Plains Folk | Prairie Public Broadcasting

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." 

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The Deep, Deep Sea

15 hours ago

Oh bury me not in the deep, deep sea

These words came faint and mournfully
From the pallid lips of a youth who lay
On his cabin couch from day to day


That old Conrad Richter trope of the sea of grass, the tired cliche that the prairie is like the ocean - I never have bought into that. Evidently it works for some people, though, and now we have this lament - Bury me not in the deep, deep sea - showing up in a North Dakota farmhouse.

Farmer is the Man

Sep 12, 2020

Oh the farmer comes to town with his wagon broken down

But the farmer is the man who feeds them all
If you’ll only look and see, then I think you will agree
That the farmer is the man who feeds them all


Well, yes, we do have to agree that the farmer is the man who feeds them all. Because given what we have learned about the capacity of indigenous peoples to manage landscapes for food production, there is no clear line between farming and hunting and gathering.

Texas Cowboy

Sep 5, 2020


George F. Will, of Bismarck - ethnologist, archeologist, dendrochronologist, and son of the celebrated horticulturalist and seedsman, Oscar Will - was also, as disclosed in a previous essay, a songcatcher - a lover and collector of folksongs, particularly cowboy ballads. He published his folksong findings in the Journal of American Folklore in 1909 and 1913.


Aug 29, 2020


If I were to say to you, Sing a couple lines of “Home on the Range” and I’ll give you twenty bucks, chances are you could win the twenty. How is it that old folksongs composed by obscure people like Brewster Highley, or by people we cannot even identify, are present and recallable in twenty-first century America?

Indian Acres

Aug 22, 2020


If you are unfamiliar with the classic of first farmers on the northern plains, Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden, pick up a copy. I am making it the first core text for my college course, The North American Plains. For two reasons.

Russian Roots

Aug 15, 2020


In the course of that slow dance by which we people of the plains come to an understanding of the place we inhabit, we require many contributors. We commence with native knowledge, the product of centuries, even millennia of experience with the land. Layered on that we have the sense of the settler societies, who, however brief their experience, is at least well documented. There is a vital role, too, for public intellectuals on the plains--thinkers like Walter Prescott Webb, the historian, or Charles Edwin Bessey, the botanist--who form the inchoate sense of prairie life into deeper and larger forms that help us understand what is around us.

Bad Seed

Aug 8, 2020


In August of 1887 the Jamestown Alert sounded an alarm. “The Russian thistle,” writes the editor, “the seed of which was brought to the territory by some Russian emigrants, is spreading with great rapidity in Yankton county, where it has been started.

Buffalo Skinners

Aug 1, 2020


“Twas in the town of Jacksboro, in the spring of '83.” So recounts one of the great ballads of the Great Plains, “The Buffalo Skinners,” also known as “The Range of the Buffalo.” Tis the tale of an unfortunate lot of men who sign on to “spend one summer pleasantly” skinning buffalo on the Texas plains for a man named Crego. The song concludes when they “left old Crego’s bones to bleach on the range of the buffalo.”

Allen’s Grove

Jul 25, 2020


The groves of trees planted by settlers to meet the requirements of the Timber Culture Act of 1873--they did not fulfill the hopes of those who figured that tree-planting would modify the climate of the Great Plains. They did, however, have a positive effect on the cultural environment of the prairies. The groves became named landmarks and the summertime sites for all sorts of community activities. They were essential features of the settlement landscape.

Taylor’s Grove

Jul 18, 2020


I made the drive to Dickey County on a quest, but when I got on the ground, I was a little puzzled. I had driven through Monango, thence navigating to the old site of Boynton, and from there made various jogs to and fro, bluffed out here and there by water over roads, until I turned onto the west section line bordering the SW/4 S35 T131N R63W. This quarter, I knew from the patent listed with the Bureau of Land Management, was the homestead of Joseph B. Taylor, which he proved up in 1889. A few years later he would patent another nearby quarter as a tree claim.