Nebraska's Story Catcher

Overview of Sandoz' Books

Battle of Little Bighorn

First Published - 1966


Mari Sandoz's account of the battle in which General George Armstrong Custer staked his life—and lost—reveals on every page the author's intimate knowledge of her subject. Mari repeatedly walked the battlefield to not only gain a better feel for the space, but also to accurately describe the landscape, views, vistas, and battle strategy.

The character of the Oglala, the personality of Custer, the mixed emotions of Custer's men, the Plains landscape—all emerge with such clarity that the reader is transported in time to that spring of 1876, when the Army of the Plains began its fateful march toward the Yellowstone. The background of the tragedy is here: the history of bad blood and broken treaties between the Oglala and the United States, the underlying reason for Custer's expedition and for the convocation of Indians on the Little Bighorn that particular year. The author's analysis of Custer's motives and political ambitions sheds new light on an old mystery is hotly disputed by the general's admirers.

The Beaver Men

First Published - 1964

Great Plains Series


Covering more than two centuries, The Beaver Men ranges from the beginning of the beaver trade along the St. Lawrence to the last great rendezvous of traders and trappers on Ham's Fork, in what is now Wyoming, in 1834.

  • "This book is not so much an historical study as a careful and intelligently drawn portrait of a world. . .that of the Great Plains during the period 1630-1834. [Mari Sandoz's] point of focus is the hunting of the beaver, but the cumulative effect of the study is much broader than the conventional historical examination. Her essential concern is ecological: the relations of living creatures with each other and with their physical world. It is this perspective, unique among chroniclers of the fur trade that gives the book its very considerable value. . . . Miss Sandoz's treatment of the Indian role is a good deal more complete than most studies; her sources include Indian documentation as well as the more conventional white man's documentation."—Colorado Magazine
The Buffalo Hunters

First Published - 1954

Great Plain Series


In 1867 conservative estimates put the number of buffaloes in the trans-Missouri region at fifteen million. By the end of the 1880s, that figure had dwindled to a few hundred. The destruction of the great herds is the theme of The Buffalo Hunters. Mari Sandoz’s vast canvas is charged with color and excitement—accounts of Indian ambushes, hairbreadth escapes, gambling and gunfights, military expeditions, and famous frontier characters.

  • "The fate of the Plains Region was inextricably bound up with the fate of the buffalo; they fell together. This is the story Miss Sandoz has to tell, and she tells it beautifully, forcefully, epically. . . . A procession of interesting frontier figures, red and white [Wild Bill Hickok, Lonesome Charlie Reynolds, Buffalo Bill, Sheridan, Custer, and Indian chiefs Whistler, Yellow Wolf, Spotted Tail, Sitting Bull, passes through the narrative, briefly but sharply characterized."—New York Times Book Review
Capital City

First Published - 1939


Published in the dark days immediately before World War II, Capital City is Mari Sandoz's angriest and most political novel. Like many important American novels of the 1930s—John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, John Conroy's The Disinherited, Robert Cantwell's Land of PlentyCapital City depicts the troubles and responses of working people trapped in the Great Depression. It is a unique portrayal of the depression in the Great Plains, and a study of the forces that bitterly contended for wealth and power. Sandoz researched the daily life and behind-the-scenes operations of several state capitals in the thirties before drawing them together in this novel, part allegory, part indictment, part warning. Famous for her passionate writing, Sandoz gave Capital City the full measure of ferocity and rage.

Mari Sandoz worked for the Nebraska State Historical Society in the basement of the Nebraska State Capital Building where she was able to slide among the figures involved in Nebraska’s political life. When this book was published, Sandoz was still living in Lincoln and received threats from individuals who felt some of her characters were a little too close to current figures in Nebraska politics.

