Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Cheyenne Autumn is an unflinching historical portrait of a people confronting physical extermination and cultural annihilation at the hands of duplicitous government forces. This work is a chronicle of a Cheyenne outbreak starting in Oklahoma and ending in the surrender of Little Wolf and his followers hundreds of miles and six months later in Montana. The northern Cheyennes of the Yellowstone region are promised land, food, and protection in treaties signed by the U.S. government. These agreements, however, are repeatedly and brutally broken by the government.

Hundreds of northern Cheyennes agree, under government coercion, to removal to Oklahoma on condition that they can later return north if they choose. Finding the Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma unacceptable, Little Wolf leads his people back to the Yellowstone region. In returning north, the Little Wolf Cheyennes face massive resistance and retaliation by the U.S. Army. The Cheyennes’ struggle to return home is a study in human contrasts: of loyalty and betrayal, resolve and hesitation, mutual cooperation and unthinkable brutality. Mari Sandoz describes a native culture placed under extreme and unpardonable duress by a dominant white society motivated by greed, fear, and the changing winds of popular opinion.

The central narrative details the difficult challenges encountered by Little Wolf: first, the need to elude U.S. troops while simultaneously securing horses, food, and temporary shelter for his followers during the bitter winter of 1878-1879; and, second, the need to control members of his...

(The entire section is 652 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Lindell, Lisa R. “Recasting Epic Tradition: The Dispossessed as Hero in Sandoz’s Crazy Horse and Cheyenne Autumn.” Great Plains Quarterly 16 (Winter, 1996): 43-53. Lindell examines Sandoz’s depiction of the treatment of the Cheyenne Indians and her portrayal of Crazy Horse.

Rippey, Barbara. “Toward a New Paradigm: Mari Sandoz’s Study of Red and White Myth in Cheyenne Autumn.” In Women and Western American Literature, edited by Helen W. Stauffer and Susan J. Rosowki. Troy, N.Y.: Whitson, 1982. An analysis of Sandoz’s exploration of myth in the novel.

Stauffer, Helen, ed. Letters of Mari Sandoz. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992. A collection of letters dating from 1928 to Sandoz’s death in 1966 that focus on her career as a writer. Furnishes useful insights into Sandoz’s knowledge of Great Plains history. Correspondence with readers, publishers, and other authors provides a compelling overview of Sandoz’s literary career.

Stauffer, Helen. Mari Sandoz. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 1984. A brief but solid introduction to Sandoz’s works.

Stauffer, Helen. Mari Sandoz: Story Catcher of the Plains. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982. A literary biography of Sandoz, detailing her meticulous research and dedication to accuracy and her quarrels with editors and publishers. Stauffer also provides an analysis of Sandoz’s writings.

Villiger, Laura R. Mari Sandoz: A Study in Post-Colonial Discourse. New York: Peter Lang, 1994. Villiger’s study examines Sandoz’s work as a series of contrasts, including regional versus universal dimensions, the indigenous world and the newcomer’s world, and text and context. A useful study for further exploration of Sandoz’s works.