The 1930s were hard on North Dakota farmers. About the only thing that survived the dust and grasshoppers were Russian thistles. Cattle starved or fell dead with bellies full of dirt, and farm foreclosures became frequent. An elevator man in Sanish thought the price of wheat hit rock bottom at 56 cents a bushel and wrote on his market chalkboard, “Don’t faint when you read these prices.” Little did anyone realize that within the next several years, wheat would go as low as 17 cents.
Penny auctions hit the state. An article published by the Associated Press reported, “...Two thousand neighbors who jingled their pennies and shouted, ‘Sell it, sell it,’ … bought a farmer’s livestock and implements for $2.17 … to satisfy a $400 mortgage. They not only refused to take away their bargains … but arranged to give the property back on a 99-year lease ...”
During the summer of 1932, embittered farmers attended meetings to organize. At a statewide meeting the following winter, it was resolved by the farmers to band together to prevent foreclosures, and any attempt to dispossess those with foreclosures pending. They sought relief from what they saw as unfair and unjust conditions, and stated their intention to pay no existing debt, except for taxes and the necessities of life.
One of the people who led the farmers to the brink of a strike was Charles C. Talbott, a farmer from Dickey County who was born on this date in 1876. Charley bought his farm outside of Forbes in 1908. There, he experimented with diversification and became involved in co-ops. He joined the Northwest Producers’ Alliance, which, along with the Equity Exchange, merged with the National Farmers’ Union during a meeting in Fargo in January 1926.
The Union appointed Charley and two other men to organize farmers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana. They were given $500, and Talbott hit the road in his Model T, speaking in rural schoolhouses as he went. When the money ran out, he asked his wife to sell his purebred Hereford bull to keep going. When the Union held its first state convention in Jamestown the following year, it had grown to 13,000 members. Talbott was named the first president of the North Dakota division, a post he held until 1937, when he was fatally injured in a car accident.
In reporting on Talbott’s death, the Bismarck Tribune wrote, “Like other strong men, Mr. Talbott sometimes engaged in heated controversies, but no one ever challenged his sincerity nor his whole-hearted interest in bringing a better deal to agricultural America.”
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm
Source: Rolfsrud, Erling. 1950. Lanterns Over the Prairies, Book 2. Alexandria, MN, Lantern Books.