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The Vengeance of Mothers: The Journals of Margaret Kelly & Molly McGill

Review

The Vengeance of Mothers: The Journals of Margaret Kelly & Molly McGill

The premise of Jim Fergus’ THE VENGEANCE OF MOTHERS, the long-awaited sequel to ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN, is based on the “Brides for Indians” program that launched in 1873 by the United States government. One thousand white women were traded to the Cheyenne Nation in exchange for horses, and they were meant to marry Native American husbands and slowly infiltrate the culture and make their submission to the military jurisdiction easier. They were to “help keep the peace on the Great Plains, to teach the savages the civilized ways of the white man.” It was an idea that never became a reality, but Fergus imagines what might have happened had it been implemented.

The novel begins in 2015 in the Chicago offices of Chittown Magazine as the editor, JW Dodd III, receives a mystical visitor who has a saddlebag of documents, including six antique ledger books with faded cloth covers. The visitor is Molly Standing Bear, who knew JW from years earlier when she was on a reservation, and JW remembers her as well. She trusts that he will know what to do with the documents.

"Readers are left to decide if they see Molly’s thundering rescue by Pretty Nose and Phemie sweeping her away from the high cliffs, or if Molly at last floats free high above the Power River and joins her husband, Hawk. This final moment captures some of the mysticism and strength of this affecting novel."

As JW begins reading, he learns that many of the women wanted better lives and were willing to take this huge chance; they were prostitutes, felons, beaten and abused wives, even a murderer whose situations were desperate. In the spring of 1876, a small group of them begin to understand that the great swap was not working and that the government had abandoned them. Only months earlier, Susie and Meggie, the red-haired Irish twins, were married to Cheyenne twins, and they each had a set of twins. When a raiding party destroyed the village of their people in the Mackenzie massacre, the mothers escaped with their babies. All four tiny children froze in their mothers’ arms during the second night.

The powerful force behind these female criminals, lunatics and whores is their plan to avenge their murdered and lost children. Every action by the women, beyond the primary thought of their own survival, is haunted by the memories of daughters and sons who died. Even though it will not be satisfying, the vengeance of mothers is violent and complete.

One of the Irish twins, Meggie, writes of the women’s travels through a complicated network of canyons, draws and coulees, showing the vastness of the American west in 1876. She says that “we felt again our sheer smallness and helplessness…no stronger, no more important or permanent than the grains of grit that stung our faces in the wind.” The rationale of scribbling away in the journals almost every day, said Susie, was to write to their babies, telling them a story they didn’t get to live. Their lives were always in danger, and they were ever cautious of other travelers. Susie was asked whom to avoid, and she replies, “All of ‘em.” There were displaced members of the warring Indian tribes, United States soldiers and their evil guides, gold prospectors sweeping the Black Hills, petty criminals, riffraff. Everyone. No matter how fearful and complicated life was, though, there were always entries in the precious journals, detailing the dangerous journey as well as the love and laughter that found them.

Lady Ann Hall, who witnesses the magnificent last flight of Molly McGill, writes the closing short entry in the Ledger. Readers are left to decide if they see Molly’s thundering rescue by Pretty Nose and Phemie sweeping her away from the high cliffs, or if Molly at last floats free high above the Power River and joins her husband, Hawk. This final moment captures some of the mysticism and strength of this affecting novel.

Reviewed by Jane Krebs on September 21, 2017

The Vengeance of Mothers: The Journals of Margaret Kelly & Molly McGill
by Jim Fergus

  • Publication Date: September 12, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 1250093422
  • ISBN-13: 9781250093424