John Gneisenau Neihardt was born John Greenleaf Neihardt on January 8, 1881, in a two-room rented farmhouse near Sharpsburg, Illinois. Later, his family moved into a one-room sod house in Kansas. Neihardt grew up on the edge of the frontier, gathering buffalo chips for fuel, as the great herds had vanished only a few years earlier.
Two experiences deeply impressed the young Neihardt: the sight of the Missouri River in flood, and a fever-induced, mystical dream in which he vividly experienced flight. These two powerful experiences turned him toward poetry. He continued to gather raw materials from his closeness to nature’s beauty and power and through his lifelong contact with Plains Indians, fur trappers, migrant workers, and cowboys.
Neihardt went directly from elementary school to Nebraska Normal School. Then after harvesting beets, pulling weeds, and teaching in a Nebraska country school, he set out on a hobo journey to Kansas City, Missouri, all the while revising his first book of poems, The Divine Enchantment.
Next Neihardt worked as an editor for the Omaha Daily News and began to establish a fellowship with the Omaha Indians, whose tribal chant rhythms are directly reflected in The Wind God’s Wooing. His collected lyric poems in A Bundle of Myrrh became an immediate success and brought him an offer to finance a solo adventure down the Missouri River in a homemade boat, documented in...
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