The John G. Neihardt State Historic Site
The John G. Neihardt State Historic Site is a museum dedicated to a famous Nebraska poet. Neihardt was known for his writings about Native American culture, specifically about the Lakota Sioux. Neihardt wrote a variety of works on popular Native American icons such as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. His work is well respected by many and is still read widely throughout the world. One of Neihardt's most well-read books is, “Black Elk Speaks." The site of the Neihardt Center not only includes the museum, but also Neihardt's study where he wrote his poetry and a part of his magnum opus, "The Cycle of the West." Just outside the study is, The Sacred Hoop Prayer Garden. The garden is based upon, the Hoop of the World, which comes from the visions of Black Elk. Neihardt recorded these images in the afore mentioned, "Black Elk Speaks."
Backstory and Context
The Neihardt State Historical Site includes three major areas. Each spot is significant to Neihardt's life story: the museum, Neihardt's study, and The Sacred Hoop Garden.
The museum itself was constructed during the 1970s upon approval from Nebraska lawmakers allocating $200,000 to build the center. This was vetoed by then Governor J.J. Exon. He claimed the state did not have the necessary money. After two attempts, the veto was overridden and the museum was green lighted to be constructed.
The building of the center closely followed the restoration of Neihardt's study that was done in 1967. The center was dedicated on August 1, 1976. Within the building there is the Memorial Room, which houses the center of the museum and the library. The Memorial Room contains the main exhibit, it is circular, representing Black Elk's Sacred Hoop. Throughout the room there is memorabilia that belonged to Neihardt. Neihardt artifacts and illustrations offer an overview of his life. Additionally, there are items Black Elk gave Neihardt also displayed in the Memorial Room. In the middle of the room is cycad, which is an ancient plant-form that symbolizes the Tree of Life from Black Elk’s vision. The library can be used for research and includes objects such as; books, periodicals, art, and other personal items that belonged to Neihardt.
Neihardt spent a great deal of time in his study. He used it when he lived in Bancroft from 1900 to 1920. Originally, the study belonged to a man named August Hartman in the 1890s. While sitting in this study, Neihardt created much poetry and spent extensive time writing his magnum opus, “Cycle of the West.” This small, unassuming study is actually what prompted the process of developing the whole museum site.
During the 1960s, the building fell into disrepair. A group of Bancroft residents started a project to restore the cabin where the study resided. The founder of this effort, Evelyn Vogt, would go on to support further memorializing of Neihardt out of fear his life’s works might be lost. The tiny cabin with the study is the last remaining building Neihardt owned in Bancroft. The house he originally lived in there was torn down by the 1960s. While museum patrons are not allowed to enter the study, the roped-off doorway to the study is usually open during museum hours. Also, windows in the study allow a good view of the room. Furnishings in the study are similar to the styles that would have been around when Neihardt was doing his historic writings.
The Sacred Hoop Prayer Garden is just outside the study. The garden represents the Hoop of the World. This came about from a vision the Oglala Holy Man, Black Elk had and Neihardt recorded what was revealed to him. The hoop is divided into quarters. Each section has its own color. There are red and black paths going through them. All paths meet at a tree at the center. Varying colors in the hoop represent a particular power and symbol. The hoop itself is supposed to signify the vastness of the universe. The West is symbolized by blue or black which indicates the power to make life and to destroy it. The North is represented by the color white. This epitomizes cleansing and healing. The East section of the hoop is red and shows the power of enlightenment that brings understanding and peace. Completing all four directions, the South is yellow, which encapsulates the power to grow. Two different paths cross the hoop. One goes east to west. The other runs north to south. Like the sections of hoop, these also have a symbolic meaning. The east to west path is black and denotes worldly difficulty. The north to south trail is red which implies spiritual understanding. In Black Elk's vision, the point where these two paths cross is considered holy ground. From it, sprung the tree of life.
Hendee, David. "Neihardt's legacy's champion to be honored at event." Omaha World-Herald (Omaha) October 15th 2006. .
History Nebraska. “John G. Neihardt, 1881-1973 [RG1042.AM].” Accessed April 19, 2020. https://history.nebraska.gov/collections/john-g-neihardt-1881-1973-rg1042am.
History Nebraska. “Neihardt Foundation (Bancroft, Nebraska) [RG5104.AM].” Accessed April 19, 2020. https://history.nebraska.gov/collections/neihardt-foundation-bancroft-nebraska-rg5104am.
“The John G. Neihardt State Historic Site in Bancroft, Nebraska.” Accessed April 19, 2020. http://neihardtcenter.org/visit/.