20th Century, Agriculture, farming, History, Minnesota, 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 ****

* 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!
** 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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History, Prayer, Uncategorized

Grand Portage is established 1784

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Grand Portage on Lake Superior becomes the western headquarters of the new North West (fur) Company. From here the British dominate the North American fur trade until Americans arrive in the early 1800s.*

Grand Portage is both a place and a route. The route refers to an 8 1/2 mile portage that starts at the settlement and ends at the Pigeon River, above its waterfalls. Traveling from there through the many lakes along the Canadian Shield, a person could reach the Pacific or the Arctic Ocean without carrying a canoe much farther than the Grand Portage itself.

People and goods could reach Grand Portage, the place, from the East via the Great Lakes, from the South by the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers, and from the West by the Grand Portage route. That location had been a central meeting point for trade long before Europeans came looking for furs. Once the fur trade began, Grand Portage also became a port–the westernmost point where goods could be delivered from the east coast by ship.

It is hard for us to imagine in this present era why fur could be so sought after. For moderns, it is a luxury that is contentious and risky to wear despite its  beauty. Most of us don’t know that our world experienced a small “Ice Age” and these European explorers were driven to find furs, like native Minnesotans, because of their warmth.

Will you forgive any judgments of North West Company? We show loyalty to our beloved brands of outerwear like: Columbia, North Face, Filson, Orvis, L.L. Bean etc. We buy these brands because we are convinced they are the best for our purpose. Yet, we have hated those companies who saw the beaver and said, “This is the best source material for warmth, comfort, and style.” Will You forgive our arrogance towards a company that saw an opportunity, provided work to both Native and European Minnesotans, and created useful and beautiful items for trade?

This brings me to ponder that You created fur to shield Your beloved creatures: the mink, the beaver, and the fox to name a few. I am in awe of your artistry in these first “fur coats”?! This day I thank You for the meaning of fur: first to the animals, then to Native Americans, European explorers and traders, and finally to the state of Minnesota!

Not only did You create this astonishingly warm fur, but provided a waterway to it! Thanks that you revealed Grand Portage to Indians, who shared it with the French and English who further established this trade route and town! Will You forgive our conflicts over the fur trade? Will You forgive our grudges, past, present, and leave a blessing?

*Note – PrayThroughHistory uses the timeline located for several years at the Minnesota Historical Society Web site, at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm .  The current URL is www.dipity.com/Minnesota/History/Minnesota-History/ and only works if typed, not pasted, in browser. It is worth the effort!

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