Mari Sandoz

 Mary (Marie, "Mari Sandoz" was her pen name) Susette Sandoz, daughter of Jules Ami and Mary Elizabeth (Fehr) Sandoz, was born at Sandoz Post Office on Mirage Flats, Running Water Precinct, Sheridan County, Nebraska, on May 11, 1896. The family moved from the “River Place” in 1910 to another homestead 33 miles south of Gordon in the Nebraska Sandhills. This second homestead is commonly known as the Sandhills or Orchard Place.
    The majority of young Marie’s childhood was spent in hard labor on the farm or helping her mother raise the five younger children. Marie developed snow blindness in one eye after a day spent digging the family’s cattle out of a snowdrift with her brother. Marie was greatly influenced by her father's personality, his acquaintances who visited the homestead, and the country in which they lived. She knew trappers, traders, Indians and Indian fighters, and learned their stories and their background. Her ability to remember or “catch” these stories would later lead to her moniker – Story catcher of the Plains.
    Mari received word in March 1935 that her most recent version of Old Jules won a non-fiction contest held by Atlantic Press. The book was well-received critically and commercially when it was issued, and became a Book of the Month Club selection. Some readers were shocked at her unromantic depiction of Old Jules, as well as her strong language and realistic portrayal of the hardships of frontier life. Others, closer to the Sandoz family, were shocked at the secrets that Mari shared about her family and the Sandoz family neighbors.
    Her proudest honor came in 1955. She returned to the Sandhills to spend Christmas with her family. The sign as she approached Gordon, Nebraska, which had read “Home of Old Jules Sandoz” since 1935 had been changed to “Home of Mari Sandoz.”
    By 1964 she knew that she had cancer. That year Mari received the Saddleman Award, now called the Owen Wister Award, and the Western Writers of America “Spur Award for Best Juvenile Book for The Storycatcher.
    Mari Sandoz, in spite of failing health, spent her later years actively writing, lecturing, and visiting the land and people she wrote about. She died of bone cancer in New York on March 1966, and was returned for burial on the family farm south of Gordon, Nebraska.

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