The stunning sequel to the award-winning novel One Thousand White Women: A Novel.
"Clever and satisfying...Fergus is a superb writer [and] the characters are as real as any pioneer women who braved the rigors of westering." The Denver Post
"A gripping tale, a history lesson infused with both sadness at the violence perpetuated against the Cheyenne and awe at the endurance of this remarkable group of women." Booklist, starred review
9 March 1876
My name is Meggie Kelly and I take up this pencil with my twin sister, Susie. We have nothing left, less than nothing. The village of our People has been destroyed, all our possessions burned, our friends butchered by the soldiers, our baby daughters gone, frozen to death on an ungodly trek across these rocky mountains. Empty of human feeling, half-dead ourselves, all that remains of us intact are hearts turned to stone. We curse the U.S. government, we curse the Army, we curse the savagery of mankind, white and Indian alike. We curse God in his heaven. Do not underestimate the power of a mother’s vengeance...
So begins the Journal of Margaret Kelly, a woman who participated in the U.S. government's "Brides for Indians" program in 1873, a program whose conceit was that the way to peace between the United States and the Cheyenne Nation was for One Thousand White Woman to be given as brides in exchange for three hundred horses. These "brides" were mostly fallen women; women in prison, prostitutes, the occasional adventurer, or those incarcerated in asylums. No one expected this program to work. And the brides themselves thought of it simply as a chance at freedom. But many of them fell in love with their Cheyenne spouses and had children with them...and became Cheyenne themselves.
The Vengeance of Mothers explores what happens to the bonds between wives and husbands, children and mothers, when society sees them as "unspeakable." What does it mean to be white, to be Cheyenne, and how far will these women go to avenge the ones they love? With vivid detail and keen emotional depth, Jim Fergus brings to light a time and place in American history and fills it with unforgettable characters who live and breathe with a passion we can relate to even today.
About the Author
JIM FERGUS is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines and newspapers. He is the author of several fiction and nonfiction books. His novel One Thousand White Women won Best Book of the West and has sold over a million copies both in the U.S. and France. Jim divides his time between southern Arizona, northern Colorado, and France.
Read an Excerpt
LEDGER BOOK I
In the Camp of Crazy Horse
We curse the U.S. government, we curse the Army, we curse the savagery of mankind, white and Indian alike. We curse God in his heaven. Do not underestimate the power of a mother's vengeance.
(from the journals of Margaret Kelly)
9 March 1876
My name is Meggie Kelly and I take up this pencil with my twin sister, Susie. We got nothing left, less than nothing. The village of our People has been destroyed, all our possessions burned, our friends butchered by the soldiers, our baby daughters gone, frozen to death on a godforsaken march across these rocky mountains. Empty of feeling, half-dead ourselves, all that remains of us intact are hearts turned to stone. We curse the U.S. government, we curse the Army, we curse the savagery of mankind, white and Indian alike. We curse God in his heaven. Do not underestimate the power of a mother's vengeance.
We have reached the winter camp of Crazy Horse on the Powder River. We been here six days now. The Lakota family who took us in has given us a stack of ledger books and a rawhide pouch full of colored drawing pencils. These belonged to one of their tribal artists who was killed in battle. Because me and Susie don't speak Lakota, only Cheyenne and sign talk, they wished us to make drawings of the attack on our village so they could see for themselves how it went. These are a real visual people, and we got no other way to communicate with them. We did the best we could, but me and Susie are not real good drawers.
The thing is we can write a little better, at least I can, though we ain't fancy educated girls, like our old friend May Dodd. Aye, we may have all been from Chicago, but me and Susie grew up on the streets, orphans who lived by our wits ... and our bodies in times of need ... because we was a handsome pair of lassies back then and the fellas was always sniffin' around after us. When we was split up and sent to different foster homes, one of my families gave me a little more teaching than did Susie's, who just made her a servant like in many foster homes, didn't care if she knew how to read or write, long as she could do their housework and laundry. So when she has somethin' to say here, she is just going to tell me and I will write it down best I can, and together we are going to keep up this journal in honor of our friend May. For Brother Anthony tells us that she, too, is dead, along with all the others, except Martha. But just now we have no tears left to shed ... we expect that will come later.
