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." 

Ways to Connect

It depends on whether you turn left or you turn right, but either way, you are driving right up to a fascinating, yet obscure, historic site. I’m talking about Exit 190 of Interstate 94, the Driscoll Exit.

If you go north, you come to the neglected state historic site, Camp Banks, with its decrepit monument to Chaska, the Dakota scout. The scout served with the Sibley Expedition of 1863 and was poisoned by the soldiers, who mistakenly believed Chaska had played some part in the killing of one of their civilian contractors.

Listening to Junk

Nov 17, 2018

The Welk Homestead State Historic Site, near Strasburg, is known to the public mainly as it commemorates the origins and career of Lawrence Welk. It also is committed to interpreting German-Russian culture and pioneer agriculture, because Lawrence’s parents, Ludwig and Christina, were Germans from Russia who proved up a homestead alongside Lake Baumgartner.

Verbing the Plains

Nov 10, 2018

Some friends of mine, who share a common cognizance of native affairs on the northern plains, got to talking about a particular usage of language, a case of verbing, that is, of converting a noun into a verb, for effect. In this case the proper noun, Columbus, deployed as a verb, to Columbus.

Over the past few years we have observed the centennial of the Great War, 1914-18. Now we approach the anniversary of the armistice that ended the fighting, which today we in America observe as Veteran’s Day. In my radio essays I have taken up quite a few topics touching on the Great War:

Print Culture

Nov 3, 2018

Here are two images that may seem incongruous, but I’m about to link them.

First, driving into Ellendale Sunday afternoon, we espy, at the corner of Main & 281, a sandwich sign on wheels - the kind they use for posting notice of a ball game upcoming on a summer night. The sign reads, “Book Fair at the Opera House / 2:00-5:00 Today / Free and Open to the Public.”

Second, and here I’m getting a little professor-wonky, I’m going to cite a book I make my graduate students read, by the historian Benedict Anderson. Entitled, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism - you see, I told you this would get a little professor-wonky - but anyway Professor Anderson identifies the elements that made it possible for nations to emerge, with national identities, in the modern world.

A couple of years ago I got a request for a reference from Kansas State University, in Manhattan. The university was evaluating the credentials of one of its scholars, James E. Sherow, for appointment to the rank of university distinguished professor. Since I am privileged to hold such appointment at NDSU, and because I work in the same general field as Jim, I was asked to provide an evaluation.

Modern Sagas

Sep 29, 2018

Attending the Deuce of August celebration in Mountain, whereat Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir charmed the North Dakota crowd, stirred my interest in our Icelandic immigrant heritage. I have written about Her Excellency’s joyous appearance in Mountain and about the courageous service of the Icelandic midwife, Aldis Laxdal, whose monument stands in the Vikur Lutheran Cemetery.

Weasel Punchers

Sep 22, 2018

When was the last time you saw a weasel? No, not one of the fur-bearing species; we do see them occasionally, furtively. I’m talking about a machine called the Weasel, a rugged vehicle that played a historic role here on the northern prairies.

I learned about the Weasel from a fine book written by David W. Mills and published by North Dakota State University Press - Operation Snowbound: Life Behind the Blizzards of 1949. Mills tells the story of the military mobilizations that helped the people of the northern plains get through one of the hardest winters they ever experienced.

The nature of things on the northern plains is that September brings a quickening - a frantic race to get things done and into order before that night train of autumn comes smoking through the land. I am a great keeper, and lover, of calendars - calendars agricultural, ornithological, academic, recreational, liturgical, culinary. The congruence of quickenings during a prairie September is challenging.

The past couple of months I have spent a great deal of time book touring, promoting my new book, Pacing Dakota, with North Dakota State University Press. Most of the book is about life on the northern plains, but it is grounded in my own history in Kansas--specifically my own roots in Barton County.

The prologue to the work gets personal about those roots, and so I decided to share it here. I think the sentiments expressed are common to the whole region of the Great Plains. (Sharing this excerpt also will answer the question I get everywhere I go, as to the meaning of the title, Pacing Dakota.)