Nebraska Authors

Mari Sandoz

Born 1896-05-11 Sheridan Co., NE (USA)

Died 1966-03-10
New York City, NY (USA)

Buried
40 mi.S.of Gordon, NE

Mari Sandoz was the daughter of Swiss German immigrants, and of a far-sighted and magnetic, but irascible and violent father who pioneered settlement along the Niobrara in Western Nebraska. She grew up listening to him swap stories with other early settlers, with aging relics of the fur trade and other adventurers, and with the Native Americans he welcomed to camp on his land. She played with the native children as a child and grew into a kind of kinship relation with them and their elders that persisted in later years and gained her both valuable informants and an ability to see the story of the American West through Native American eyes. She grew into a life of backbreaking labor on the land and deep appreciation of the natural world.

As a young girl she desperately desired a real education and to be a writer, publishing her first story in the Omaha Bee newspaper at the age of 10. Efforts to force her into a traditional role ended when her marriage of a few months to Wray Macumber, a neighboring rancher, ended in 1919, and she left for Lincoln.

She would remain in Lincoln, with some breaks, from 1919 to 1940, when she left Lincoln for Denver, and eventually, New York City. Her writer's apprenticeship, and first years as a working writer in Lincoln were every bit as arduous as her coming of age on the Niobrara. She did not have the education to register for a degree at the University of Nebraska, though a sympathetic dean let her take courses anyway. She enrolled at the Lincoln School of Commerce, but took courses in writing and literature at the University. She grew close to Lowry Wimberly, founding editor of Prairie Schooner, and his circle. It was Wimberly's support and friendship, she later told her friend, Rudolf Umland, Editor and later State Director of the WPA's Nebraska Federal Writers Project, that made it possible for her to continue in the face of many difficulties and disappointments. The 1920s and 1930s were hard years in Lincoln. Jobs of any sort were hard to come by. Rail thin, she lived to write. Sandoz's friends feared for her health, and on one occasion, in the early 30's, she had to return to her parent's ranch in the Sandhills because she was actually starving.

When Sandoz won the Atlantic Monthly's $5,000.00 1935 prize for non-fiction for her manuscript biography of her father, that was also a victory for her supporters among the wider community of writers created by Wimberly. Even with the prize in hand, and again supported by Wimberly, to publish Old Jules, she had to fight off eastern editors who disliked her frank and unadorned use of local language and her refusal to dress up the stark truths of life in western Nebraska.

Sandoz would leave Lincoln in 1940 after she published two novels, Slogum House, about the consequences of heartless greed in rural life, and Capitol City, about politics in Lincoln and the possibilities of a native fascist movement in America. She had begun to receive death threats from locals.

The Heritage Room's collection reflects Sandoz's stay in Lincoln. Every time she published a book she sent it along with a signed dedication to Lincoln City Libraries, and little drawing of a bend on the Niobrara. She did this because in the 20s and 30s the library gave her a place to work and do research. Also, as she was close to Rudolf Umland, our Umland collections contain many references to her.

Also in HR Archive: Galley Proofs for Mari Sandoz, Capitol City, Sandoz depicted on bronze plaque; Mari Sandoz Memorial, on reel to reel audio tape, all in Heritage Office locked cabinet. Mari Sandoz recording, Library Week, 1975, Heritage Office shelf.

Helen Winter Stauffer, Mari Sandoz: Story Catcher of the Plains (1982), is the major scholarly biography.

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Places Lived

Gordon, NE
Lincoln, NE
Denver, CO
New York City, NY

Author Of

  • Fiction
  • Nonfiction
  • Biography

Keywords

History; History of Nebraska; American West, Great Plains, Pioneer Life, Plains Indians; Nebraska Federal Writers Project

Education

Studied at the University of Nebraska, focusing on literature and the technique of writing

Occupation

Writer

Places Worked

Nebraska Historical Society

Honors

Nebraska 150 Books honor for The Christmas of the Phonograph Records, Cheyenne Autumn, Old Jules, and Winter Thunder, 2017
“150 Notable Nebraskans”, Number 35 on the Journal Star Sesquicentennial List of Significant Nebraskans
Atlantic $5000 Nonfiction Prize Award in 1935 for OLD JULES.
Colorado sculptor George Lundeen to fashion a life-sized bronze statue of Sandoz for display at Chadron State College (2000).

Associations

Her sister is Carolyn Sandoz Pifer.
Eleanor Hinman
The Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center is devoted to Sandoz and her work.
Sandoz was an unofficial, behind the scenes mentor to the Nebraska Federal Writers Project.
Ron Hull

Bibliography

Old Jules. 1935.
Slogum House. 1937.
Capital City. 1939.
Crazy Horse. 1942.
The Tom Walker. 1947.
Cheyenne Autumn. 1953.
The Buffalo Hunters. 1954.
Winter Thunder. 1954.
Miss Morissa. 1955.
The Horse Catcher. 1957.
The Cattlemen. 1958.
Hostiles and Friendlies. 1959.
Son of the Gamblin' Man: the youth of an artist. 1960.
Love Song to the Plains. 1961.
These Were the Sioux. 1961.
The Story Catcher. 1963.
The Beaver Men. 1964.
Old Jules Country. 1965.
The Battle of the Little Big Horn. 1966.
The Christmas of the Phonograph Records. 1966.

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