The Hundredth Meridian

Green Hills of Grayest Sand

Old Jules is more than the title of a book by Mari Sandoz it is the name of one of the monsters of American letters: the Simon Legree of the pioneer household who, married four times, drove one wife to the insane asylum and struck the fourth in the face with a handful of four foot wire stays, after which she tried to poison herself with strychnine. ("I learn the g - - d - - - balky woman to obey me when I say, 'hold [the bull calf].'") A former medical student and scion of a proud upper-middle-class family in Zurich, this immigrant from Switzerland arrived in the Nebraska Panhandle in 1884 at the age of 25 to settle on a dugout claim, equipped with little more than a Vetterli single-shot rifle, the stamp collection he had begun as a boy, a team of horses and a wagon, and a spade. Jules Sandoz had scant use for the "American" pioneers coming into the country but affection for the Sioux Indians, who admired his marksmanship and took him along on extended hunting trips in the Sand Hills. He became a surveyor and a locator, settling fellow Swiss (including several of his brothers) on claims of their own; ran the local post office from his house; resisted the wealthy "English" cattlemen who fenced the land and tried to drive the farmers off their own claims (by lead colic, when intimidation didn't work); and planted orchards and vineyards in a series of horticultural experiments that earned him a...

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