John Gneisenau Neihardt (1881-1973) Bancroft, Nebraska
John Gneisenau Neihardt was born near Sharpsburg, Illinois, on January 8, 1881; the third child of Nicholas Nathan Neihardt and Alice Culler Neihardt. In 1886 the family moved to a sod house in northwestern Kansas; from there they moved to Kansas City in 1888. In 1891 he moved with his mother and sisters, Lulu and Grace, to Wayne, Nebraska, where he attended grade school and Nebraska Normal College, graduating with a B.S. degree at the age of 16. His first book, "The Divine Enchantment," based on Vedanta philosophy, was finished at the age of 16 and was published before he was 20.
After teaching in two country schools, Neihardt moved to Bancroft, Nebraska, in 1900. Here he worked with an Indian trader among the Omaha Indians and became an authority on their traditions and customs. During the period from September, 1903 to January, 1905 he was co-owner and editor of the weekly "Bancroft Blade." From 1905 to 1912 he devoted his time to writing fiction and lyric verses and gained immediate national acclaim.
In 1912, at the age of 31, he began writing his major work, "A Cycle of the West." He worked on the "Cycle" over a 29-year period, which involved 18 years of actual writing time, completing it in 1941. In 1921 he was made Poet Laureate of Nebraska by legislative action. He was literary editor of the "St. Louis Post-Dispatch" from 1926 to 1938, and poet-in-residence and lecturer in English at the University of Missouri, Columbia, from 1949 to 1966.
He was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, New York, and of the International Institute of Arts and Letters, Lindau, Germany; a member and founder of the Westerners; vice-president for the Middle West of the Poetry Society of America; and a former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Among his other honors were the Poetry Society national prize, 1919; gold medal, foremost poet of the nation, Poetry Center, New York, 1963; first civilian member, Order of Indian Wars of the United States, 1925; bronze bust placed in the State Capitol building, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1961; first Sunday in each August named Neihardt Day in Nebraska by the governor's proclamation, 1968; Prairie Poet Laureate of America, citation and title by Poets Laureate International, 1968; named "Poet Laureate in Perpetuity," 1982.
A unique honor accorded Neihardt was the selection of his "A Cycle of the West" by men and women of letters as one of the three thousand best books in the three thousand years from Homer to Hemingway. Neihardt was the author of some twenty-five other volumes of poetry, fiction, and philosophy.
Neihardt received honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Nebraska, 1917; Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska, 1928; University of Missouri, 1947; and Midland Lutheran College, Fremont, Nebraska, 1972.
In his late 80's Neihardt came home to Nebraska and lived in Lincoln with the Julius Youngs while continuing his writing and personal appearances. He was working on the second volume of his autobiography at the time of his death at the age of 92.
Dr. Neihardt died Saturday, November 3, 1973, at the home of his daughter, Hilda Neihardt Petri, in Columbia, Missouri.