The night before the Army attack, a number of us white women slept in Brother Anthony's tipi. Earlier that evening we had watched our Cheyenne husbands dancing proudly over their trophies of war — a bag of twelve severed baby hands taken in a raid that day against their enemy, the Shoshone. They had ridden with a band of other rash young men out to prove themselves for the first time in battle. None of the experienced warriors such as Little Wolf, Hawk, or Tangle Hair had participated, but it is the tradition of the tribe that all must attend the victory dance. As they pranced, these boys chanted the tale of their triumph, they sang that in taking these babies' hands they had captured the power of the Shoshone nation ... aye, the grand power of a baby's hand ...
After the horror of what we saw the lads had done, we white women fled from the celebration, and we could not bear to go back to our own lodges, could not bear to look upon our husbands ever again. We slept that night in Brother Anthony's lodge, and we tried to make sense of something that made no sense at all. What were those boys thinking? How could they have done such a thing? And maybe, after all, what happened in the morning was God's just punishment ... though still we curse him for putting us and our children on earth and then abandoning us.
Even though we were flyin' white flags of surrender, the soldiers attacked the village at dawn. We woke to bugles blowing, galloping horse hooves pounding frozen earth, the sharp metal-on-metal sound of swords unsheathed, gunfire, and the battle whoops of the invaders. Course, those of us with babies had but one thought — to run, to save our children. Me and Susie gathered our twin girls in their baby boards and strapped them to our breasts. Brother Anthony went immediately through the tent flap and with no fear for his own safety raised his arms to the heavens and begged the soldiers to stop this madness. But the killing had already begun, and the soldiers did not heed Anthony's pleas.
As our own men took up their arms, the women, children, and elders ran from the tipis, confused and terrified ... they were knocked down and trampled by the soldiers' horses, shot by rifle and pistol, slashed by swords, there were screams and cries everywhere, chaos and death ... everywhere chaos and death.
We ran for our lives with the others. We saw some of our own fall to the soldiers and we tried to help 'em best we could. But finally we had to make the terrible choice to leave 'em where they fell, so we might save our own babies. The attack went on for several hours, as the men of the village fought bravely to defend us. But they were no match for the Army. We who managed to reach the hills sought any shelter we could. It was so cold ... so bloody cold ... After the cavalry secured the village, they went about their business of destroying it and finishing off the wounded. Crouched shivering in the rocks, trying to keep our babies warm, we heard the terrible sounds of the killing. Some bravely sang their death songs until they were silenced. We heard the keening of mothers mourning their dead children, before they, too, were slaughtered. We heard screams from some of our women, and we knew what was happening to them ... before they, too, fell quiet.
With the wounded finally dispatched, the soldiers began to stack all our goods in huge piles and light them afire, lighting, as well, the tipis, leaving nothing for us to salvage, nothing for us to return to. The cold flames rose, offering us no warmth, the smoke bearing its sickening odor of burning human flesh ...
It was dusk by the time the cavalrymen remounted and rode off. Brother Anthony joined us in the hills, came to us weeping ... "the horror, the horror," he cried. "I tried to protect God's children, I tried to save them from the soldiers' madness. But there were too many, too many ..."
"Where is May?" I asked. "Is May alive?"
Anthony could only shake his head, so broken up was he by grief.
"Is anyone alive?"
Again he shook his head. "All dead," he managed to say, "all dead except for Martha and her baby. Captain Bourke has taken charge of them ... he was riding with the soldiers, but not as their commander ... he, too, tried to stop the carnage, but their bloodlust was not to be denied ... The captain swore to me ... he swore to me on his life and in the name of God that he would see that Martha and the child were returned safely to Chicago."
Aye, Martha was May's best friend, and besides me and Meggie, she and her baby were the only other survivors of our entire group. It offers us great solace to imagine them back safe in their home ... a place that seems to us so far away.
That night under the cold full moon, Little Wolf led us across the mountains toward the village of Crazy Horse. We ain't got words to tell of the sufferin' we endured on that journey, the children and the wounded who died, includin' our own Daisy Lovelace and her baby that first night, and on the second night me and Susie's twin girls. We were told to leave their bodies in a tree, for there was no timber available to build a burial scaffold in the manner of the Cheyenne, and the ground was frozen so they could not be interred as was our own custom. But we could not bear the thought of the carrion peckin' at their wee bodies, and so we carried them in their baby boards the rest of the way to Crazy Horse's camp ... we feel still, and will forever, the weight of the tiny frozen corpses heavy on our breasts.
