Mari Sandoz Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Mari Susette Sandoz, a historian and novelist of the American West, was the daughter of Jules Ami Sandoz and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Fehr. Her father, a Swiss immigrant who came to America in 1881 and homesteaded in western Nebraska in 1884, was a community builder and a champion of small farmers in their struggle against ranchers. He was also a domestic tyrant, his stature diminished by a lifetime of legal quarrels and by savage acts of violence against his wife and children. As a child, Sandoz was required to perform tasks that would have been dangerous for an adult. Once she was sent to bring in the cattle during a blizzard and suffered an attack of snow blindness that permanently blinded one eye; on another occasion her father, in a rage, broke a bone in her hand, leaving the hand partially crippled for the rest of her life.

Sandoz received less than five years of sporadic education in country schools, but her determination to become a writer originated in childhood, and the environment of the Nebraska frontier, violent and dangerous as it was, provided a wealth of material that she was able to draw on throughout her life. Her father was a friend to the Sioux Indians who visited his ranch, some of them warriors who had only recently been at war with the United States Army, and Sandoz’s early determination to do literary justice to them originated in these encounters.

Despite her limited education, Sandoz passed the rural teachers’ examination in 1913 and conducted her first school in her father’s barn. A year later she married a young local rancher, Wray Macumber, but she was divorced from him in 1919. That year she went to Lincoln, Nebraska, to attend a business college, and during the next sixteen years she struggled to earn a living at a variety of jobs while getting an education and beginning to write. She attended the University of Nebraska when she could afford it but never took a degree; meanwhile she began to write short stories based on her memories of western Nebraska. Before her father died in 1928, he asked her to write his biography, and though she had often thought of doing so his hold upon her was so great that she hesitated to begin.

Old Jules, her first...

(The entire section is 910 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bristow, David L. “The Enduring Mari Sandoz.” Nebraska Life, January/February, 2001. A personal portrait of Sandoz, from her difficult youth to her struggles as a writer.

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 W. “Mari Sandoz.” In Twentieth-Century American Western Writers, Second Series, edited by Richard H. Cracroft. Vol. 212 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. A comprehensive treatment of Sandoz’s life and works.

Rippey, Barbara W. “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.: Whitston, 1982. An analysis of Sandoz’s exploration of myth in this novel.

Stauffer, Helen W. 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: P. Lang, 1994. A full-length study that 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. Includes bibliographies of writings by and about Sandoz.