Sign up to receive up-to-date information about the WSSA Conference.


World Social Science Association

Translate Website

RAS - Rural & Agricultural Studies

A Facebook Concert

Coordinator: Lisa Ossian
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Affiliation: Indian Hills Community College


The Kinkaider's Song:  A Homesteader Ballad from the Nebraska Sandhills


   - Tom Isern, North Dakota State University


The family of prairie folksong tracing lineage to the gospel hymn, “Beulah Land,” is prolific. “Beulah Land” is about a place, the blissful afterlife. Prairie singers borrowed its melody and motifs to localize them to their own places on the plains, sometimes as joyful paeans to a bountiful country, other times as sardonic commentaries on a hard land. “The Kinkaider’s Song” is exceptional in that it is traceable to a particular time and place: the Kinkaider picnic of 16 August 1911, a gathering of homesteaders at the Will Davis grove, a seven-year-old tree claim near Anselmo, in northern Custer County, Nebraska. Fourteen-year-old Matilda Matthews was there and wrote for a regional newspaper, the Atkinson Graphic, “We composed a song, ‘The Kinkaider’s Song,’ and sang it.” The song resounding through the Davis grove in 1911 arose from the historical circumstances of the Kinkaid Act of 1904, which allowed homesteads of a full section, 640 acres, rather than a quarter-section, 160 acres. Its sponsor and heroic proponent, Congressman Moses P. Kinkaid, was present when the Kinkaiders sang their anthem in his honor. From there the song passed into oral tradition and the mysterious canon of Great Plains balladry. Recently discovered, the original text and circumstances of “The Kinkaider’s Song” illustrate the capacity of digitized source materials to move ballads previously anonymous into the realm of known authorship and context--an important development in the interpretation of Great Plains folksong.

Event Information

Start 04-05-2024 8:00 PM
End 04-05-2024 9:00 PM
Room Presidential Suite