Mari Sandoz was a writer whose life was almost unbelievably difficult in her early years. Her father was cruel and made her work much too hard on the family farm in Hay Springs, Nebraska. By the time she was 17, she had only graduated from 8th grade. Despite this, she took the teacher’s exam and passed and began to teach high school. She couldn’t wait to escape her unhappy home, though, and left home at an early age by marrying at 18. The marriage ended in divorce.
After so many hard times, Mari was off again, moving to Lincoln and working different jobs. She did a lot of writing and constantly tried to get her short stories published. She couldn’t get anyone to publish any of it but she was able to get into college at the University of Nebraska. She wasn’t qualified to attend but a kind university official made a way for her to do it.
When she was 32 years old, she found out that her father was dying. She went to visit him and he asked her to write his life story. Even though her relationship with her dad was really lousy, she actually decided to do it. After many rejections, Old Jules was was finally published. It went on to be a very successful book.
Sandoz is also well known for writing a book about Crazy Horse, the Native American leader of the Lakota tribe. The book, Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas, was written in a way that was respectful of Crazy Horse, his language, and his culture, unlike most books of the time period.
Sandoz went on to write many other books about life on the Plains area of the United States. At the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center on the campus of the Chadron State College, see the large, permanent exhibit devoted to Mari Sandoz and her literary legacy. Interestingly, there is also a small exhibit on the studies of wildflowers of her botanist sister, whose first name was – most appropriately – Flora.
The Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center is the seventh and final stop on our Nebraska Trail!
Rebecca Blake Beech