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George J. Ormsby papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MS-0109

Scope and Content

The collection (1911-1965, undated) contains material collected by George J. Ormsby relating to the Cow War in eastern Iowa and the Farmers' Holiday Movement. The collection also contains a scrapbook in which Ormsby collected editorials written by Des Moines Register editor Harvey Ingham. The material relating to the Cow War and the Farmers' Holiday Movement consists mainly of newspaper clippings, but also includes correspondence, petitions, and printed material. The editorials by Harvey Ingham cover a wide range of subjects, including World War II, farm policy, political figures, political disputes, and social issues. With the exception of the scrapbook of Harvey Ingham editorials, the original materials are restricted, and photocopies are available for use.


  • Creation: 1911-1965, undated

Access Restrictions

Open for research. Originals in series 1 and 2 are restricted; photocopies are available for use.

Use/Re-use Restrictions

Consult Special Collections and University Archives


George J. Ormsby was a farmer in Tipton, Iowa. He was a friend of Paul Moore and J. W. Lenker, who were arrested because of their involvement in the eastern Iowa Cow War. As a member of the National Farmers Union, he participated in efforts to have Moore and Lenker released and pardoned by circulating petitions, raising money, and writing to state officials. In this the Union was successful with the parole of Moore and Lenker on August 16, 1934 and their pardon in the following year. Ormsby was also involved in the Farmers' Holiday movement.

Cow War (Eastern Iowa) On September 21, 1931, state deputies escorted veterinarian Peter Malcolm to the farm of J. W. Lenker in an attempt to test cattle for tuberculosis. The group was met by a crowd of approximately 500 farmers and by means of rotten eggs, rocks, and clubs were driven from the farm. Resistance to such testing had wide support throughout eastern Iowa and had continued since 1929 with the legal imposition of compulsory testing. In 1931 farmers in eastern Iowa were organized by Milo Reno, Norman Baker, Paul Moore, and J. W. Lenker as the National Farmers Union. J. W. Lenker also created the Farmers Protective Organization. As a consequence of the incident at Lenker's farm, both he and Moore were arrested and martial law was declared. Governor Turner also called out the National Guard in Muscatine, Henry, and Des Moines counties where many farmers refused to submit their cattle for testing. By the end of 1931, testing was completed and the war ended.

Farm Holiday Movement The Farmers' Holiday Association was organized in 1932 under the leadership of Milo Reno in response to the perception by farmers that low market prices prevented them from meeting mortgage and tax payments, forcing them to give up their homes and farms. Members of the Association, primarily Midwestern farmers, voted in goods until such time as parity was guaranteed and some form of relief provided for mortgage payments and taxes. Not only did farmers withhold produce, they picketed highways in an effort to stop other goods from reaching markets, intimidated prospective buyers at foreclosure and sheriff's sales, and exerted pressure on the courts and legislatures to adopt what they believed to be appropriate measures. Responding to these measures, authorities employed sheriffs, militia, and vigilante groups to control or prevent strike activities and ensure the continued transport of farm produce as well as the orderly disposal of farm property. Confrontations between the two groups were frequently violent and marked by a good deal of destruction, particularly in the Wisconsin Milk Strike. In Iowa the movement centered in the northwest region of the state, especially around Sioux City where railroad bridges were burned and brawls occurred frequently along highway picket lines. The most widely publicized event took place in Le Mars, Iowa, where Judge C. C. Bradley was dragged from his bench, physically and verbally abused, and threatened with lynching in an attempt to coerce him to agree to the constitutionality of the Debtor Relief Law. By 1934, the movement subsided.


2.5 Linear Feet (2 document boxes and 2 oversize boxes)

Language of Materials



The collection is organized into three series:

Series 1, Farm Holiday Movement, 1931-1963, undated

Series 2, Cow War--Tuberculine Testing in Iowa, 1911-1965, undated

Series 3, Harvey Ingham Scrapbook, 1939-1943


Digital reproductions of a selection of materials from the George J. Ormsby papers are available electronically. Please see the Electronic Resources section for a link. Also included in this digital collection are materials from the Merle Hansen papers, the Charles Walters papers, the National Farmers Organization records, the Sam J. Newlson Collection of United Farmers of Story County (Iowa) records, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation records, and the Wayne Darrow papers. Please see Related Materials for links to these collections.

Items in related collections

MS-0461. Farmers' Holiday Movement collection, 1932-1934, undated MS-0595. Merle Hansen papers, 1932-1999, undated MS-0588. Charles Walters papers, 1937-2003, undated MS-0481. National Farmers Organization records, 1955-2001 MS-0204. Sam J. Nelson Collection of United Farmers of Story County (Iowa) records, 1932, undated MS-0105. Iowa Farm Bureau Federation records, 1914-2008 MS-0021. Wayne Darrow papers, 1930-1972, undated

Collection Files

Processing Information

Released on 2018-11-01.

MS-0109. George J. Ormsby papers, 1911-1965, undated
May 29, 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives Repository

403 Parks Library
701 Morrill Road
Iowa State University
Ames Iowa 50011-2102 United States
(515) 294-6672