The Great Depression: Strike Turns Violent

The National Guard was called out to respond to violence when Iowa farmers went on strike.


Nobody would buy your business in those days, so I couldn’t get out of the milk business, but I knew I was in danger because I drove milk for several days—and I can’t remember now how many days but—with a revolver underneath my front seat, see. I didn’t want to use it, but I thought these boys want to sell me the milk, I have to right to pick it up, the highways are mine and I’ve got customers in town that want it, so I just felt I was doing my own job, see.

What started out as a peaceful demonstration, quickly turned to violence as strikers and truckers clashed. Harold Ewing was one of the farmers on the picket line.

And we was stopping all trucks and this one fellow, he got a little obstinate. He was gonna go through anyhow, so they had a big wide belt—I don’t know whether you’d say it was a thresher belt, I’d say the belt was probably 8-10 inches wide—and that was driven full of roofing nails. They pulled that out, and this fellow was riding with the driver and he got a little perturbed about it and he come out with a—I don’t know what it was for sure, whether it was an axe handle—I thought it felt like a pick axe handle and it caught me right along side the neck. If he would have got a little lower, he would have broke my collarbone, but it floored me.

They threatened Markel and his boys, he had two or three boys, and they told him they were going to get him. But then Markel said, you’re gonna put the picket line out there, we’re gonna go right through it. And that’s just what they did the next day. They went out there and when they stopped them, he got outta the truck and went over and started to talk to the strikers and said ‘we’re going on through.’ And when he walked back to the truck, just as he was getting in the truck, they shot him. They shot him, but he got crawled up into the truck and he said ‘drive through boys’ and they did go through—right on through; they scattered them. But they took him to the hospital and the next day he died.

The violence was out of hand and the Plymouth County Sheriff, Ralph Rippey, had only a handful of deputies to keep the peace.

I got some busted ribs out of stuff thrown at me, still got them. And I took—I was the only one who carried a weapon too. I had a little double-barreled shotgun with me. I wasn’t going to take a chance on somebody getting killed.

Reinforcements were needed. He called Governor Clyde Herring in Des Moines.

I demand that the National Guard be sent up here because this thing has got out of control. The next day, Colonel Haynes called me and told me he was bringing the National Guard in. We had Companies from Sioux City, Sheldon, Le Mars, various places around here. So we started out with the National Guard to pick these fellows up. Well our jail wouldn’t hold them, so they built a barbwire enclosure on the south side of town and we had 50 up to 100 fellows in jail there at that time.

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