Mari Sandoz, “Story Catcher”
Historian and Writer about American Indians and
White Settlers of the Great Plains
Mari Sandoz grew up as the oldest child of Swiss homesteaders at the frontier in Nebraska at the end of the 19th century. During her childhood she spoke only Swiss German, the language of her mother. When she was finally allowed to go to school at the age of nine, a new world opened up for Sandoz. There she learned to speak, read, and write in English, which enabled her to document her experiences and her everyday life. Due to her fascination with writing, she aspired to become an author in addition to her being a school teacher and librarian. She used her books on the Great Plains as a means to create understanding for the nature and the people of her region. Her most successful works were “Old Jules” (1935), a book on the life of her father, and the two books on the world of the American Indians “Crazy Horse” (1942) and “Cheyenne Autumn” (1953). Sandoz was impressed by the Indian culture and its oneness with nature. In contrast to the customary current depiction of the Indians as
culturally inferior, she emphasized in her texts the equivalence of the Indian and European cultures. She similarly broke with the romantic image of frontier life. In her series on the white people's colonization of the Midwest, she picked as central themes the exploitation of natural resources and the struggles of people against each other. Sandoz' works are unique in their mixture of literary fiction and historical documentation, and they cannot be assigned clearly to one or another literary genre. They are based on extensive research and convince the reader by their faithfulness to detail and the author's empathy for her characters. To this day Sandoz' books are valued as an impressive and reliable exploration of Midwestern history. In 1950 she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature by the University of Nebraska. A bust of Sandoz stands in the State Capital Building in Lincoln, Nebraska, and every year the State of Nebraska honors a person with the Mari Sandoz Award for a significant contribution to the literature of Nebraska.
Song of the Plains: The Story of Mari Sandoz. Documentary.
Videocassette (60 min.). Nebraska Educational Telecommunications.
Videocassette (158 min.). Based on movie of 1964.
Warner Home Video, 1985.
Sandoz, Mari. Crazy Horse, the Strange Man of the Oglalas.
New York 1942.
Stauffer, Helen Winter. Mari Sandoz, Story
Catcher of the Plains. Lincoln 1982.
Westward the Women: An Anthology of
Western Stories by Women.
Garden City 1984.