North Dakota State University Press Announces the Publication of Pacing Dakota by Thomas D. Isern ’74

Pacing Dakota is a collection of essays reflecting on the history and culture of the Great Plains of North America. Thomas D. Isern ’74, with more than forty years as a working historian and regional author, transitions from the close confines of historical archives into the prairie landscapes of the northern plains. Pacing Dakota speaks with the mingled voices of scholarly historian, outdoor sportsman, culinary enthusiast, lifelong Lutheran, and prairie farm-boy. The author prowls prairie churches, finds forgotten artifacts, and gathers cherished stories from Williston to Wahpeton and points beyond. He situates his encounters along the way into the canon of literary and historical writing on the prairies. In the end, he speaks for a generation committed to making a good life in this place.
Join Dr. Isern as he reads from his new collection at Common Sense Books, 38 Snelling Ave. S. St. Paul, MN on November 28, 7:00-10:00 p.m.
“With these colorful and insightful stories from the northern plains, Thomas D. Isern proves again he deserves consideration with Wallace Stegner, Kathleen Norris, Hamlin Garland, and Willa Cather as one of our foremost celebrators of a sense of place. Having devoted more than four decades to his regional project, he brings together observations on everything from windmills, signs, pit silos, and lutefisk suppers to sod and rammed-earth houses, cast-iron grave markers, roads, and blizzard narratives. Readers will be the richer for it.”
—John E. Miller, author of numerous books on the Midwest and Great Plains, including most recently, Democracy and the Informed Citizen: A South Dakota Perspective
“Pacing Dakota is the work of a consummate regional historian and firmly-rooted plainsman. The work is sensate, literate, socially rooted, and thoughtfully situated. It is a book to savor—for the tastes and textures of landscapes, of church suppers, of pheasant and rhubarb; for tales of plains people and their communities; and for thoughtful, empathetic, and unsentimental reflections on the stories that serve Dakotans in the historical present and yet-to-be-written future.”
—Elizabeth Jameson, author of All that Glitters: Class, Conflict and Community in Cripple Creek and past president of the Western History Association
“Isern has wandered everywhere on what he calls the ‘post-rural’ plains of North Dakota. His unapologetic respect for plains life, from six-man football to the Christmas Eve candle festival at Canaan, reminds us that we live on a storied—not a storybook—landscape. Isern is no plains Pollyanna, but he refuses to fixate on the cliché of rural decline. Pacing Dakota will make you want to fire up the car, crank the windows down, and amble off the beaten path to where authenticity, integrity, and ethnicity continue to shape the North Dakota character.”
—Clay Jenkinson, author of For the Love of North Dakota: Sundays with Clay in the Bismarck Tribune
About the Author
Thomas D. (Tom) Isern is Professor of History & University Distinguished Professor, North Dakota State University. His academic specialty is the history and folklore of the Great Plains of North America, his research and teaching comprising both the American plains and the Canadian prairies. He is the author or co-author of six books, including Dakota Circle: Excursions on the True Plains, published by the Institute for Regional Studies (forerunner of North Dakota State University Press).
Isern is best known within the region of the northern plains as the author of Plains Folk, the radio feature he reads weekly to a statewide audience on Prairie Public. A native of western Kansas, he holds a BA degree from Bethany College as well as MA and PhD degrees from Oklahoma State University. Prior to coming to NDSU in 1992, he served eleven years on the faculty of Emporia State University, Kansas.
Isern is married to historian and editor in chief Suzzanne Kelley. They happily boast of four adult children and eight grandchildren and shamelessly dote upon a beagle and a Labrador retriever. Together, too, they share offshore research interests in New Zealand and Australia.
 Chapter 3: A Story that’s Never Been told
Wherein the prairie historian forsakes the dust of the archives for the dust of the road
Five pillars of sandstone mark the progress of a century-old vision across the southwestern corner of North Dakota. This was the Yellowstone Trail, a national highway in the days before there were national highways, the time when promoters dreamed them up and gave them grandiose names instead of uninspiring numbers. The Yellowstone Trail, they called it—Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound, its name intended to capitalize on a burgeoning tourist traffic to Yellowstone National Park.
The vision for the Yellowstone Trail came from a real estate promoter named J. W. Parmley, of Ipswich, South Dakota. Like others of his day, and especially others in the gumbo-cursed West River country, Parmley bemoaned the inadequacy of roads left to the maintenance of local farmers working out their road taxes. The dawning automotive age offered opportunity to those who would solve the problems of improvement of highways and navigation across the country.
Parmley seized the opportunity of a local good-roads meeting in Ipswich in 1912 to outline a scheme for what he called “a great transcontinental highway from ocean to ocean.” The plan was to pull together road promoters from communities across the country, each to improve and mark its own stretch of road, and then promote the whole enterprise for the convenience of the traveling public. The road would be graded, but not surfaced.
Perhaps most important, the Yellowstone Trail would be clearly marked. “You don’t need a log book,” one brochure said. “Follow the Marks.” The standard logo emblazoned on buildings and posts was a yellow circle around a directional arrow. Local collaborators, though, sometimes got creative.
Publisher: NDSU Press
Publication Date: 7/10/2018
ISBN: 978-1-946163-06-6
LCCN: 2018941181
Price: $29.95
Hardcover: 264 pp. / Photographs / Index
Subject: Great Plains – History / Memoir
Available from NDSU Press, Baker & Taylor, Amazon,
and your favorite independent bookstore.