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H E L E N S T A U F F E R Kearney State College NarrativeVoice in Sandoz’sCrazyHorse Becausc Mari Sandoz’s best work falls into a rather unusual category, recognition of her contributions to western literature has sometimes been slow. It was years after her works were published that Truman Capote coined the useful term “non-fiction novel,” and his In Cold Blood stimu­ lated a form that has become increasingly popular: a combination ofserious research and judicious use of literary skills to create a dramatic interpreta­ tion of the world as it was for one moment in history. Sandoz’s early pioneering in this genre, which “straddles the conventional boundary be­ tween fiction and reportage”1is particularly successful in her Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse, Mari Sandoz’s favorite book, came closer, she thought, to achieving her original intent than any other she wrote. But though it is still in print and has respectable sales, it has never achieved the public approbation of her first biography, Old Jules. One reason was undoubtedly the fact that it was first published in 1942, while we were engaged in World War II and not much interested in learning of genocide in America. Another was the fact that the protagonist was an Indian, and Indians have seldom until recently held attraction as literary heroes. The fact that Sandoz told the story from the Indian point of view, using the language and voice of the Indian, was unusual for that time. Still another difficulty was the belief stated by more than one reviewer that this book was really a novel in disguise, that much of it could not be proved to have happened as Sandoz said it did. Her rendition veers considerably from published white-man accounts and she based some events primarily on oral histories. JDavid Lodge, The Novelist at the Crossroads and Other Essays on Fiction and Criticism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1971), pp. 9-10. 224 Western American Literature Furthermore, she used the narrative technique for dramatizing and coordi­ nating events, so the book reads more like a novel than a history. It is an irony that Sandoz tells Crazy Horse’s story so well that the reader may credit the author for invention of fictitious episodes rather than for adaptation of historical facts to the narrative mode. In fact, Sandoz had many and ample sources to work with: her artistic task lay not in the area of invention but rather in selection and interpretation of material to include, and in the arrangement of that material. Sandoz was fortunate in the availability of sources for her Indian writings, of which Crazy Horse was the first of importance. Born in Sheridan County, in northwest Nebraska, in 1896, the daughter of Old Jules Sandoz, a frontiersman and hunter, and a friend of the Indians, she heard as a child tales spun by the old timers, both white and Indian, as they told of their experiences on the frontier. Later, when she attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in the 1920s, she became friends with two students there, Eleanor Hinman and Helen Blish, who were interested in the Sioux. Helen Blish’s master’s thesis was the explication of a pictographic history of the Oglala Sioux drawn by a Pine Ridge Reservation Indian.2 Hinman was interested particularly in Crazy Horse, the Oglala Sioux war chief who fought generals Crook and Custer. In the summer of 1930, with Helen Blish’s assistance, Hinman and Sandoz spent three weeks on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations, interviewing several elderly veterans of the Sioux wars, men who had known Crazy Horse all his life. They learned a great deal not previously known by white historians. Hinman’s material was written up each evening from notes taken during the day’s interviews, as nearly as possible exactly as translated by the interpreter.3 The two women were particularly impressed with He Dog, Crazy Horse’s close friend and companion all through his adult life. He had a reputation for integrity and had a precise recollection of detail. His accounts of skirmishes were in agreement with published reports, although he was illiterate and had...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 223-237
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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