The Green Corn Rebellion

The Green Corn Rebellion

Oklahoma is, today, noted very much for its Conservative tradition. And that’s fair. But the State also has quite a radical tradition. With a high number of poor and working class citizens, radicalism can come pretty easily. My grandparents were tenant farmers (for most of their working life) and had a radical touch in them that flared up sometimes. Take, for instance, the Green Corn Rebellion.

Back in August 1917 the United States was newly at war with Germany. The federal government instituted a draft that many in Oklahoma thought disproportionately targeted the poor. The tenant farmers of Seminole County (that’s just east of Oklahoma City), a rather significant number of which were Socialists, decided the draft, and the economy, was rigged and rebelled against the draft. They actually made something of an alliance with the local black and American Indian community to form the Working Class Union. It was radical, it was Socialist, and it didn’t like the way things were going in Oklahoma. On 2 August a group of farmers attacked the local sheriff and the “Green Corn Rebellion” was on. It lasted all of two days. The farmers were stopped by a local group and a handful of people were killed and others arrested.

My grandparents were living in northeast Oklahoma. They’d been married three years and when word got to them about the “Rebellion” they decided to help the union men. My grandmother packed some food, my grandfather hitched up a farm wagon, and they started off. Along the way they went by several other farms, found a number of like-minded tenants and something of a procession started to Seminole County. My grandfather liked to say they had twenty wagons on the road (my grandmother said it was more like 10) when word got to them that the rebellion was crushed and heading on southwest was useless.

What to do? Well, you have a bunch of people, including, apparently some children, a lot of food baskets, there was a river nearby (in August it didn’t have much water in it), and some open fields. So the procession pulled off, set up the baskets on the bed of a couple of wagons, and had an impromptu picnic. And after you finish eating at a picnic in 1917, what do you do? Well, someone had brought along a ball, there were tree limbs around, and the men started playing baseball in the big field. My grandfather said he even got one hit with an elm branch that cracked when he connected with the ball. I never heard a score.

It seems the local sheriff paid a call on the caravan. They convinced him they were out for a picnic, offered him some chicken, got him to umpire the game, and managed to stay out of the local jail. They spent the night sleeping in the wagons, got up the next morning, and headed back home. That seems to have ended my grandparents radical days.


13 Responses to “The Green Corn Rebellion”

  1. Jackie, The Baseball Bloggess Says:

    Do you know why it was called the “Green Corn Rebellion”?

    I love how people, like your grandparents, went to help the protesters. I think maybe we’ve lost a bit of that today. Tweeting support from an iPhone while sitting on the couch watching things unfold on CNN is much easier than loading up a wagon, packing food, and heading to the protest. I can get complacent sometimes … I need to think more like your grandparents. That has inspired me.

    • verdun2 Says:

      According to a note from the Oklahoma Historical Society the farmers announced they were going to march east (DC is east from Oklahoma) eating “roasted green corn” along the way. I’ll take their word for it.

  2. wkkortas Says:

    Fine piece of storytelling and history.

  3. William Miller Says:

    The wildcat teacher’s strike in Oklahoma (and a few other states) several months ago showed that if pushed far enough, workers will finally stand up for themselves, and that if they are united enough, they can win the day. I hope to see much more of that in the coming months and year.

  4. Miller Says:

    Another example of what a wonderful storyteller you are. Thank you for this!

  5. Steve Myers Says:

    Wait a second. If I get this right, by offering a sheriff the opportunity to ump, the odds of being hauled into the county jail decrease? This is a great way of telling history v.

  6. Sean Thornton Says:

    Love it! Good job, V!

  7. glenrussellslater Says:

    V, this is GREAT! I am sorry for having read it three days late. I’ve been getting my notifications for websites that I’m subscribed to, such as yours, to my old e-mail address, which I rarely access anymore. I didn’t realize that I could subscribe with my e-mail that I’ve been using for at least 3/4th of a year. So now I won’t miss you posts anymore, and I did the same with Steve Myers’ two blogs and W.K. Kortas’ blog, and with Bill Miller’s blog (“The On Deck Circle”), just in case he ever writes in it again! 🙂 At any rate, I’m relieved to see Bill writing comments lately, which means that he’s alive and kickin’!

    But back to this story. I’m going to forward this to my father, who’s a retired NYC Schools history teacher. He will definitely appreciate it.

    The story is very reminiscent of the Draft Riots of the Irish up in Boston during the War Between The States.

    This was a fascinating and well-written story, as good as any that I’ve ever read. How is it that you’re able to tie everything to baseball at the end, though?

    Speaking of socialism and even communism apropos to Oklahoma and its tradition of conservatism, has Oklahoma ever truly embraced native son Woody Guthrie and his music as of yet? I know that Oklahomans distanced themselves from him and his music because he had communist ties. Has that changed to a degree? I’ve never been a Woody Guthrie fanatic, but I’m just curious. By the way, did you know that Guthrie’s brother, Jack Guthrie, had a huge country hit with a song that Woody wrote? Here is, and it’s a great example of great Western Swing! I think that Jack sings it as good as one of my heroes, Hank Thompson, ever did!

    • verdun2 Says:

      Oklahoma is still on the fence about Woody Guthrie. Okemah, his home town, has a Guthrie tribute yearly. Guthrie, which is the town from which he took his name, pretty much ignores him. It seems Oklahoma is willing to embrace him when/if the mood suits them.

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