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

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.


One of the military figures who played key roles in the history of the Great Plains, but about whom we don’t like to talk much, is Brigadier General Alfred Sully.

Inheriting the Earth

Jan 23, 2018


Alongside the fireplace in our study is the Big Bison Chair. I bought it at a swanky furniture store on the east side of Fort Worth. The gal who sold it to me, when she told me how much it cost, I said, Wow, how many miles does it get to the gallon? But, she threw in free shipping to North Dakota, so I bit. It was money well spent.


There came a lovely letter from Mrs. Betty Lehman, of Holtville, California. She seems to have been moved to post by the write-up in the most recent NDSU alumni magazine about the volunteer efforts of my students repainting Zeeland Hall, the WPA-funded, National Register-listed property in Zeeland, North Dakota.


Jan 18, 2018


This new book by three scholars from Nebraska--Homesteading the Plains: Toward a New History--is making quite a splash. Or, to get my metaphor acclimatized to the prairies, it breaks new ground.


Jan 18, 2018


Getting around our prairie country, I often encounter people who are justifiably proud of their lineage as descendants of homesteaders. They share in our collective memory of the homesteading experience as a matter of democracy, opportunity, and connection to the land. Homesteading, we generally emphasize, too, was hard work. Attaining patent to the land required a combination of steely determination and good luck.