity to study the bird life of the western prairies at no expense to her! That makes perfect sense right? 

One of the ladies is wearing a new hat with feathers and they are all commenting on the hat and Ms. Flights says, “I say, Miss Bradley, were you aware that the feathers on your hat are the breeding plumes of the snowy egret?” 

“Why no I wasn’t”, answers Miss Bradley. “Isn’t that fascinating?” 

Snowy Egret - Full Breeding Plumage - Photo Credit
“Quite” says Ms. Flight, “rather a nasty business, actually, which I had occasion to witness last spring while I was in the Florida swamps studying the wading birds of the Everglades for my Birds of America portfolio. As you correctly stated, the feather-festooned hat such as the one you wear is very much the vogue in New York fashion these days. The hat makers there have commissioned the Seminole Indians who inhabit the Everglades to supply them with feathers for the trade. The Indians have devised an ingenious method of netting the birds while they are on their nests—which the birds are reluctant to leave due to their instinct to protect their young. Of course, the Indians must kill the adult birds in order to pluck the few ‘aigrettes’ or nuptial plumes as they are more commonly known. Entire rookeries are thus destroyed, the young orphaned birds left to starve in the nest. Pity… a terribly disagreeable sound that of a rookery full of nestlings crying for their parents, you can hear it across the swamp for miles…”

This made me tear up. Imagining those poor birds defending their young and being killed, simply for feathers! According to Wikipedia, the Snowy Egret is now a protected species thanks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

The book also talks about the train stopping along the way on the prairie for the men on board to "hunt" the buffalo on the prairie by shooting them where they stand out of the train windows. There is no "hunting" involved, just cruelty and cowardliness at shooting defenseless animals for sport. The animals left where they fall, some dead some mortally wounded, some with newborn spring calf's, left to rot.

It just makes me sad and angers me to think of how cruel human beings can be. I'm not opposed to killing animals to supply us with food, as long as it is done humanely, but to kill them for sport or for fun or for fashion! No! Just no...



  1. Interesting book. I googled real quick to see if something like this actually did happen. There were negotiations and the Cheyenne were trying to make it happen in 1854. But the negotiations broke down and no women were actually sent. Fergus wrote the book as if it did happen.

    Your kindness to animals is a reflection of you heart.

    1. I googled too and saw the same thing. Great minds think a like.

      I was never much of an animal lover before, but my daughters dog Chorizo has totally changed my mind and now I have a soft heart for all animals. I don't even squish bugs and have been known to escort moths out of the building!


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