20th Century, Agriculture, dairy farming, farming, Food, History, Intercession, Judgment & Counter-Judgment Cycle, Minnesota, Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, omnipresent history, Uncategorized, Unions

Farmers Protest on Capitol Steps

sa5.2 p20

http://www.mnopedia.org/minnesota-farmer-labor-party-1924-1944

1935

“Protesting farmers bring a starving cow and horse to the steps of the capitol to dramatize the desperate conditions in rural Minnesota. Droughts for the last six years have ruined crops and depleted the land. With little growing, farmers don’t have anything to sell. With so little money in people’s pockets because of the depression, prices are low for whatever farmers can sell. Banks foreclose on many farms; others are simply abandoned. Out of this ferment, a coalition of reformers and radicals formed the Farmer-Labor Party.” *

As a backstory to the political theatre of bringing starving animals to this protest in Saint Paul, we need to understand the dire need and impetus of the groups involved. Below, historian George H. Mayer gives a fine summary of the mindsets of Depression Era Minnesota farmers and workers.

“The farmer approached problems as a proprietor or petty capitalist. Relief to him meant a mitigation of conditions that interfered with successful farming. It involved such things as tax reduction, easier access to credit, and a floor under farm prices. His individualist psychology did not create scruples against government aid, but he welcomed it only as long as it improved agricultural conditions. When official paternalism took the form of public works or the dole, he openly opposed it because assistance on such terms forced him to abandon his chosen profession, to submerge his individuality in the labor crew, and to suffer the humiliation of the bread line. Besides, a public works program required increased revenue, and since the state relied heavily on the property tax, the cost of the program seemed likely to fall primarily on him.

At the opposite end of the seesaw sat the city worker, who sought relief from the hunger, exposure, and disease that followed the wake of unemployment. Dependent on an impersonal industrial machine, he had sloughed off the frontier tradition of individualism for the more serviceable doctrine of cooperation through trade unionism. Unlike the depressed farmer, the unemployed worker often had no property or economic stake to protect. He was largely immune to taxation and had nothing to lose by backing proposals to dilute property rights or redistribute the wealth. Driven by the primitive instinct to survive, the worker demanded financial relief measures from the state.” **

Even with bifurcated interests, rural and urban Minnesotans held this coalition together for about twenty six years. They shared the commonality of urgent and real need, and a common narrative of human effort quashed by the manipulations of external economic or political forces. So what were the fruits of this protest iconized by the farmers’ famished cow and the teamster’s hungry horse?

“Minnesota’s Farmer-Labor Party was the most successful labor party in United States history. Starting in 1918, it was a political federation of labor unions, not just a “labor friendly” political party. The Minnesota Farmer-Labor Association, a grouping of associated unions and farmers, provided the organic connection between labor and the party. Before the party merged with the Democrats in 1944, they had elected three governors, four U.S. Senators, and eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives.” ***

This protest strikes home with me and my father’s experiences in Depression Era rural Minnesota. His father, F.M. Jaracz, lost his farm in Kelliher, MN which drove him to sell moonshine under the cover of his Watkins route. He was busted under the Volstead Act and did eight years of Federal prison. My dad, Le Roy, became a ward of the state and was taken in by F.M.’s moonshine partners; the C.N. Orvis family. 

The Orvis family also lost their farm, and were forced to live in a tiny, one-room rental in a local fishing resort called Runkle’s Cabins. They eventually lost that and lived on the dredging barge where Mr. Orvis was lucky enough to land a job. The family of eight did  not have more than two rooms until World War II.

Dad was raised eating oatmeal, biscuits spread w/ lard, and “boiled dinner”. (Think of a catch-all “stone-soup” with a base of potatoes, rutabaga, and any meat shavings available. He wore ill-fitting hand-me-downs from the five boys, and wore shoes with cardboard soles nick-named “Hoover leather”. All the kids worked odd-jobs because their income for the family was indispensable. 

