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Tom Isern

  • Although by the time of mass settlement on the Great Plains — certainly by the time of the Dakota Boom — commercial baking powders and yeast cakes largely had relegated the use of sourdough to rustic memory, still that sour staple retained a sweet significance in regional remembrance.
  • As the COVID curtain descended in 2020, there was a stirring of domestic impulses among folk isolating themselves at home. There was, for instance, an efflorescence of sourdough culture. People were establishing sourdough starters, nurturing them, trying to cook and bake with them.
  • Before I myself had seen the piece in print, I heard from readers who had their copies and, judging by their comments, actually had read my essay, “‘Happy as a Clam”: The Origins and Evolution of ‘Little Old Sod Shanty on the Claim,’ the Anthem of the Plains.” I know, long title, right? Something for which academics are notorious. And yet — readers.
  • As the long nineteenth century neared its close, the star of Uncle Ben Corbin — frontier hero and champion wolf-slayer of Emmons County — descended and then fell. He sensed this, but had no good answer. He tried going capitalist and growing up with the country. In March 1898 the rough-and-ready hunter advertised he was going into the land business: as a land locator, and as a dealer in investment lands.
  • By the time settlement came to the middle of Dakota Territory, the prototype of the frontier hero a la Davy Crockett — an amalgam of rough and ready experience, promotion, and self-promotion — was well established. It came into play with Bill Corbin of Emmons County.
  • Given the recent favorable action by the legislature, the state recreation area at Pembina Gorge soon will become Pembina Gorge State Park. This action is great news in the Rendezvous Region of northeastern North Dakota. Travelers attracted to the area by the vistas of the gorge will find much more to explore — as was evident by the events associated with the demisemiseptcentennial — you know, I’m just going to say “175th” — of Walhalla, the oldest town in the state.
  • Little towns need a claim to fame. Lehr, population about eighty, bills itself as the “Smallest City in USA Situated in Two Counties.” In 1948, when the population was more like five hundred, the town fathers worded the slogan a bit differently: “The smallest city in the United States incorporated in two counties.” Logan and McIntosh being the two counties.
  • Uncle Ben Corbin — who homesteaded on Beaver Creek in the 1880s, sold catfish to his neighbors in Emmons County, earned a reputation as a frontiersman who could live off the land, and gave that wonderful wedding dance for his daughter in 1894 — had another persona: the Wolf Slayer. The reputation goes back to his time in Iowa, where Corbin swore he could “catch more wolves in a month than any man living; but the money must be in sight first.”
  • One August afternoon in 1896, the editor of the Emmons County Record greeted a well-known visitor to his Linton office. The editor called him by one of his many nicknames, “Colonel Ben Corbin, the Wolf-Worryer from Wayback.” Colonel Corbin bore gifts — a “nice mess of catfish,” which he taught his host how to skin for the table.
  • In 1874 Walter A. Burleigh, a notorious grafter, was seeking to return to Congress as the delegate for Dakota Territory, which the Bismarck Tribune insisted would be a “calamity.” Lest anyone over east in the Red River Valley take his side, the Trib reminded people how Burleigh had pronounced their part of the territory “only fit for the production of mosquitoes and catfish.”