The Cattlemen

First Published - 1958

Great Plains Series


Mari’s account of the cattle industry in the West still causes heated in discussion in and around Sandoz Country. Mari’s father, Jules, was notorious for not getting along with his ranching neighbors. Jules believed that the West was for the Homesteader, not the Cattleman. In this book, Mari writes about the cattle industry in the High Plains and Sandhills region and the real cowboys who made it possible.

  • "Here, tough as whang leather, nourishing as pemmican, turbulent as Dodge City on a Saturday night in the late 1870s, is what time may well decide is the definitive history of the founding and flourishing of the cattle industry on this continent. . . . This splendid book says more (and says it better) about the most romantic figures of the old West than dozens of other books that have ranged over this familiar ground. Mari Sandoz has given herself room to move with tremendous drive and scholarship."—Victor P. Hass, Chicago Sunday Tribune
Cheyenne Autumn

First Published - 1953

Great Plains Series


In the autumn of 1878 a band of Cheyenne Indians set out from Indian Territory, where they had been sent by the U.S. government, to return to their homeland in Yellowstone country. Mari Sandoz tells the saga of their heartbreaking fifteen-hundred-mile flight.

The Oscar nominated 1964 movie, officially titled “John Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn,” so upset Sandoz that she asked to have her name removed from the writing credits and refused to allow any of her other works made into movies. To Sandoz, the movie flew in the face of everything she wanted to accomplish with the book.

  • "Actually, Mari Sandoz does more than just tell the story. With her customary skill, she manages to recreate a man, a scene, an event, a page from history, so that through her prose this great story of the struggle of a small band of homesick, mistreated, half-starved Indians against the military might of a major nation takes on the stature of an American epic."—Chicago Sunday Tribune
Christmas of the Phonograph Records

First Published – 1966 (posthumously)

A classic in the tradition of Dylan Thomas’s Child’s Christmas in Wales and Truman Capote’s Christmas Memory, Sandoz tells of a long-ago Christmas in western Nebraska when her father’s house was filled with good music. Old Jules had ordered an Edison phonograph and boxes of cylinder records from the East, paying for them with an inheritance and ignoring debts, to the chagrin of his long-suffering wife. But the entire family soon entered into the holiday spirit as neighbors arrived to feast and dance and enjoy musical selections ranging from Lucia di Lammermoor to Casey at the Telephone. Even old enmities dissolved under the spell, for, as Old Jules said, “The music is for everybody.”

Crazy Horse

First Published - 1942

Great Plains Series

Award - 2007 One Book, One Nebraska


Crazy Horse, the legendary Oglala Lakota whose personal power and social nonconformity contributed to his reputation as being “strange,” fought in many famous battles, including the Little Bighorn, and held out tirelessly against the U.S. government’s efforts to confine the Lakotas to reservations. Finally, in the spring of 1877 he surrendered, only to meet a violent death.

More than a century later Crazy Horse continues to hold a special place in the hearts and minds of not only his people, but people around the world. Mari Sandoz’ biography was the first to be published on Crazy Horse and all subsequent biographies mention her groundbreaking work.

  • “Here is a glorious hero tale told with beauty and power . . . the story of a great American.”—John G. Neihardt, New York Times
  • “The urge to shape political policy and attitudes by capturing an aura of her subjects is best exemplified by Sandoz’s passionate intensity in the writing of the book Crazy Horse.” —Mary Dixon, Great Plains Quarterly
  • “This book is an unflinching eye opener to the barbarism perpetrated against the Lakota, and the recompense (or rather lack of it) that ensued.”—Byron Peterson, Nebraska Report
The Horsecatcher

First Published - 1957

Young Elk is expected to be a warrior, but killing even an enemy sickens him. He would rather catch and tame the mustangs that run in herds. Sandoz makes it clear that his determination to be a horsecatcher will require a moral and physical courage equal to that of any warrior. And if he must earn the right to live as he wishes, he must also draw closer to family and community. Without ever leaving the world of a Cheyenne tribe in the 1830s, she creates a youthful protagonist many readers will recognize in themselves.

