Cedar County Cow War of 1931

On September 21, 1931, a battle ensued at the Jake Lenker farm in Cedar County, Iowa.   On this day, over 60 law enforcement officials and two veterinarians encountered 400+ farmers  carrying wood planks, rocks, pipes, and other items attempting to suppress tuberculosis (TB) testing of their cattle.  The farmers attacked law enforcement and their vehicles.   No one fired a weapon.   Due to the unrest, the governor sent over 1,400 National Guard troops to enforce TB testing and to keep the peace.

Humans can contract Bovine TB  through milk consumption.  An antibiotic to treat TB wasn’t available until 1934.  Testing cattle for a contagious disease sounds like a good idea, right?  Not so to many of the farmers in Cedar County.

The biggest factor in the cow war was money.  If a cow was found to have TB, then it was put down and the federal government would pay the farmer one-third of the animal’s value and the state would pay another third.  The farmers lost out on the last third.  Farmers didn’t just lose out on the animal value.  If the animal was put down, they also lost out on the income from the cow’s milk production.  Total, this could be a significant amount of money, especially during the Depression when banks were going under and people were losing their property to foreclosure.

The National Guard’s two month presence stopped the protests and cattle were tested.  It wasn’t the last time a protest over TB testing occurred in Iowa, but Cedar County’s cow war may have been the largest and possibly most violent.


Cedar County Cow War of 1931, http://www.history.iastate.edu/agprimer/Page24.html,  Iowa State University Center for Agriculture and Rural Studies, Accessed Sept 28, 2010.

Get Away from Those Cows, Collier’s, February 27, 1932.

One-Armed Bandits and Other Stories of Iowa’s Past and Present, George Mills, 1997.

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