The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnGreen Hills of Grayest SandrnOld Jules is more than tlie title of a bookrnby Mari Sandoz it is the name of one ofrntlie monsters of American letters: the SimonrnLegree of the pioneer honsehoklrnwho, married four times, drove one wifernto the insane asylum and struck thernfourth in the face with a handful of fourfootrnwire stays, after which she tried tornpoison herself with strychnine. (“I learnrnthe g – – d — balky woman to obey mernwhen I say, ‘hold [the bull calf].'”) A formerrnmedical student and scion of arnproud upper-middle-class family inrnZurich, this immigrant from Switzerlandrnarrived in the Nebraska Panhandle inrn1884 at the age of 25 to settle on a dugoutrnclaim, equipped with little more than arnVettcrli single-shot rifle, the stamp collectionrnhe had begun as a boy, a team ofrniiorses and a wagon, and a spade. JulesrnSandoz had scant use for the “American”rnpioneers coming into the country but affectionrnfor the Sioux Indians, who admiredrnhis marksmanship and took himrnalong on extended hunhng trips in thernSand Hills. He became a surveyor and arnlocator, settling fellow Swiss (includingrnseveral of his brothers) on claims of theirrnown; ran the local post office from hisrnhouse; resisted the wealthy “English” cattlemenrnwho fenced the land and tried torndrive the farmers off their own claims (byrnlead colic, when intimidation didn’trnwork); and planted orchards and vineyardsrnin a series of hordcultural experimentsrnthat earned him a reputation asrnthe Luther Burbank of the Sand Hills.rnAlso, he begat six children for Mary, hisrnlast wife, to rear. The eldest, Marie (shernchanged her name to Mari when she becamernan author), was bom in 1896 withoutrnbenefit of a doctor in the little housernin the canyon of the Niobrara River shernlater called the River Place, where her fatherrnmoved after abandoning the dugoutrnon the west side of the Niobrara.rnMari Sandoz grew up conversing withrnher Sioux friends on Indian Hill, abovernthe River Place. She died in 1966 inrnNew York City, where slie had moved inrnthe 1940’s to be near her publisher andrnindulge her taste for the theater. In between,rnshe wrote 22 books: mostly nonfiction,rnbut including several novels asrnwell. Her aim, she wrote, wasrnto understand as much as possiblernabout man, shaped by and shapingrnhis world…. I restricted myself tornthe trans-Missouri country—and itsrnnearer settlement origins—examiningrnmodern man’s occupancy inrnthe region from the stone axe to thernA-bomb and jet propulsion.rnThrough the discovery of this onernregion, this one drop of water, Irnhope to discover something of thernnature of the ocean.rnSo the books kept coming: The BeaverrnMen, The Buffalo Hunters, The Cattlemen;rnCrazy Horse, Cheyenne Autumn, ThesernWere the Sioux, Winter Thunder . . . Thernfirst. Old Jules, a biography of her father,rnis the best known of her works as well as,rnperhaps, the best. “You know 1 considerrnwriters and artists the maggots of society,”rnJules wrote his daughter when he learnedrnof her literary activities. On his death day,rnhe requested that she write the story “of hisrnstruggles as a locator, a builder of communifies,rnbringer of fmit to the Panhandle.”rnIt’s 234 miles from Laramie, Wyoming,rnto Chadron, Nebraska, with Ijramie Peakrnin tlie Medicine Bow—the same LaramiernPeak that the girl Marie used to strain tornglimpse over the horizon from IndianrnHill —in sight for 174 of them before therndescent from the Pine Ridge escarpmentrnbegins. Chadron, home to Chadron StaternCollege, is a town of 5,000 people, plusrnchange. Driving in on the main street, Irnrecognized F,d Detrixhe in his Carhartrnoveralls coming out of a bookstore aroundrntlie comer and followed his tniek to tlie motelrnroom he had checked us into an hourrnbefore. It had been better than a 500-milerndrive from Clyde, Kansas, to Chadron,rnspread over a two-day frip to allow for investigationrnof tlie local neeropoli along tlie wayrn(cemeteries having a particular interest forrnEd). We drank a couple of beers in thernroom before going to supper at the OldrnMain Street Inn, and sat up late over a bottlernof brandy and a handfril of publicationsrnorienting visitors to Mari Sandoz country.rnBy morning, an early September weatherrndisturbance caused by a cold-air massrnfrom Canada had passed through, andrnthe sunshine struck directly from arnwashed sky as if earth’s atmosphere hadrnbeen lifted away at the horizon. Wernmade an early start from Chadron, headedrneast to Hay Springs, then south acrossrnthe high brown tableland to MiragernFlats, where Old Jules settled his Dutchmenrnmore than a century before.rnEd carried a map he had acquired onrnhis last trip to the Sand Hills, drawn byrnMari’s sister Caroline Pifer (still alive todayrnat age 91), whom he met in 1990.rnThis map was a cartographical disaster,rncompletely out of scale and giving inaccuraternmileages between the indicatedrnpoints of interest. We were looking forrnthe Church of the Sacred Heart, builtrnon a lot donated by Old Jules to thernCatholics (in the interest of communitybuildingrnrather than of piety). Thoughrnthe country looked familiar to Ed afterrnnine years, a lack of topographical dishnctionrninherent in something called thernFlats made identifying landmarks difficult,rnalthough the Sand Hills themselvesrnwere visible now, floating like a tumulousrnfogbank on the eastern horizon across thernNiobrara. Finally, he stopped to ask directionsrnfrom a farmer inspecting therndamage the previous night’s frost hadrndone to his tomato plants and learned wernwere less than a mile from the church onrnthe washboard road.rnSacred Heart was a dusty stone blockrnwith cracked walls, standing within arnshelterbreak of brown trees on five acresrnof sunburnt ground that crackled underfoot.rnWe tried the locked doors, thenrnwalked back to the cemetery behind thernchurch, its stones inscribed with familiarrnnames: Freese, Minten, Peters, Staskiewicz,rnSkudlas —Skudlases and Staskiewiczsrnburied within ten feet of eachrnother, and Victoria Staskiewicz lying offrnby herself a little. Ed Skudlas, havin-^rnbeen in the bushes with the bloom’rnDECEMB^rnrnrn