Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly 16:1 (Winter 1996). Copyright © 1996 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


When Mari Sandoz's The Cattlemen was published in 1958 a reviewer for The Christian Science Monitor commented that Sandoz "does not write like a woman." He admitted that his observation was "not all compliment." Reviewer Horace Reynolds might well have said "Sandoz does not write like a historian." Such re-phrasing, with its implications of both compliment and criticism, is a good place to begin examining Sandoz as historian. Mari Sandoz called herself a historian by training and vocation. She is best remembered for her historical works, particularly her Great Plains series: Old Jules (1935), Crazy Horse (1942), Cheyenne Autumn (1953), The Buffalo Hunters ( 1954), The Cattlemen ( 1958), and The Beaver Men (1964).2 In these works Sandoz used an unconventional methodology that poses difficulties both for professional historians and casual readers. Despite the difficulties, however, her work has enduring value, both in its style and in its themes, which are an intriguing and, I think, intuitive blend of a variety of approaches to the study of the American West. In this article I will briefly discuss Sandoz's historical training and methodology, and then, using her Great Plains histories, I will examine her themes at greater length and show how they relate to recent interpretations of Western American history.