So we turn and seek Your wisdom, El Gibbor (G-d of Strength); will You remember us when we gain and lose our vitality? Will You forgive our moments of strength when we arrogantly think we no longer need You? Will You forgive our moments of desperate want when we choose to blame You? We have sinned against You in this era of 1935, and still blame You for bad weather, ruined crops, lay-offs, and hiring freezes; have mercy.

We share the motive-conflicts of these ancestors: we simultaneously want You to shield our successes from You so we can own them, and disburse our failures to You or others so we can disown them. Why do we find it so hard to truly acknowledge our present reality? We are terrified to bring our sacred cows and ignoble steeds to the steps of Your capitol. By Your might, give us the grace to show our hands, especially when are dealt a raw deal.

Will You forgive this era its’ judgments made by farmers towards: the state government, the railroads and middle-men, and the wizards of Wall Street? Will You restore to them what was taken in the Depression? May the growers know Your unmerited favor and “ora et labora” to pass Your wisdom into all future farmers of Minnesota!

“The bands of the wicked have robbed me: but I have not forgotten thy law.” Psalms 119:61 KJV ****

* http://www.mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm

** George H. Mayer, The Political Career of Floyd B. Olson, Reprint, (Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1987) 86-87.

*** Anfinson,Graeme. “A Short History of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party”. 01/07/2014. https://www.counterpunch.org/2014/01/07/a-short-history-of-the-minnesota-farm-labor-party/

**** https://biblehub.com/psalms/119-61.htm

 

 

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20th Century, Culture, Environment, Faith, Great Lakes, History, Humor, Labor, Logging, Minnesota, outdoors

Paul Bunyan is “born” 1914

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1914
Paul Bunyan, the mythical lumberjacking giant who logged off most of North America, is created as an advertising gimmick by the Red River Lumber Company in Minneapolis.*

There’s something that makes me smile just reading the name, “Paul Bunyan”. His name is synonymous with the North Woods of Minnesota. For the past 100 years, most midwestern kids have heard about him at camp, at a summer cabin, or sitting around the campfire.

I won’t bore you with the breadth and depth of research as to the origins of his legend, but report a few quick facts. His stories came from the oral tradition of logging camps. They were most commonly credited to William B. Laughead writing promotional material for the Red River Lumber Company. Some researchers think his legend started with the French Canadian folk tales of Paul Bon Jean or Tit Jean. Bunyan phonetically is similar to the Quebec expression for surprise; “bon yenne”.**

So here begins my prayer, Lord, thanks for the legend of Paul Bunyan! Help me reflect on his folktales, and find their blessing.

Christ, I thank You for Your masterful parables. You chose to allow those who were looking for meaning to catch it, and for those listeners who were not, to breeze over its intent for their heart and remain relationally open to You. Stories seem to have a magic to get past our trip wires, and speak deeply and gently to us.

I thank You for the good these tales did for the loggers. They entertained, distracted from boredom, aches and pains, and maybe even planted seeds of inspiration. Who wouldn’t want to be the ultimate mans’ man in those rough work conditions? Paul laughed at fear and the elements, did an impossible workload each day, ate mountains of food, and maybe even created some mountain ranges playfully wrestling his giant blue ox. (Wink wink!)

So today, Creator of the Forests, I thank You for the gifts of hyperbole, folklore and camp stories. I thank You for the relationships born of telling and listening to “tall tales” like Paul Bunyan in Minnesota. I thank You for an example, though fictional, of a huge, happy man loving his hard work in Your outdoors!

May You enable this State to take to heart and to practice the rule of Saint Benedict to pray and work; “Ora et Labora”.**** May You bless us to practice contentment in our work until You come. May we forever return to You the free, yet costly gift of doing our best!

 

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23 ESV

 

*P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
The Minnesota Historical Society Web site, http://www.mnhs.org, is fantastic! Check it out! Images are from https://images.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl; again, an amazing resource!
**https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Bunyan
***https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pray_and_work
****http://biblehub.com/colossians/3-23.htm

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