Extracts from The Afterword to Old Jules from the 1985 and later editions, written by Helen Winter Stauffer

This piece is reproduced here by kind permission of the Publishers, University of Nebraska Press, and with the gracious approval of the author, Helen Winter Stauffer.

"I must begin with a judgement that sounds trite but is true: Old Jules is an American classic. The fifty years since its publication (76 in 2011 - PC) in 1935 have been long enough to test its worth and establish it firmly in the American canon. Sandoz, with prescience, knew its potential. During the long and discouraging years of trying to find a publisher, she told an editor that she was writing a book to appeal to readers of the future and that Old Jules would remain in print long after she was dead, provided it was published by then.

Old Jules has sustained its power to interest readers because of the author's ability to depict an important historical period and also because of her recreation of the repellent yet fascinating character of her father, Jules Sandoz: pioneer, settler, entrepreneur, agricultural and horticultural experimenter, area enthusiast and developer (bringing in many new settlers), friend of Indians, enemy of entrenched cattlemen and often a human devil to his family.

That latter aspect of Jules shocks many readers, yet the huge volume of mail Mari received after

Old Jules came out revealed that the cruelty or indifference he showed his family and others was not remarkable or even unusual in that time and place. Furthermore, Jules's personal and physical indiosyncracies were often merely exaggerations of those exhibited by other individuals in that frontier region. His crippled foot that never healed, constantly suppurating and fetid, and his remarkable marksmanship were perhaps the really notable features that set him apart from other local 'characters'.

Jules was unique, however, in his vision of the land. He encouraged settlers to come from the east or from Europe, feeling they would have a chance for economic and political freedom they could otherwise never obtain. He never lost his faith in the land. In contrast to many promoters, he made no attempt to become wealthy on big land schemes or to wield great political power. Content to confine his politics to a fight for a small local post office, he did not aim for high office. This lack of personal ambition in such an egotistical man was, as his daughter illustrates, a paradox of his genius."

Click this link to download a pdf copy of this pamphlet, courtesy of Boise State University.

Click the picture to download a pdf copy of this pamphlet (also by Helen Winter Stauffer), courtesy of Boise State University. We thank Alan Virta, Head of Special Collections, for permission to include this in the site.

To see more of BSU's Western Writers Series, click the link below:

Click this link to visit the Boise University Western Writers Series web page

"As a child, Mari as well as the entire family, was dominated by the towering figure of her father. A lonely and often unhappy child, growing up in a family she felt alienated from much of the time, and on a rather primitive frontier, she was an unlikely candidate to be a writer. Furthermore, her father forbade any artistic creativity for any of his children. At the same time, the curious, intelligent little girl was hearing wonderful stries of the recent past from Jules' visitors and from Jules himself, who told the best stories of all.

As a young adult, Mari moved away from the Sandhills to Lincoln, Nebraska to atend the state university (although she had attended school only through the eighth grade), to gain independence, and to learn to write the stories she felt must be told about her region. From the moment she came to Lincoln she felt impelled to talk and write about the Sandhills, and enthralled her Lincoln acquaintances with her tales of a region only a few hundred miles away,

yet virtually unknown to many Eastern Nebraskans. Writing well enough to attract national publication, however, turned out to be extremely difficult, and she suffered many years of poverty and discouragement before her first major book, Old Jules, found a publisher.

Sandoz wrote many books after Old Jules; amongst them are some of the finest records of Western life we have. Varying in subject matter and in quality, they include tall tales, gossip, history, biography, morality tales, and novels. One aspect they have in common: they are all set in the trans-Missouri region, the area that revealed to Sandoz important information about the local residents and, more important, about all humankind. She believed that universal truths could be learned from careful study of one's own neighborhood, and she diligently studied and wrote about her own neighborhood, the Great Plains, to our great good fortune."

HWS 1985

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