May 11, 2023 | Last updated May 3, 2023

E. H. Barbour Recalls Mari and “Old Jules” Sandoz

Mari Sandoz (1896-1966), internationally known as a chronicler of the West and as an expert on Native American history, first gained fame as the author of Old Jules (1935), the story of her father and other settlers who came to the upper Niobrara region of Nebraska in the late nineteenth century. Mari was influenced a great deal by her father, Jules Sandoz, a Swiss immigrant, and by his acquaintances who visited the family homestead. She knew trappers, traders, Indians, and Indian fighters, and learned their stories and their backgrounds, which she later wove into her writings.


Upon the death of Jules Sandoz in 1928 his daughter began to work on a biography of him. This book, Old Jules, was completed in 1933, but was rejected by the publisher to whom she sent it. The book was rewritten and then resubmitted on several occasions, and each time was rejected until March 1935, when it won the prize for nonfiction in an Atlantic Monthly contest. The publication brought critical acclaim, and paved the way for future literary successes.

The University of Nebraska’s well-known geologist and paleontologist Erwin H. Barbour (1856-1947) was an acquaintance of both Mari Sandoz and her father, renowned for his crusty and cantankerous personality. In an April 30, 1936, letter to Blanch Ferrens Ball, Barbour wrote: “As you undoubtedly know, Miss Sandoz has been remarkably successful in writing an unusual book. . . . Dr. [Addison E.] Sheldon [of the Nebraska State Historical Society] asked Miss Mari why she put in her father’s mouth bad expressions that were repeated more than once. He said once ought to be enough, and she instantly replied that it would not be enough for my father.

A man thought to be Jules Sandoz in his Sandhills orchard. NSHS RG1273.PH4-2 (left).

“Everyone as far as I can tell counts this the truest piece of unbiased history of conditions as they were in her girlhood that has been attempted by anyone in the state. She didn’t sugar-coat any of the pills, she presented all of them just as they were.”

Barbour recalled that Jules Sandoz, despite his eccentricities, “was the best trained man in the community and [it] has always been very interesting to all of us that he should have persisted in growing fruits and the like where it was counted physically impossible to do so.” A photo of Jules Sandoz’s vineyards near Ellsworth appears in the NSHS online exhibit Made in Nebraska.

– Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor/Publications

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

Marker Monday: Phelps County

Marker Monday: Phelps County

Why John G. Neihardt was named Nebraska Poet Laureate in 1921

Why John G. Neihardt was named Nebraska Poet Laureate in 1921

Emigrants along the Trails at Chimney Rock

Emigrants along the Trails at Chimney Rock

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.