And so you see we got nothin' left but our hearts of stone.
The Lakota, too, are being pursued by the Army, and they have little to share with us. Captain Bourke told Brother Anthony that when the Army attacked our village, they thought it was the village of Crazy Horse, he was the one they were really after. All that death, all that pain and destruction and heartbreak ... because the Indian scouts who were guiding the troops made a mistake. But you know what the soldiers say around the fort? We heard it ourselves when we were trading at Fort Laramie before winter came on. They say the only good Injun is a dead Injun. Who cares whether they be Cheyenne or Lakota? I guess the Army decided that white women who consort with savages also deserve to die ... and their half-breed babies as well, even though our government sent us here in the first place.
Crazy Horse himself is a strange man. He hardly speaks, stays to himself, and does not socialize with the rest of the tribe. Even his own people think he's a peculiar fella. Although the Lakota are allies of the Cheyenne, our chief Little Wolf has never cared for their people, has never learned their language, and has avoided contact with them as much as possible. Among other things, he thinks their women are loose. He and Crazy Horse do not get on together, and keep out of each other's way; two great warriors from different tribes behavin' like a pair of fightin' cocks keepin' their distance. Men are hopeless creatures, me an' Susie lay all the violence and troubles of the world at their feet.
Little Wolf is angry with Crazy Horse. He thinks he ain't been generous with us since we got here. It's true that the Lakota don't have much to give, but to the Cheyenne stinginess toward those who need help is the worst insult. Then again, Crazy Horse got his own people to look after. Game is scarce, the buffalo herds shot out and scattered all the hell across the plains. The white settlers want to raise cattle on this land, and so they slaughter the wild beasts to make room for their cows ... in the same way they slaughter the wild Indians to make room for themselves.
Many of the people talk now of surrender. We got nothing. We kill and butcher our horses to eat. Others wish to fight on. Me an' Susie will never surrender to those who murdered our babies. Never. We have taken a holy vow to fight the whites to the end, to kill and scalp as many bluecoats as we can. Brother Anthony came to our tipi today and has tried to talk to us, has tried to bring us back into "the arms of God who loves and keeps us," says he.
"Is that so, Brother?" asks Susie. "An' if he loves and keeps us so well, then why did he kill our wee infants? What did they ever do to deserve that? We curse God for his cruelty, his savagery ... the fooking hypocrite who blames the very people for our behavior he himself created in his own image. What kind of arsehole is he anyway, Brother? Aye, we curse him and we damn him in the name of all mothers." It is true that though we be identical twins, me and Susie still each got our own ways, and if anything she may be the harder girl between us.
"It is not God who is cruel and savage," the monk answers. "Those are the actions of men who have fallen from the path of our Lord, or who, perhaps, have never known it."
"So what good is he then, Brother, if he hasn't even the power to protect babies?"
"It is your grief that steals your faith, my children, your grief that speaks for you now. Not your hearts."
"Our hearts are stone, Anthony," says I, "and as stone they speak."
"And with those hearts of stone," says Susie, "we will bash in the soldiers' brains, and with our knives, sharpened on those same stones, not only will we take their scalps, but also cut off their bollocks."
"Right ya are, sister," says I, "and those bollocks we will string together with rawhide and wear proud around our necks as trophies of war."
"Aye, Brother Anthony," says Susie, "our husbands cut off the hands of Shoshone babies. The fools believed that in so doin' they were capturing the power of the tribe ... imagine that ... But it is men's bollocks that cause all the war, all the death and destruction in the world. That is where we will take our revenge."
"Aye, Brother," says I, "and as the legend of the mad Kelly twins grows across the plains, the soldiers will so fear runnin' into us they will refuse the orders of their officers, they will mutiny and begin to desert, they will leave this country once and for all until all have fled."
"The traders and the sodbusters and the cattlemen and the gold diggers, too," Susie continues, "as they learn of our savage exploits, will be driven from the plains by sheer terror at the sound of our names. And then the People will live in peace and the buffalo and the game will return, and all will be as before."
