May 11,1896 - Western writer Mari Sandoz is born
- 1896 Western writer Mari Sandoz is born
Mari Sandoz, the author of several histories that demonstrated
sympathy for Indians that was unusual for the time, is born in
Sheridan County, Nebraska.
Sandoz had a difficult childhood on a Nebraska homestead. Her
father, Jules, was a bitter, tyrannical man, who took out the
frustrations of homesteading on his wife and children. Unusually
bright and studious, Sandoz eventually escaped to the University of
Nebraska, which she attended irregularly from 1922 to 1930. She
never earned her degree--though the school awarded her an honorary
Doctor of Letters in 1950--but found that she enjoyed the life of
the scholar. After working as a schoolteacher for a time, she
gradually devoted herself to historical research and freelance
Sandoz authored a number of novels, but today she is remembered for
her meticulously researched non-fiction histories. Her 1935
biography of her father, Old Jules, is a bittersweet and moving
history of homesteading on the Great Plains. Even more valuable,
though, were Sandoz's histories of the Plains Indians.
In 1949, she published Crazy Horse, a biography of the great Sioux
warrior who participated in the 1876 defeat of George Custer at the
Battle of the Little Big Horn. For decades after Little Big Horn,
Crazy Horse was usually portrayed as a bloodthirsty savage who
helped murder a great American hero. Sandoz's biography revealed a
noble and admirable man dedicated to his people and to resisting
white theft of their traditional lands.
Sandoz's 1953 book, Cheyenne Autumn, was equally unusual for its
many appealing and sympathetic portraits of Indians. Painstakingly
researched, the book remains valuable to this day for its thorough
treatment of Indian history and folkways. Cheyenne Autumn is a
moving condemnation of the brutal war waged by the U.S. to deprive
the Cheyenne of their lands and traditional ways. The book was also
the inspiration behind John Ford's 1964 movie of the same name.
Cheyenne Autumn was one of the first Westerns to abandon the old
racist stereotypes of the Indian as a vicious savage and emphasize
the tragedy of the Indian experience.
Strong willed, ambitious, and dedicated to providing an accurate
history, Sandoz's work marked the beginning of a movement that
greatly revised how Americans viewed the history of western
settlement. The Indians were not the villains in this great
historical drama, Sandoz suggested, but the victims. Mari Sandoz
died in 1966, just as many Americans were starting to embrace her
more compassionate view of the Native American.