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Farmer's Holiday

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

In August of 1932, a columnist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette interviewed an area farmer, Anton Green, over his involvement in the Farmer's Union and their attempts to bring farmers a living wage. The columnist scoffed at Green's claim that "if we can evade the law legally, we will do it." A contradiction in terms, wrote the columnist. Little did he know Anton Green.

Green had helped organize a local group called the Farmer's Holiday Association.  Farmers were encouraged to take a holiday from work and refuse to bring their produce to market. No, it was not a strike. Strikes were illegal. It was a holiday.

Several hundred farmers around Clinton, Iowa, took such a farm holiday on September 1st, 1932. They blocked roads into Clinton and tried to talk other farmers into taking a holiday, too. Such holidays might help bring the price of corn above 12 cents a bushel.

To Clinton County Sheriff E. R. Cooke, it appeared more like a strike than a holiday, and he jailed three of the ringleaders, and held them on three hundred dollars bond.

Within hours, the jail was surrounded by five hundred angry farmers whose holiday had been spoiled, demanding release of the men inside without bond. There were reports that the Farmer's Union was sending in reinforcements. Sheriff Cooke replied that the law was the law; he needed bond money. The mob threatened violence.

It was time for Anton Green to put his words into action: evade the law without breaking it. Farmer Green had nowhere near three hundred dollars in his account at the Clinton National Bank, but he calmly took out his checkbook. Under "Pay to the order of, he wrote "Clerk of Municipal Court." Next to the dollar sign he put the figure $300. But on the next line—the line he knew banks must legally use—he wrote “Three and no one-hundreds dollars.”

Sheriff Cooke took a quick glance at the check—too quick—and released the three association members. Everyone dispersed.

Anton Green's cancelled check is still in the family today, a memento of a time when holidays were more exciting than they are now.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.