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Tom Isern

Host of Plains Folk
  • Remember first, as you read Sarah Vogel’s remarkable book, The Farmer’s Lawyer, that it is a memoir. This is her story to tell, grounded by solid legal records and trial transcripts.
  • Over the past couple of years I’ve been engaged in a revival of balladry on the Great Plains. Returning to my roots as a folkie from way back in the twentieth century, I have been revisiting the histories of folksongs once considered of unknown origins, documenting them, and singing them as a contribution to our regional literature. It is amazing how, with the advantage of digitization of documents, especially newspapers, it is possible to track traditional ballads to their very origins.
  • The activity of the mind of George Will was matched by the activity of his legs. Son and heir of the seedsman Oscar Will of Bismarck, he put his Harvard education to work on everything around him, from horticulture to folksong to archaeology. And he was a boots-on-the-ground sort of guy.
  • “The village of Mountain in Pembina County is the center of a sizable Icelandic community,” writes Father Bill Sherman in his classic study, Prairie Mosaic. The settlement in North Dakota spun off from the colony of Gimli, in Manitoba, and comprised not only Mountain but also Hallson and Gardar. Mountain, however, was a cultural center.
  • She was reluctant at first--to go live, reading her own writing to strangers, at a public celebration--but when the time came, Rose Sell, the country correspondent from Guelph, North Dakota, nailed her part.
  • In March of 1901, the country correspondent at Bloomenfield informed the readers of the Jamestown Weekly Alert about the recent local movements of the horse trader, Herman Cook, from Windsor. “Think the charming young lady at Mr. K’s has something to do with it,” was the report. “How is it, Herman?”
  • “We want country correspondents and are offering good inducements,” announced the Wahpeton Times in July of 1913. “Write us about it.”
  • If you’re a regular listener to Plains Folk, then you know that I am on the hunt for the folksongs of the Great Plains, which produced an amazing efflorescence of balladry in the generations of the original Euro-American settlers and their children.
  • It all started with a letter of lament written by a woman who signed herself, “A Marriageable Girl,” published in the Minot newspaper, the Ward County Independent, on 9 January 1908. Well, actually, this grievance had been simmering for a while among the young women of the Magic City.
  • A week or so ago Dr. K and I were part of a group assembled to sit at the feet of three literary masters—Mark Vinz, Debra Marquart, and Louise Erdrich—as they talked among themselves about the sense of place. This was in the Fargo studios of Prairie Public.