The video from Iowa Public Television shows two opposite perspectives on the farmers strike in the early 1930s when tensions erupted into violence. On one side was Harold Ewing, a striking farmer, and the other side was then Plymouth County Sheriff Ralph Rippey. Prior to the 1929 collapse of the stock market, farmers felt the impact of overproduction which led to low prices for products. In the late 1920s, farmers were successful in getting some relief through increased capital from the Federal Farm Loan System. They were able to obtain an exemption from the anti-trust laws for farm cooperatives and in getting effective regulation of the grain exchanges. However, substantive reform that would have supported farmers in achieving relief for falling prices saw legislation such as the McNary-Haugen Bill fall to presidential veto. The legislation would have supported a fair exchange value of products domestically, although farmers would have to pay a fee for this they were more than willing to do so.
However, as the economic situation worsened around the country, farmers were feeling the stress more acutely. For many farmers, the protests that would follow were less about a clear platform of goals and more about doing something against the forces that were stripping them of their land and livelihood. The incident culminated with a near lynching of Judge Bradley, who was hearing cases related to the moratorium on the foreclosure of farms, in Plymouth County; the judge was dragged out of the courthouse during court, stripped and a noose put around his neck. The Iowa National Guard was called in to quiet down tension, which they did after a two-month stay.
- How would you characterize the strike?
- Why did the sheriff feel the need to call in reinforcements? Do you feel he was justified in that action, why or why not? How should those in power react to protests?
- Compare this video with the farmer's strike in Sioux City. How does each of these sources help to demonstrate the power of protest?
"The Great Depression: Strike Turns Violent," Iowa Pathways - Iowa Public Television, 1979. Courtesy of Iowa Public Television