TellTale: Dakota Folklife and Stories

Medium

Enjoy a glimpse into the folklife – and the heart – of North Dakota!

TellTale: Dakota Folklife and Stories is a collection of narratives describing the shared personal experiences and lore of life on the North Dakota plains. 

From stories of blizzards, to the man who climbed atop a windmill to play his accordion, to the fate of Poker Jim, they originate from, and are shaped by, interviews with senior citizens, many of whom are from elder care facilities.      

As a special part of the Art for Life Program, which seeks to improve the emotional and physical health of elders through intensive art and artist interaction, these small group interviews take place around shared experiences, culture, and beliefs. The storytelling process of the elders is designed to address loneliness, social isolation, memory loss, and sense of worth. 

Other interviews were collected from participants of the agency’s Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program as well as traditionalists identified through fieldwork. From Germans-from-Russia folk singers and American Indian storytellers…  Watch for new additions!  

TellTale: Dakota Folklife and Stories Audio Synopses

  1. Poker Jim: Elders in McKenzie County, North Dakota remember regional folk legend “Poker Jim,” an itinerant cowboy and card-playing enthusiast in this dramatic yet humorous story. (5:10)
     
  2. Eyes of an Angel: Blizzard stories with their themes of danger and beauty, such as this one experienced around Grassy Butte, North Dakota, are a staple of lore on the Northern Great Plains. (4:25)
     
  3. A Line on the Floor: This personal experience narrative describes the memories of a then-3-year-old girl in San Haven Sanitarium near Dunseith, North Dakota. (5:46)
     
  4. A God-given Natural Right: Recollections of moonshine and Prohibition are shared by people in southwestern North Dakota. (4:40)
     
  5. Small Town Wisdom: Residents and visitors to an elder care facility in New Salem, North Dakota opine about small-town life. (7:48)
     
  6. Rattlesnakes: For many people, just the warning sound of a rattlesnake is enough to make one shiver, but for many in western North Dakota these creatures are a part of everyday life. (5:33)
     
  7. I Still Have It in My Memory: Folk songs sung in the Germans-from-Russia dialect continues in the heart and mind of traditionalists like 94-year old John Gross, patriarch of the Young German Singers of southcentral North Dakota, and mentor to fellow folk singers Joe Gross, Andy Gross, Joe Johs, and Gaylynn Becker. (5:48)
     
  8. Magnetic Personality: Meet Roger, a beloved regional character and jack-of-all-trades whose unique skills are attributed partly to a surprising childhood event in Carson, North Dakota. (5:18)
     
  9. Green Drops to Chamomile: Home remedies or folk medicine has been utilized for generations and continues to be used today to treat everything from warts to pneumonia. (7:06)
     
  10. Farmers’ Fears: The fears of pioneer farmers in southwestern North Dakota are discussed. (5:54)
     
  11. A Change in the Sky: Tornados and bulls do not mix. Tornados are among the elements of nature to be respected on the Northern Great Plains as illustrated by this recollection from a woman who grew up on a farm near Pisek, North Dakota. (5:05)
     
  12. I Remember the Grasshoppers: The “Dirty Thirties” brought many challenges, not the least of these were grasshoppers, as elders from North central North Dakota recount. (6:30)
     
  13. Staying Warm: Elders from central North Dakota reminisce about staying warm and having fun during the harsh cold winters of their childhoods.
     
  14. Juleboking: The Scandinavian masquerading tradition of Juleboking is recounted by a 101-year-old woman who grew up on a farm near the small farming community of Kloten, ND. (4:52)
     
  15. Discharged: A man recalls running away as a young farm boy and meeting a very unlikely and surprising person shortly after World War II. (7:11)
     
  16. Threshing: A group of elders in Jamestown, North Dakota converse about the joys and dangers of farming, especially the threshing of the fall harvest. (6:00)
     
  17. Divination for Graves: Techniques to “divine” or locate water, objects, or treasure using willows or metal is hundreds of years old and is practiced still in North Dakota. (6:37)
     
  18. The Florence Tornado of 1944: An elder now living in Fargo, North Dakota bears witness to the dramatic events of a deadly tornado that hit his childhood hometown of Florence, South Dakota. (5:51)
     
  19. Polio: Polio was a crippling and deadly infectious disease that ravaged families and communities in the first half of the 20th Century as these first-hand accounts testify. (6:01)
     
  20. Mail-Order Bride: Mail-order brides may not always know what they are getting themselves into. (4:47)
     
  21. Come to America: The family stories of Germans-from-Russia folk singers Gaylynn Becker, Joe Johs, and John, Joe, and Andy Gross illustrate the tumultuous reasons why their ancestors left Russia and what happened to those who stayed behind. (6:24)
     
  22. Groβer Gott: Germans-from-Russia folk singers Joe Gross of Bismarck and 94-year old John Gross of Napoleon, North Dakota recount a family story bearing witness to the power of faith, song, and bravery in the face of extreme danger. (5:55)
     
  23. Hiroshima: A North Dakota military veteran provides a stunning first-person account of the aftermath of the World War II atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. (7:08)
     
  24. Das Schicksal: Folk singers John and Margaret Gross and Andy Gross of Napoleon, Joe Gross, Joe Johs, and Gaylnn Becker of Bismarck describe the powerfully emotional effect and purpose of singing this traditional Germans-from-Russia Catholic funeral song. (5:21)

TellTale is produced in partnership with Dakota Legacy, elder care and service organizations statewide, and North Dakota Council on the Arts (NDCA).  This effort is supported in part by a grant from NDCA, which receives funding from the state legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.