The Iowa Guard in the Inter-War Period (Part II)
The 1930s: Times of Unrest
History of The Iowa National Guard
1LT Stephen N. Kallestad
The stock market crash in October 1929 marked the beginning of the Great Depression, a time of dramatic change for the United States. The Iowa National Guard, as well as the active Army, was impacted as well.
A decrease in funding for the Guard was the first noticeable change at the beginning of the ‘30s. Vast unemployment and falling tax receipts caused the federal government to drastically reduce the Army’s budget. New equipment acquisition for the Guard was virtually halted, and money for training was very scarce.
But the Iowa Guard’s role was not diminished, and units were mobilized many times during the decade, mostly because of civil unrest. In 1932 and 1933, the Guard was called out to quell farm protests. In 1938, the Guard provided security during violent union strikes in Newton and Sioux City.
The first farm protest occurred in 1932. It is often referred to as the "Cow War." Officials testing cattle for bovine tuberculosis sparked the Cow War. Farmers, hard pressed by the Great Depression, found the testing and subsequent condemnation of their cattle increasingly alarming. They began massing at testing sites, hoping their presence would discourage veterinarians from proceeding with their work.
In September 1932, two state veterinarians, backed by 65 law enforcement agents, arrived at a farm near Tipton, intent on testing the cattle. According to long-time political reporter George Mills, the 400 farmers who gathered at the farm "wee in an ugly mood." They turned their wrath on the veterinarians’ car, filling it with mud, breaking the gas line, slashing the tires and smashing the windows. The veterinarians retreated and the next day Gov. Dan Turner declared martial law in Cedar County and called out the National Guard.
For all practical purposes, the incident at the farm ended the Cow War.
A second farm protest occurred in 1933. A group calling itself the Farm Holiday Association was formed in response to farm foreclosures. Its aim was to resist and disrupt the forced sales of farms. Matters came to a head in Iowa in April 1933 when members of the group dragged District Judge Bradley from the Plymouth County Courthouse and beat him. When a large crowd then attacked a group of sheriff’s deputies and state agents at a farm sale in Crawford County, Gov. Herring declared martial law in both counties and called out the Guard.
Twenty officers and 202 men from the 133rd Infantry were sent to LeMars in Plymouth County, and 26 officers and 256 men from the 168th Infantry were sent to Denison in Crawford County. Maj. Gen. Matthew A. Tinley, commander of the 34th Division, was appointed Military Commander of the District. To administer his proclamations, a commission of seven guardsmen (who were also lawyers) was appointed. The Guard quickly re-established order by tracking down the instigators and by enforcing a curfew and restrictions on travel. By May 17, the Governor lifted martial law and sent the Guard home.
Things began to look up for the Guard in 1934 because of Pres. Roosevelt’s New Deal. While military budgets still were minimal, the Works Project Administration (WPA) was created to build up the country’s infrastructure and to provide jobs. Many improvements were made to Camp Dodge, including the stone gate on NW Beaver Drive. Many armories were built across the state.
By the late 1930s, a sense of prosperity was returning to the country. This was spurred on by massive amounts of government spending. Industrial output was still low, profit margins were slim but improving, and wages were still stagnating near their pre-depression levels. Workers in the private sector had not yet shared much from the increasing prosperity and their patience was growing short. Organized labor began increasing the pressure on financially strapped industries for higher wages. Confrontation was inevitable and, in 1938, labor strikes occurred across the country, including Iowa.
The two strikes in 1938 that required the assistance of the Iowa Guard were the Maytag plant strike in Newton and the Swift packing plant strike in Sioux City. While both strikes were very contentious, they were resolved shortly after troops arrived.
Many of the guardsmen who were called up in the ‘30s would be mobilized again in the ‘40s…for World War II.