Seminole Producer, August 3, 2017 “Rebels with a Cause” by Stu Phillips, Editor

PHOTO: Seminole Producer, August 3, 2017 - page 1

Reprinted with permission from The Seminole Producer
August 3, 2017, Page 1

PHOTO: Seminole Producer, August 3, 2017 - page 1

Rebels With a Cause

A Century Later, ‘Green Corn Rebellion’ Still One of Seminole County’s Most Historic Events

By Stu Phillips, Editor

One hundred years ago, Seminole county was a much different place. Major oilfields were yet to be discovered, roads were dirt paths and bridges did not exist, except for the railroads. Creeks and even the Canadian Rivers had to be forged at crossings.

Most people in the county made their living by farming or ranching. Many of those were poor tenant farmers.

These farmers relied on the rich landowners and creditors such as banks and storekeepers to cash flow their meager existence.

With limited ability to travel to neighboring towns, small communities such as Sasakwa had bankers and storekeepers with a tight hold on the working class.

Land prices soared 250% in 15 years, then cotton prices fell. Tennant farmers were stuck in terminal debt.

People’s information was limited to a few weekly newspapers but opinions largely grew from the word of mouth. As stories flew down the grapevine embellishments were sure to be added.

Before America’s involvement with World War One, the seeds of rebellion had already been planted in Seminole county. Socialists did moderately well in elections. Sometimes they received 25% of the vote.

The Workers Class Union (WCU) was started in Arkansas. It was too radical for the Socialists, and accepted farmers that the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) would not. They thrived in Seminole county by giving speeches at small local schools.

The message was class warfare and when America started drafting young men for WWI the slogan became “A rich man’s war, a poor man’s fight”.

For the poor farmer the fight was not just about letting your boy go into the military. The very real possibility of losing your farm to repossession without labor children could starve the whole family. People could not sign up for welfare in those days. Some people starved and died in the streets.

When the threat of draft became clear the talk of rebellion grew to actual plans.

Photo: John Spears, member of the Working Class Union

John Spears of the WCU launched the rebellion on his farm calling for a march to Washington and an overthrow of the U.S. government.

As the story goes the crops were still in the fields and the crowd decided to roast unripe corn on the trip to Washington. First dubbed the “Roasting Ear Rebellion” by the Wewoka paper it soon became known as the “Green Corn Rebellion”.

The first shots of the rebellion were fired at the county sheriff and his deputy on August 2, 1917 in an ambush near the Little River. Deputy J.W. “Bill” Cross was grazed in the neck.

Photo: Bill Cross and Lonnie Spears

Soon after the word got out, posses of men from many surrounding communities headed towards the rural gathering place near Sasakwa to quell the disturbance.

When the posse arrived on August 3, 1917 at the rebel’s camp, reports say a few shots were fired and most people fled quickly.

Reports differ on the number killed, some say one, other include people resisting arrest in the days following the showdown. In all maybe three people were killed in the rebellion’s shutdown. Some people think a county draft board member Tom Ragland of Konawa was killed on January 1, 1920 in relation to the rebellion.

Four hundred and fifty farmers and rebels were arrested in the following days. They were white, black, and Indian, as race didn’t seem to matter as much as the situation at hand.

In the end, 184 were eventually charged and 150 either were found guilty or pled to charges.

The rebel’s cause was soon overtaken by a sense of American patriotic pride associated with the battles of World War One. The socialist party faded into the history books.

Soon after the war, oil strikes in Wewoka, Cromwell and finally Seminole brought people all the paid work they could want. Seminole county evolved into an oil economy rather than a farming economy. It remained that way for most
of the next 100 years.