Mari Sandoz was born on Mirage Flats, south of Hay Springs, Nebraska in 1896 as the first of six children. As the eldest child, Mari was given much of the responsibility of caring for her two sisters and three brothers. Young Mari bore the brunt of her father’s explosive temper, but she also shared in many of his exploits as a claim locator, trader and pioneering horticulturist.
As a child, Sandoz was a great storyteller with an intense desire to write, scribbling stories when she was not cooking, working in the garden or looking after brothers and sisters.
Upon reaching her sixteenth birthday, she had to quit school and help support the family. This she did by teaching in rural schools in Western Nebraska. During this time she was married for a short time, after which she entered the University of Nebraska in 1922. In the following years she worked as a reader in the English Department, proofreader and researcher at the Nebraska State Historical Society and associate editor for School Executive Magazine. The campus magazine Prairie Schooner was regularly the recipient of her further literary efforts. It was not until the death of her father, who strongly opposed her writing career that she began to publish under the name of Mari Sandoz. She first gained fame as the author of Old Jules (1935), the story of her father and other settlers who came to Nebraska in the late nineteenth century.
From these modest beginnings, including writing short stories for entry into contests conducted by what is now the Omaha World-Herald, Sandoz became one of the most valued authorities of her time on the history of the Plains and the culture of the Native Americans, most notably the Sioux. Her passionate writing told the stories of the Plains Indians and how their lives were changed forever by the arrival of Euro-Americans.
Her second novel, Slogum House, was finished and published in 1937, and more than any other of her works, aroused great controversy due to its unusual presentation of pioneer life. Much of her writing, including her biography of Crazy Horse (1942) and the epic Cheyenne Autumn (1953), reflects her close relationship with the Great Plains Indians and the confidence they had in her understanding and recounting their history. These books reveal her wealth of knowledge of and sympathy with the troubled evolution of the Indian civilization.
The Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center celebrates the life and literature of Mari Sandoz and the culture of the High Plains through the acquisition, preservation, display and interpretation of archival materials, records, documents, books, specimens and artifacts of this region.