Americans View Their Dust Bowl Experience

By John R. Wunder; Frances W. Kaye et al. | Go to book overview

FARMER REBELS IN PLYMOUTH COUNTY, IOWA, 1932—1933

Rodney D. Karr

The Farmers' Holiday movement flared into rebellion at a time when agricultural prices plummeted to discouraging levels and farmers were threatened with the loss of their land. From August 1932 until April 1933, the Holiday movement achieved its greatest attention in the vicinity of Sioux City, Iowa. Immediately north of Sioux City, in Plymouth County, militant farmers brought recognition to agriculture's depression plight by boldly picketing highways and halting foreclosure sales. In April 1933, these rebellious farmers destroyed what had been a hopeful movement when they hauled a judge from his courtroom in Le Mars and nearly lynched him on the outskirts of town. 1

A description of Iowa Holiday movement activists can provide important information about participants in direct-action rural protest movements. On occasion 1,000 to 1,500 Plymouth County farmers picketed highways. One hundred to three hundred local farmers attended events of the most serious violence. Although their movement lacked extensive formal leadership, Plymouth County farmer rebels received national attention and provoked a countywide declaration of martial law in May 1933. These farmers, mostly concentrated in a restricted area of the county, resorted to bold measures in the face of financial ruin. They displayed special local characteristics while continuing a rich tradition of American agrarian activism.


PHASES OF REBELLION

Rebellious farmer activity in Plymouth County developed in two phases. In August and September 1932, farmers began a strike by withholding agricultural products from market. During the strike, picketers blocked highways, and in some instances strikers besieged legal

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