Hostiles and Friendlies

First Published - 1959


Here in one volume are Mari Sandoz's reminiscences of life in the Sandhills country; a study of the two Sitting Bulls (the Hunkpapa and the Oglala) and other Indian pieces; a novelette, Bone Joe and the Smokin' Woman; and nine short stories, mostly with a rural setting, including The Vine," her first short story to be published as an adult. Introduced by an autogiographical sketch of the author's early years and linked by a commentary derived from her letters, articles, and interviews, the separate pieces coalesce into an illuminating picture both of the Niobrara River country and of Mari Sandoz's emergence as a major American writer.

Love Song to the Plains

First Published - 1961


Love Song to the Plains is a lyric salute to the earth and sky and people who made the history of Nebraska by the region's incomparable historian.

It is a story of men and women of many hues—courageous, violent, indomitable, foolish—their legends, failures, and achievements: of explorers and fur trappers and missionaries; of soldiers and army posts and Indian fighting; of California-bound emigrants who stopped off to become settlers; of cattlemen and bad men, boomers and land speculators, and their feuds and rivalries. Above all, this is a portrait of the true Plainsman, the man or woman who can stand to have the horizon far off and every day, every year, a gamble.

Miss Morissa

First Published - 1955


Miss Morissa is a dramatic, moving novel of a young pioneering woman doctor on the brawling Nebraska frontier of the 1870s. Fleeing the East and a heartbreaking past, Morissa Kirk finds the North Platte River Valley rife with rumors of gold strikes. Fortune hunters, desperadoes, horse thieves, murderers make up the frontier society, while Indians roam the plains refusing to surrender their land to the gold-hungry white men. Near lawless Clarke Bridge she sets up her practice, treating white and Indian alike, receiving horses (if anything) in return for her services. Then, even as fame spreads of her skill, and acceptance slowly grows, Morissa becomes embroiled in the life-and-death struggle between the cattlemen and the homesteaders, a struggle as destructive as it was inevitable. In the telling of Morissa's story, Mari Sandoz has captured the turmoil of the changing frontier.

Old Jules

First Published - 1935

Great Plains Series


Old Jules is unquestionably Mari Sandoz’s most well known work. This portrait of her pioneer father grew out of “the silent hours of listening behind the stove or the wood box, when it was assumed, of course, that I was asleep in bed. So it was that I heard the accounts of the hunts,” Sandoz recalls. "Of the fights with the cattlemen and the sheepmen, of the tragic scarcity of women, when a man had to ‘marry anything that got off the train,’ of the droughts, the storms, the wind and isolation. But the most impressive stories were those told me by Old Jules himself.”

Many in the Sandhills and High Plains today knew Old Jules or know someone who did. Sandoz’ detached depiction of this determined and often violent man is not a typical depiction of a father by a daughter. This account is, however, one of the most accurate and gritty you will find on any bookshelf.

Old Jules Country

First Published - 1965


Old Jules Country is made up selections from the six volumes of her acclaimed Great Plains Series The Beaver MenCrazy HorseCheyenne AutumnThe Buffalo HuntersThe Cattlemen, and Old Jules and from her study of a great people, These Were the Sioux. Also included are two essays, "The Lost Sitting Bull" and "The Homestead in Perspective." A Cheyenne prayer and two sketches unavailable elsewhere—"Snakes" and "Coyotes and Eagles"—.complete the collection

Sandhill Sundays and Other Recollection

First Published - 1970

Written between 1929 and 1965, the autobiographical pieces in Sandhill Sundays and Other Recollections are a colorful introduction to Sandoz Country. The unforgettable people this book introduces you to includes They include the Sandoz patriarch Old Jules; Marlizzie, the archetypal pioneer woman who was Mari's mother; siblings, chums, neighbors, homesteaders, and Indians, all individualized and defined by a harsh and lonely frontier. Dangers in every form—blizzards, fires, rattlesnakes, murderous men—are described, and, just as vividly, so are the pleasures afforded by country cooking, storytelling, pet animals, and the first phonograph for miles around.

