Farmers Told "Go Home and Slop the Hogs"
STATE-OWNED ELEVATOR BILL IS DEAD
February 4, 1915
The American Society of Equity, which has been active in North Dakota since 1907 organizing farmer-owned elevator cooperatives, decided at its convention last year to plunge into political action. Its goal? A state-owned terminal elevator that would treat farmers fairly. It has waged an intense campaign to convince this legislature to pass such a bill.
Last night farmers argued long into the night with legislators about the merits of their proposal. The farmers were angry; the legislators unresponsive. Finally, the heated discussions broke up when Treadwell Twitchell, a Cass County Republican, told the farmers, “Go home and slop the hogs and leave the lawmaking to us.”
Bitterly disappointed with this rebuff, the farmers realized that the elevator bill was a dead issue and that, if they were going to advance their cause, some bolder action was needed. No one knew that better than A. C. Townley who witnessed the evening’s events. The farmers are riled up, and Townley sees this as the opportune time to organize them into a political force. He has for several months thought that North Dakota was ripe for a farmer revolt, and after last night he is certain of it. He told the North Star Dakotan today that he immediately plans to organize farmers into a political alliance that he calls the Farmers’ Nonpartisan League. Whether he will be successful or not, only time will tell.
TOWNLEY ORGANIZES NEW FARMER’ LEAGUE
McHenry County Farmers Enthusiastic
February 20, 1915
The North Star Dakotan has learned that A. C. Townley has just completed a several-day stay in McHenry County near Deering at the Fred Wood farm. His purpose was to convince Wood, an old Equity friend, and Wood’s sons, Howard and Edwin, that his idea for a farmer political action organization is sound. Townley laid out his plan to the Woodses. Farmers would be asked to join the Farmers’ Nonpartisan League with a membership fee of six dollars to help pay for organizational work. The program, drawn up by Townley and Howard Wood, has been devised to appeal to farmers: state ownership of terminal elevators, flour mills, packing houses, and cold-storage plants; state grain inspection; exemption of farm improvements from taxation; an improved state hail-insurance program; rural credit banks operated at cost.
Townley reasoned that only state-owned businesses could be fair in dealing with farmers. Fred Wood was not convinced that the scheme would work; he had heard plenty of plans to help farmers before and none of them had been successful.
To test his idea, Townley, along with Howard Wood, went out into the county to sign up farmers for the League. To Fred’s surprise, they signed up the first 79 farmers they talked to. Fred Wood was now a believer! The Woodses and several neighbors have signed bank notes for the purchase of three Ford cars and a supply of gas to support organizational work.
Townley is certain that his Nonpartisan League (NPL) will be successful. He told the North Star Dakotan: “Make the farmers pay their money to join and they’ll stick - stick ‘til hell freezes over.”
WHO IS ARTHUR C. TOWNLEY?
WHAT ARE HIS PLANS?
March 1, 1915
Arthur C. Townley, the mastermind behind the new Farmers’ Nonpartisan League, has lived in North Dakota eleven years. Born in Browns Valley, Minnesota, near the South Dakota border, on December 30, 1880, he grew up on small farms and attended rural schools in the area. He went to high school in Wadena and Alexandria, Minnesota, and worked summers as a farmhand in North Dakota.
In 1904, during the Second Boom, he homesteaded near Beach in Golden Valley County near the Montana border. There he organized a cooperative with his neighbors to buy plowing and harvesting equipment. By 1908, in partnership with several other ASecond Boomers,” he developed a bonanza-type farm of 23,000 acres. He hoped to prove the productivity of the land and then sell off smaller tracts to prospective farmers, realizing a tidy profit. Lack of rainfall, however, doomed the project. Townley left for Colorado. When he returned, along with his new bride, in early 1912, he and his brother took options on 7,000 acres of land about 50 miles north of Beach at Squaw Gap. He convinced equipment and supply merchants to advance him money to purchase nine gas tractors, seed, and other equipment for the new bonanza operation, Townley Brothers.
Townley projected a crop of 100,000 bushels of flax which was selling for $3.50 a bushel - a gross income of $350,000. That expectation was never realized. An early frost damaged some of the crop and the price of flax dropped below the cost of production. Townley lost everything.
The flax fiasco turned Townley into a bitter man. He blamed commodity speculators for his failure. He turned to the Socialist party. In 1913 he took a job as an organizer for the Socialist party which was trying to enlist farmers in western North Dakota. His immense energy and speaking ability led to his promotion to head state organizer.
In July 1914 he created the party’s Organization Department. He agreed wholeheartedly with the North Dakota Socialists’ program: a rural credit program, state-owned elevators and mills, a state insurance program against agricultural calamities, and unemployment insurance for workers. While not a statewide force, the Socialist party had been successful in electing a few local officials.
Many farmers joined the party, and soon Townley had four organizers working for him. In January 1915, however, despite his superb progress, the state Socialist convention discontinued the Organization Department, believing the party had developed a strong core of members who could spread “the word” themselves. Miffed at the action, Townley left the Socialist party and headed for the American Society of Equity convention in Bismarck. He is now at work putting together a new farmer organization - the Nonpartisan League.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.