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Farm Auction Action


As we’ve noted before, North Dakota has a rich and unique history resulting from the efforts of the Non-Partisan League and farmer organizations, especially during the 1930s. In History of North Dakota, Elwyn Robinson writes, “...Governor Langer and the League began a bold operation to meet the crisis in North Dakota. Angry crowds were surging into Bismarck; a spirit of desperation was seizing many; the state treasury was empty...Langer believed that it was imperative to raise farm prices, to save farm property from foreclosure, and to reduce public expenditures. Although seriously ill at the beginning of his term, he acted with daring and imagination.

“In the fall of 1933, Langer made a dramatic move to raise the price of wheat (by placing) an embargo on all wheat shipments from the state. The price of wheat rose five cents in Minneapolis on the first day of the embargo and twenty-three cents (by) December 5...

“An even more significant action,” Robinson writes, “was Langer’s moratorium on foreclosures... (Many) opposed the moratorium, but the League, the Farmers’ Union, and the Farm Holiday Association supported it. The Leader, started by Langer in July, 1933, liked to say that ‘human rights are more sacred than property rights.’”

Unfortunately, sheriff’s sales continued in spite of the moratorium on foreclosures. Angry crowds of farmers began abusing officials, forcing them to slop the hogs and scrub barn floors. During one eviction sale near Williston, members of the Farm Holiday Association bid on Martin Oyloe’s farm equipment for a few cents and then returned it to him.

On this date in 1933, the Steele County Press reported, “Approximately 1,000 Steele county farmers, members of the Farm Holiday Association, braved a blizzard and snow-drifted roads Monday to gather at the Steele county courthouse here and prevent sheriff N. A. Anderson from conducting a foreclosure sale against Mr. and Mrs. Lars H. Midstokke of Sharon township instituted by the Minneapolis-Trust Joint Stock Land Bank.

“The foreclosure was brought on a quarter section of land which Mr. and Mrs. Midstokke had homesteaded about 45 years ago,” the article continues. “Both are well known and respected by Steele county people who feel that Mr. and Mrs. Midstokke would meet their obligations if possible, and that it would be unfair to them, having reached the age of 75 years, to lose the home which they homesteaded.

“The crowds gathered early in the afternoon in the city auditorium and discussed plans to halt the foreclosure proceedings,” the story continues. “Immediately after the meeting...the crowd marched to the courthouse where they presented their claims to Sheriff Anderson. Although the entire courthouse was packed with farmers so the sheriff could not move from his office, quiet and order prevailed...and the protests of those assembled were offered in a conservative manner.

Sheriff Anderson was held in his office between 3 and 4 p.m., which was the time set for the sale.”

Robinson writes, “Governor Langer finally used the National Guard to stop the sheriff’s sales. The moratorium helped morale in a time of great anxiety. North Dakotans were encouraged because they felt that the state government was doing everything in its power to help them. Most states tried some form of moratorium in the 1930s, but none took as broad or as effective action as North Dakota.”

(Sources: History of North Dakota, Elwyn B. Robinson, 1966; Steele County, 1883-1983, A Centennial Commemoration)

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm