All the football games are over (okay, well, there are the pros today), so why not spend part of Sunday reading some history.
The Des Moines Register’s Dan Pillar revisits the Depression in rural Iowa. There are photos here. (Above is a picture of a farm foreclosure.)
Here is a collection of individual stories.
All of Pillar’s story is good, but what struck us was the difference in the response of people to hard times then and now. We are in the middle of two wars and a great recession, but the population is quiet — especially relative to the Depression years. In the 1930s in the heartland of America, Americans were ticked off and they showed it. Here is a section of Pillar’s story:
As the Great Depression tightened its vise around Iowa agriculture in the 1930s, the spirit of rebellion and even radicalism raised itself in the traditionally conservative and placid Iowa countryside.
Historian Ossian says the 1930s were “a very violent time” in Iowa.
Economist Neil Harl of Iowa State University said the decade was “the worst period of civil disorder in the state’s history, even more pronounced than in the 1960s.”
Trouble began in August 1931, and Iowa Gov. Dan Turner called out the Iowa National Guard to quell what became known as the “Cedar County Cow War,” so named over incidents of armed resistance near Tipton against a new state law requiring veterinary inspections of dairy cattle.
After an unruly group of farmers attacked a veterinarian’s car, the Guard set up machine guns at intersections of farm-to-market roads in eastern Iowa to prevent mobs from forming.
Uniformed Iowans would be called other times to subdue unrest by their fellow citizens.
The wave of farm foreclosures that swept over Iowa during the first three years of the decade put cracks in the foundation of law.
First there were “penny auctions,” where farmers would turn up at foreclosure sales with weapons or clubs on display and inform strangers that outside bids were distinctly unwelcome.
The farmers would then bid only pennies for the distressed property.
In February 1933, the Iowa Legislature passed a moratorium on farm foreclosures, which had only limited success in stopping forced sales.
The moratorium was passed after several hundred farmers swarmed the Iowa Statehouse, demanding action against the foreclosures that hit about 5 percent of all farms in 1932.
A march on the state capitol was led by Milo Reno, a farmer turned agrarian agitator who was head of the Farmers’ Holiday Association, an agriculture version of a general strike planned for the 1933 growing season.
Political and business leaders feared the Farm Holiday as a possible forerunner to the kind of autocratic revolution in the United States that had brought to power the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917, Benito Mussolini’s Fascists in Italy in 1922 and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party in Germany in January 1933.
The outrages of those regimes in subsequent decades were unknown in the early 1930s. Desperate Americans began to wonder if the ideas in Moscow, Rome and Berlin might work in this country.
“People openly discussed the need for a dictator in those days,” said Ossian. “It wasn’t considered radical conversation.”
President Roosevelt and his new secretary of agriculture, Henry A. Wallace of Iowa, made aid to agriculture an immediate priority after FDR’s inauguration in March 1933, in part out of fear of disorder in rural America.
The Agricultural Adjustment Act of April 1933 took much of the force from the Farm Holiday movement, which in Iowa had consisted of little more than a few blocked roads.
But Roosevelt and Wallace couldn’t stop a fresh wave of violence in the spring and summer of 1933 when the foreclosure moratorium was challenged by desperate lenders. Twice in that year, Iowa Gov. Clyde Herring declared martial law and called the Guard, complete with fixed bayonets, to keep order in Plymouth and Crawford counties.