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Iowa History Daily: April 27 - Le Mars Farmers' Revolt

Iowa History Daily: On April 27, 1933, a group of between 100 and 200 farmers stormed the courtroom of Judge Charles C. Bradley and demanded the judge cease signing farm foreclosure orders. A response to hard times between 1926 and 1931 where one out of seven Iowa farmers lost their lands while average values dropped from $254 per acre to just $68, the mob abducted the judge from his courtroom, put a rope around his neck, and smeared him with axle grease. In response, Governor Clyde L. Herring declared martial law in Plymouth County and sent four companies of the National Guard.

During the boom of the Great War, many Iowa farmers reinvested profits to boost production during a time of high prices. As farmers grabbed up more acreage and invested in new equipment, many also took on significant debt. When the market collapsed in the post-war era, mortgages remained high and running a farm at profit became next to impossible. When corn sold for 32 cents a bushel, farmers on average put in 92 cents, creating significant losses. In response, Iowa Farmers’ Union President Milo Reno founded the Farmers’ Holiday Association in May of 1932 with the slogan “Stay at Home - Buy Nothing. Sell Nothing.” As Iowans started to withhold goods for the market, buyers looked elsewhere. Tensions mounted, and on January 4, 1933, over 1,000 farmers turned out to protest the foreclosure of the farm owned by John A. Johnson. The crowd jeered as New York Life Insurance Company lawyer Herbert S. Martin bid on the property, yelling “lynch the bloodsucker” while holding a noose in the air.

Plymouth County lawyers responded by officially suspending all farm foreclosures on February 13, 1933, and on February 8, the Iowa General Assembly passed a mortgage moratorium act. However, some foreclosures continued. On April 27, a group of farmers turned out to demand Clarence Becker allow a tenant to continue farming land he owned. After the farmer refused, an angry mob of farmers arrived in the Charles Bradley’s courtroom. “This is my courtroom,” Bradley advised the angry agrarians. “Take off your hats and stop smoking cigarets.” In response a group of men pulled the judge from his perch and dragged him down the hallway and out of the building.

After loading the judge into a truck and driving him over a mile south of Le Mars, the crowd roughed up the judge and fitted his neck with a noose. As men in the mob threw the rope over a telephone pole to string up the resolute judge, the group started to disagree about what to do next. Shortly thereafter, the mob dispersed, leaving Judge Bradley to walk back to Le Mars. “A vicious and criminal conspiracy and assault upon a judge while in the discharge of his official duties, endangering his life and threatening a complete breakdown of law and order,” remarked Governor Herring before declaring martial law and calling out the National Guard. By May 7th officials arrested 125 suspects, and by May 10 the Herring declared an end to martial law. Seven men eventually spent time in jail. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar #IowaOTD


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