Slogum House

First Published - 1937


Ruled by Gulla Slogum, the house was headquarters for a clan that terrorized what it couldn't seduce or steal. Using her daughter as poisoned bait and her sons as predators, Gulla plotted to put a whole county under her control. She had been insulted too often and worked too hard; now she sought power, land, and revenge at the expense of everyone and everything in her life.

Son of a Gamblin' Man

First Published - 1960


The story tells of the gambler and townsite promoter who founded Cozad, Nebraska, and of his family, particularly his younger son, [who] became a world-famous artist and teacher known as 'Robert Henri.' This tale is essentially Robert's story, the story of a sensitive talented boy growing up in the midst of frontier violence. But it is also the story of the ambitious promoter and of frontier people fighting hunger, cold, blizzards, drouths, grasshoppers, prairie fires, and ruthless cattlemen. . . .

  • "The book's characters are all drawn from life and given their actual names; the events can be documented. The factual framework makes this unusual fiction and gives the tale a pattern most novelists would have altered to their purposes. But Miss Sandoz had her own purpose and she has achieved it splendidly by telling the story the way it happened."—Hal Borland, Saturday Review
The Story Catcher

First Published - 1963

Award - Levi Strauss Golden Saddleman Award

Award - Western Writers of America Spur Award


Young Lance is his father's son when it comes to the daring needed for gaining honors in the war councils of the plains Sioux. Even greater is his seeing medicine. With eyes growing sharper, he watches the warring between tribes, the buffalo hunting, the daily routine—and shows it all in pictures drawn in the dust or on skins with charcoal and color sticks. But catching the story of Sioux society in the 1840s is not for an impetuous and unseasoned youth. Many adventures, sorrows, and hardships must pass before the village sings Lance's new name: Story Catcher, recorder of the history of his people. This book is often considered the most autobiographical book Sandoz wrote.

These Were the Sioux

First Published - 1961

“The Sioux Indians came into my life before I had any preconceived notions about them," writes Mari Sandoz about the visitors to her family homestead in the Sandhills of Nebraska when she was a child. These Were the Sioux, written in her last decade, takes the reader far inside a world of rituals surrounding puberty, courtship, and marriage, as well as the hunt and the battle. These Were the Sioux is one of her easiest books to read. The narrative reads more as explanation and her intimate understanding of the Oglala makes the knowledge and insights she shares with readers understandable.

Tom Walker

First Published - 1947

A bold, biting anti-war novel, The Tom-Walker exposes the effects of war on both the soldiers and their families.

The Tom-Walker spans three generations in a Midwestern family beginning with the patriarch, Milt Stone, who lost a leg fighting in Grant's army. Milt is the Tom-Walker, circus slang for man on stilts. After the Civil War, he takes his family west to the Missouri country. There he gains a reputation as a raconteur and as a passionate defender of the little man who works hard, fights the wars, and gets squeezed out by powerful interests. He lives to see his son and grandson fight in World War I and World War II, respectively, and return home from those wars, maimed like him, only to have to resume a fight just to stay alive. How people like the Stones fare is the story within this story.

Winter Thunder

First Published - 1954

Award - Named by the Reader's Digest as one of the ten best American short novels.


In a blinding blizzard a schoolbus overturns and a young teacher, her seven pupils, and the driver—a mere boy—are stranded in the open country, miles and miles from the nearest ranchhouse. The exposed little group is armed with no more than the lunches they started out with and only the clothing required for a normal winter's day. As a killer storm takes hold and the mercury plunges below zero they become desperate. How each character faces the terrifying prospect of freezing to death is a story that has become a small classic. And because it is based upon fact—the author's niece experienced much the same ordeal in the paralyzing Great Plains blizzard of January 1949—it has the ring of undisputed truth.