Tom Isern | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Tom Isern

Prairie folk of the late nineteenth century were accustomed to reading grim reports of deadly gorings inflicted by horned cattle--a catalog of grief and outrage chronicled in my previous essay. In March of 1888 a correspondent of the Emmons County Record offered them an answer to their problem: dehorning.

In one of our family photo albums is a snapshot of me, age pre-school, sitting astride our prize polled Hereford bull. I’m pretty sure his name was Domino. I’m also pretty sure if such a photo were taken and viewed today, there would be charges and investigations.

“Spend less, see more” -- this has been the candid and standard advice dispensed for 25 years by Seth Kugel, author of “The Frugal Traveler” in the New York Times. Now, in book form -- under the title, Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious -- Kugel codifies his practical approach to travel, updates it to deal with the modern, digitally dependent travel industry, and gets philosophical about the experience of travel.

Hunter’s Dilemma

Sep 28, 2019

It is a yellow dawn on the northern plains as I settle into a sunny place for some reading. My head pivots frequently, from the hazy rays streaming through corn raised by farmers of perilous tenure and destined for markets on shaky footings, to the yellowed manuscript pages on the table before me. Through them I enter the mind of William C. Hunter, as he contemplates the past and future of agriculture.

Wolf Hunters

Sep 21, 2019

Coyotes, known in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as “prairie wolves,” were considered merely a nuisance in the days of the overland trails. As agricultural settlement dug into prairies, however, farm folk redefined prairie wolves as a menace.

Organized community wolf hunts were social affairs with a hostile purpose: eradication of a perceived pest. At the same time, people retained a curiosity and odd affection for the prairie wolves, often attempting to keep them as pets.

Prairie Wolves

Sep 14, 2019

It can be confusing to read, in documents of early prairie settlement, references to “prairie wolves.” The creature of note is no more a wolf than a prairie dog is a dog or a prairie chicken is a chicken. Canis latrans, known in parts south as the coyote, was christened the prairie wolf by early travelers on the overland trails, who first encountered it on the prairies.

The Cows Came Home

Sep 7, 2019

One day in October 1907, a herd of milk cows belonging to townspeople in Pembina broke into a pasture that belonged to a farmer named Jim Kneeshaw.

“The town herd got into solitary confinement in Kneeshaw’s pasture on Wednesday,” the local editor remarked drolly, “because they seemed to like Jim Kneeshaw’s young timothy better than other feed. The matter was finally fixed up between Messrs Kneeshaw and Mr. Allen the herder -- and the cows came home as usual at night.”

The Town Herd

Aug 31, 2019

“The large amount of grain that has been seeded near town will necessitate the herding of stock now running at large,” announced the Dickinson Press in 1883. “Mr. S. Burnside proposes starting a town herd and will herd all stock at the low rate of $1.00 per head per week.”

Well into the middle of the twentieth century, prairie townspeople kept milking cows at their residences. They had fresh milk, but at the cost of some public nuisance and personal trouble. To take care of the problem, there arose an institution known as the “town herd.”

Ice Age

Aug 24, 2019

Climate change is a subject I hesitate to introduce, for fear of igniting disputes between political partisans debating anthropogenic climate change--that is, change caused by human actions--and what ought to be done about it. I am a historian, so that is not what I do. It is historical climate change that I propose to introduce to the discussion, here, and abroad, among the historical scholars of the Great Plains.

A couple of weeks ago I detailed that scandalous episode in the history of the Flickertail State, the great gopher-tail fraud case of Ransom County, 1900, which had to be settled by the state supreme court. The court’s opinion hinged on the funding provisions of state law authorizing counties to pay bounties for gopher tails.