The ‘Milk War’ back in the 1930s

Several years ago, I was asked by John Goldsmith of Greenville what I knew of the 1920s “Brownstown Milk War.” Up to that time, I had never heard of the “war,” so consulted my local Brownstown expert, the late Ben Forbis, He confirmed that there was such a thing and it took place in the early 1930s.
I then turned to one of the best sources, back issues of The Vandalia Union. Most newspapers publish a recap of news events throughout the year in a December or January edition. Any kind of “war” was sure to be reported.
The headline of the September 17, 1931 Vandalia Union read, “Milk War in Fayette County Renewed Monday When Sniper Fired at Pevely Route Wagon.”
Guilford Conner of near Pittsburg who was hauling milk for farmers to the Pevely station at Hagarstown was shot at and his team frightened when snipers opened fire from the Rollie Cunningham Grove in Seminary Township.  
The following week, it was reported that a group of 30 masked men poured out 40,000 pounds of milk en route to St. Louis.
Two Pevely tank trucks were destroyed and the drivers, Walter Frederking and Harold Potts, assaulted. The trucks were forced off the state highway and down the road about a half mile when they turned into a field that is just north of the Walter Groves farm. There, they were forced to dump the milk, and then the assailants, armed with pistols and shotguns, poured lead into the engines of the two trucks.
Near the same time, milk trucks driven by Elvis Rhodes, Sherman Hicks and Dude Landers were stopped by about 100 men west of Ramsey and were forced to pour the milk out and throw the cans in the field,  
Back roads throughout the county were patrolled by militant members of the Sanitary Milk Producers Inc. to stop farmers from hauling their milk at night to the Pevely milk stations in Ramsey, Vandalia, Hagarstown and Brownstown by militant members of the Sanitary Milk Producers Inc.   
The issue that sparked the Milk Wars of 1930 was the spread between retail and farm prices for milk in Sioux City, Iowa. Dairy farmers in Fayette County received just two cents per quart from local processors, while consumers paid eight cents per quart in Sioux City.
The Sanitary Milk Producers Association Inc. was in opposition to the price difference and called for a strike, which was settled only after violence and mass arrests. The strike had nationwide consequences and a federal injunction put in place in early September 1931 calmed things down for a short time.
Floyd Dycus, distributor for Texaco gas and oils in Fayette County, had 13 milk trucks in the county and was the major hauler from this county into St. Louis, At the time of the strike, 400 farmers were selling an average of 72 tons of milk daily to Pevely dairy in St. Louis,  
The amount of milk received at the Pevely milk stations dropped considerably, and they soon shut down its purchasing stations along the Nickel Plate Railroad in Ramsey as a result of the violence and began to haul by train.
The effects of the “milk war” were felt throughout the state and across the country. Charges for riot, destruction of property, flourishing a weapon and obstructing a highway were filed against a number of Fayette County men and this, along with federal intervention and litigation, ended the “Milk Wars.”
 

Leave a Comment