Anthony can only shake his head sadly. "Yes, my children, all will be as before," says he. "Except that your infants will still be gone, and all your anger, all your hatred, all your schemes of bloody revenge will not bring them back."
"Maybe not, Brother," says I. "Maybe not ... but do not underestimate the wrath of a mother's vengeance. It is only that which keeps us alive, don't ya see? We will stay here and fight to the end, because what else is there to do, where else do we have to go? And if we survive we will bear more babies for the savages, and we will make for them a better world ruled by mothers, not by the bollocks of men."
15 March 1876
These past few days bring a false spring thaw, the snow melting on the surrounding hillsides. The wet rocks shine and steam in the morning sun, the plains that stretch beyond the river bottom even showing a few patches of pale green grass. Brother Anthony has come again to our tipi to tell us that it is fixed now — Little Wolf is fed up with the stinginess of the Lakota, and he's leaving with most of the rest of our band to turn themselves in to the Red Cloud Agency at the Army's Camp Robinson in Nebraska Territory. Aye, that is where the already surrendered Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho are now living, and where all those hostiles who have not yet turned themselves in have been ordered by General Crook to report ... once they do, forbidden to leave again.
Only a handful of the other Cheyenne who have family here among the Lakota will stay, and those like me and Susie who would rather die than give up. We don't blame Little Wolf, he's the bravest man we've ever known, the finest leader and the toughest warrior. But his first responsibility as the Sweet Medicine Chief is to protect the people from harm, to feed and clothe them best he can and it is for this reason that he has decided to surrender.
"You girls must go in with Little Wolf," Anthony says to us again.
"Have we not made it clear to you, Brother," says Susie, "that the Kelly sisters will never surrender?"
"Please, listen to me, my children," says he. "You are white women. It is not a matter of surrender, for you are not at war with the Army or the United States government."
"Not at war with the Army or government, you say, Brother?" asks I. "That would be grand news to us, wouldn't it now, sister? But were it true, then who was it attacked us, who was it responsible for the death of our babies and all our friends?"
"This is now simply a matter of your own survival," says the Brother, "of seeking food, shelter, and safe passage back to your homes."
"But we have no homes to return to," says Susie. "Have you forgotten, Brother, that we are felons? We will be returned to prison if we go back to Chicago."
"No, Captain Bourke will see to it that this does not happen. As he has promised to do for Martha, he will see that you are cared for."
"Aye, just as he saw to it that our peaceful winter village flyin' white flags of surrender was not attacked by the cavalry with which he himself was ridin', ain't that so, Brother Anthony?"
"The captain did not know it was Little Wolf's village. They were misinformed by the scouts. He is filled with remorse and guilt over what happened, and will be for the rest of his life."
"As well he should be," says Susie.
"You girls are incorrigible," Anthony says sadly. "Although I rather expected this answer from you. If you insist on staying, then please at least grant me one request."
"And what would that be, Brother?" says I.
"There is a group of white women here."
"White women?" Susie and me answer together as so often happens among twins. "And where in bejaysus did they come from? What are they doin' here?"
"It appears that they were intended to be another installment of the Brides for Indians program," says Anthony. "The wheels of government bureaucracy turn slowly, and as you well know communications out here are difficult. Evidently these women had already been sent to join the Cheyenne before word that the program was terminated had reached the proper authorities."
Excerpted from "The Vengeance of Mothers"
Copyright © 2017 Jim Fergus.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
From the final entry to The Journals of May Dodd,
From the Codicil to The Journals of May Dodd,
Ledger Book I: In the Camp of Crazy Horse,
Ledger Book II: Captured,
Ledger Book III: The Long Road Home,
Ledger Book IV: Red Painted Woman,
Ledger Book V: The Graveyard,
Ledger Book VI: Adapt or Perish,
Ledger Book VII: The Strong-heart Women's Warrior Society,
Ledger Book VIII: Dancing Under the Moon,
Ledger Book IX: Under the Buffalo Robes,
Ledger Book X: Of Love and War,
Ledger Book XI: The Battle of the Rosebud/Where the Girl Saved Her Brother,
Ledger Book XII: Hell,
Ledger Book XIII: The Return of Martha,
Ledger Book XIII: (continued by Lady Ann Hall),
Also by Jim Fergus,
About the Author,