Plains Folk

Once a week during Main Street, weekdays at 3 pm CT with a repeat at 7 pm CT.
  • Hosted by Prairie Public

Plains Folk is a commentary devoted to life on the great plains of North Dakota. Written by Tom Isern of West Fargo, North Dakota, and read in newspapers across the region for years, Plains Folk venerates fall suppers and barn dances and reminds us that "more important to our thoughts than lines on a map are the essential characteristics of the region — the things that tell what the plains are, not just where they are." Find Plains Folk archives here.

Ways to Connect

Martyr Mother

Apr 19, 2018

The story of Wilhelmina Geiszler is a legend long told by the people of North Dakota, and I have been one of the tellers--here in this radio space.

When I was going to college, we had things figured out in Great Plains history. We knew that the climate (as opposed to weather, which was changeable) was constant. It set the baseline for history and life.

Gregarious Geese

Apr 2, 2018

Tom Isern shares a Plains Folk essay, “Gregarious Geeese.” 


The great Alfred G. Arvold, founder of the Little Country Theater at North Dakota Agricultural College, was a heckuva storyteller. His classic work on his life’s work, The Little Country Theater, published in 1923, begins with a scene, a scene that is about a scene.


Gregarious Geese

Mar 21, 2018


In the changing seasons of the prairies, there are certain developments that capture our attention for their continentality. They are sprawling events that progress up the latitudinal length of the Great Plains.


Stony Lake

Mar 6, 2018


In past weeks we’ve already driven through two Dakota War battlefields at 75 mph--Big Mound, which took place north of Tappen, and Dead Buffalo Lake, which happened near Dawson. These battles of 1863 all took place in the central reaches of the Missouri Coteau and within spitting distance of the future route of Interstate 94. The region’s lakes, or maybe you call them sloughs, figure in the military actions associated with what is commonly known as the Sibley Expedition of 1863.



Dead Buffalo Lake

Mar 6, 2018



Nobody wants to drive I94 across central North Dakota with me anymore. Every transit calls to my mind the engagements of the Dakota War in 1863, and I can’t help myself, I have to tell whoever is with me about the historic sites we are passing through.


Across North Dakota I enjoy friendships and associations with local historical societies, most of which struggle to carry on. Many get modest mill levies from their counties. Private donors often assume, well, that takes care of the historical society. Meanwhile, again and again, the historical societies have to make their argument for continued funding.

Reading the Plains

Feb 26, 2018


On the last page of her new book, Great Plains Literature, author Linda Pratt quotes Booker T. Washington. In a speech in 1895, Washington advised his hearers, “Cast down your bucket where you are.”

The story of Fanny Kelly, the woman ransomed from the Hunkpapa by Sihasapa (Blackfeet Lakota) emissaries and turned over to General Alfred Sully at Fort Pierre in late 1864, remains cloudy and confused. This is due partly to the fragmentary nature of sources and partly to the reluctance of people in her time to take her own narrative of events seriously.