Quirky Des Moines – #11 The Cow War of 1931


In September of 1929, the stock market crashed dramatically and caused a worldwide great depression.  Banks closed, thousands of people were plunged into poverty. Some people even ended their own lives, distraught over the loss of their livelihood.  Iowa and the Midwest were not immune to the decline in living conditions with many farmers losing their farms to bank foreclosures.  The animosity towards banks and authority in general during that time grew so high that bank robbers were treated as celebrities, with citizens being happy that the banks were suffering as well.

In 1929, the government made it mandatory for farmers to have a veterinarian test for tuberculosis in their herds of breeding or dairy cattle.  TB in cattle can jump species and infect humans, the fear of this led to the legislation testing for the disease.   Farmers already feeling the strain from the stock market crash and lower milk and beef prices were not to happy about this turn of events.   For two years, farmers from Cedar county Iowa voiced their concern over the new testing citing that the tests were unreliable and possibly caused abortions in births.

In February 1931, a group of approximately 1000 farmers from Cedar county Iowa boarded a train and traveled to Des Moines to voice their concern and ask for the testing to be optional.  Upon arriving, the legislature refused to act.  The farmers returned to their farms fuming about the decision, and vowing to take things into their own hands.  Vets seeking to test cattle in Cedar county were met with thrown eggs, mud or kicks from housewives.  The government responded with law enforcement escorts for the vets to protect them from attack.  The conflict came to a head at the farm of Jake Lenker, two vets showed up to do to the TB test with a convoy of 65 officers accompanying them.  They were met with a blockade of 400 farmers blocking the way.  There were several scuffles, but none killed.  The next day Governor Dan Turner declared martial law and sent in 31 units of the national guard.  The farmers knew they were overmatched and conceded without much violence.  The two ringleaders of the revolt Jake Lenker and Paul Moore were arrested, convicted on criminal conspiracy, and sentenced to 3 years at the Fort Madison Penitentiary, both were released early.

Due to testing, bovine tuberculosis has been virtually eliminated in the United States.  From time to time a case will pop up somewhere, but overall the program has been a success.  If you would like to read what the USDA has to say about bovine TB, click here.

Shop Amazon’s Holiday Toy List – Top 100

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s