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Neihardt, John G(neisenau) (1881-1973)

Neihardt, John G(neisenau) (1881-1973)

Eminent American poet and author who also founded an organization for parapsychological research known as SORRAT (the Society for Research on Rapport and Telekinesis). Neihardt was born on January 8, 1881, near Sharpsburg, Illinois, the son of a farmer. He was educated at Nebraska Normal College (now Nebraska State Teachers College at Wayne), obtaining a diploma in science 1897.

From a period he lived among Native Americans, first with the Omaha (1901-07) and later among the Lakota (Sioux). Out of his relationship with the Lakota would come his single most famous book, Black Elk Speaks (1932). He then became the literary editor of the Minneapolis Journal (1911-20). In 1923, he was appointed professor of poetry at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and later held jobs as literary editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (1926-38), director and field representative for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior (1943-48) and lecturer in English and poet-in-residence at the University of Missouri-Columbia (1949-65).

Through his life Neihardt was repeatedly honored. He received the Poetry Society of America Prize for best volume of verse in 1919 and was named poet laureate of Nebraska by an act of the legislature, 1921. He was awarded the Gold Scroll Medal of Honor of National Poetry Center (1936) and the Writers Foundation award for poetry (1964). He was elected to the Nebraska State Hall of Fame in 1974. A bronze bust of Neihardt had already been placed in the rotunda of the Nebraska capital by an act of the state legislature in 1961. The Garden Club of Bancroft, Nebraska, acquired the cottage in which he lived and where he did much of his writing as a museum of Neihardt memorabilia, and there is a special Neihardt Memorial Collection at the University of Missouri.

Neihardt was friendly with Joseph B. Rhine, famous parapsychologist and director of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man. Neihardt's experience with the Omaha and Lakota probably influenced his philosophical views expressed in what has been called "pragmatic mysticism," involving the heightened awareness of prayer and meditation being applied to everyday life. In 1908, he married Mona Martensen, who had earlier spent some time as companion to a Spiritualist and who was convinced that psychic experience could not be dismissed. Apparently she had considerable mediumistic talents herself.

From the 1920s on, Neihardt spent some time investigating psychic phenomena at first hand, and he was also well aware of paranormal experiences among the Lakota. In 1926, he met Caspar Yost, a journalist who had investigated the famous phenomena of Pearl Curran, through whom the "Patience Worth" scripts were produced. Neihardt himself made an in-depth study of Curran.

In 1960, with John T. Richards and other associates, Neihardt formed the Society for Research on Rapport and Telekinesis in order to develop the investigation of psi faculties under favorable conditions. Some remarkable effects of psychokinesis were obtained. The story of the group has been recorded by Richards in his 1982 book. Neihardt died November 3, 1973.


Aly, Lucile Folse. John G. Neihardt: A Critical Biography. Amsterdam: Radopi, 1977.

Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Neihardt, John G. All Is But a Beginning. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1972.

. Patterns and Coincidents: A Sequel to All Is but a Beginning. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1978.

. The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk's Teachings given to John G. Neihardt. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984.

. When the Tree Flowered: The Fictional Biography of Eagle Voice, a Sioux Indian. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1970.

Richards, John Thomas. SORRAT: A History of the Neihardt Psychokinesis Experiments, 1961-1981. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1982.

A Sender of Words: Essays in Honor of John G. Neihardt. Salt Lake City, Utah: Howe Brothers, 1984.

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