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The Cow War
Here is a story from the 1998 Cedar County Historical Review on the Cow War of 1931 where farmers and the government were at odds on bovine tuberculosis testing. And martial law was declared in Cedar County by Governor Turner.
What the Cedar County Cow War Means – Harry Clarke
As a boy I delivered the Des Moines Register. The best place to wait on cold mornings for the delivery truck was inside a large cardboard box that sat on the Tipton Post Office loading dock. The box held unused newspapers, and I often read one of the old ones wile waiting for the truck. Some of those long ago stories really struck my imagination.
One of my paper customers was a retired veterinarian named Dr. Banks. He sparked my interest in history with his tale about a statewide cattle epidemic, also known as the Cow War. He encouraged me to search for what the story meant. At the age of twelve I never thought that I would be the one to tell the story.
I try to imagine what the mood was like in Cedar County in 1931, when babies and young children became sick from drinking diseased milk. And wat “sick” meant was “tubercular,” not just headachy. In 1931, TB was a truly awful affliction, and nationally 5% of all cases were traceable to bad milk. Twenty-five percent of children under age 5 incurred diseases traceable to the milk. And 13% of vigorous young Naval Academy cadets fell prey to similarly tainted milk from other sources. Children are more susceptible to bovine tuberculosis than adults because they consume more milk, and are less resistant to disease.
Still, there were refusals to comply with orders to test cattle for the disease and to destroy those found infected, but I can imagine the stress of a farmer who was afraid that the mere testing would harm his cows, destroying his livelihood. “My cattle look fine,” he might say. “Leave me be.”
Now imagine that farmer listening to the voice of Norman Baker on Muscatine radio station KTNT. Baker and others claimed that the station’s call letters stood for “Know the Naked Truth.” Baker drove a purple convertible and wore purple clothes; he was a colorful and flamboyant person. He encouraged cattle and dairy farmers to resist voluntary testing of their herds. About this time, seven cows from the Larsen Brothers herd of West Branch were slaughtered as a way of showing farmers that even healthy looking cows contained the TB virus. One of the animals was caked with lesions and pus sacs, enabling the West Branch men to see for themselves the actual disease that they had been passing on to their own children and others, while they had been convinced that their cows were well because they “looked healthy.”
Mrs. Curtis Frymoyer says that nevertheless, Cedar farmer Jake Lenker, who was later sent to prison, had been influenced by Baker’s constant harangue of resistance. Jim Fulwider, who worked with Sheriff Foster Maxson in the early 1940’s, says the sheriff told him the level of tension in Cedar county was so great that he had adapted his sidearm for a quick response. It was on Lenker’s property where 300 farmers, armed with crude weapons, ambushed 63 law officers and 2 veterinarians.
Fortunately, serious injury on either side
But it was the Lenker rebellion that led Governor Dan Turner in late September of 1931 to order Cedar County to be placed under “military rule”.” As Iowa National Guard troops jumped off crowded rail cars in Tipton, they heard cries of “Here comes the Army!” and “You farmers better run!”
Youngsters like Gerald Hartog hurried from the bakery his father Walter owned, just to catch a glimpse of the looks on the soldiers’ faces. I bet those kids later got a kick out of the pig that Captain J.F. Currel gave to guardsman Raymond Darling. Darling carried the grunting mascot in his arms most of the day and shared his scanty lunch with him at noon.
Clothier Merle Clark was elated to see the soldiers because he did not believe that the community could solve the conflict on its own. As the troops marched past storefronts, some business people were afraid to side with them for fear that farmers would boycott their stores. It Is clear that some store owners, as well as a portion of county citizens, did not want to become involved in the conflict. These people were fence-sitters, perhaps understandably. Once peace was restored, Guard troops aided law officers and veterinarians in administering the bovine tuberculin test. If a cow was shown to be carrying TB, it was destroyed.
Paul Moore and Jake Lenker were sentenced to a term in the state prison at Ft Madison for resisting testing procedures, although they remained in prison only a short period of time. Because the United States Department of Health wanted to prevent anyone else from falling victim to tainted milk, they encouraged military leaders to protect the rights of citizens. By doing so they were maintaining the right of government to intervene in disastrous situations.
Camp Moffit, as the Cedar County Fairgrounds were called at the time, must have looked overcrowded on the day the military opened its gates to visitors. On a single Sunday, some 25,000 people gathered at the camp. Many of the southwestern Iowa troops who served in Cedar County were members of the Rainbow Division, a heroic division of the first World War.
For those sad and agonized months it became ever clearer that the contest was basically simple: While it is reasonable for someone to protect his financial wellbeing, when it means endangering the health of countless others, it seems to me there is no question what the responsibility of government should be. It is to protect, regardless of economic loss, the lives of defenseless people.
(Sources: Don and Dorothy Stout’s Cedar Land, Tipton Conservative, Des Moines Register, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Lyon Reporter).
Event Space Available
A Day on the Prairie
Saturday September 21st. Parade down Plum and past Cedar Manor starts at 9 AM. Village Open 10 AM - 3 PM. Exhibits, games, crafts, music, food, and more! Entertainment for the whole family!