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Iowa History Daily: September 21 - Cedar County Cow War

Iowa History Daily: On September 21, 1931, Iowa’s Cow War reached a climax as farmers and police officers skirmished at a Cedar County Farm. The violence led Governor Dan Turner to declare martial law while sending the Iowa National Guard to Tipton in order to help assist veterinarians in giving tuberculin tests to cattle.

Bovine Tuberculosis proved a major issue for Iowa farmers during the early 1900s. However, when new testing methods became available in 1929, the state sought to eradicate the disease. The Iowa General Assembly passed a law requiring all cows, whether used for dairy or meat, be tested for bovine tuberculosis. Many Iowa farmers, who did not trust the tests, opposed the law. The farmers believed that the test might infect cows with tuberculosis, and attempted to overturn the law in the court system. When the Iowa Supreme Court determined the law Constitutional, a tense standoff ensued.

Muscatine KTNT radio station owner Norman G. Baker spread misinformation in southeastern Iowa about medical professionals, Iowa politicians, farming magazines, and Iowa universities in response to the testing. Baker's words paired with farmer resistance led 1,000 farmers to travel from Tipton to the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines to demand the Iowa Legislature make the tests optional. After the Legislature refused to do so, the farmers decided to act on their own.

On March 9, 1931, over 500 people protested south of Tipton at a farm owned by E. C. Mitchell. Iowa veterinarians and 20 police officers arrived at farmer William C. Butterbrodt's farm northeast of Tipton to test his cows for tuberculosis. Almost 1,000 protestors traveled to Butterbrodt's farm to block tests from being performed, although no acts of violence occurred. Late in the year, on September 21, 1931, 300 or 400 farmers went to Jacob Lenker's farm with crudely made weapons to attack roughly 65 police officers and two veterinarians. The farmers threw mud and rocks at the officers, while also swinging clubs and slashing the officers' tires.

The next day, Governor Turner declared martial law and dispatched 31 Iowa National Guard units to Tipton. Soldiers and veterinarians traveled throughout Cedar County testing cows for tuberculosis. The National Guard manned machine guns along country roads and sentries patrolled the area. The farmers largely gave up with the Guard’s arrival. 50 veterinarians, working in pairs, tested 5,000 cattle per day for a week to complete the work. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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