Andy Rieger

A posse of a 30 to 40 lawmen, federal agents and Oklahoma National Guardsmen descended on Spears Mountain near Sasakwa in Seminole County one hot August afternoon in 1917.

They were there to arrest some 400 socialist insurrectionists and fleeing conscripts who wanted a better economic system and no part of a war in Europe.

Their intent was to wreak havoc at home and then head east to Washington, stop the war, overthrow the government and implement a socialist commonwealth.

Smithsonian Magazine recalls the rebel leaders assured their followers that two million working men would rise up with them along the way, grab their Winchesters and form an army of followers that Washington couldn’t ignore.

Along the way, they would eat unripened green corn directly from farmers’ fields.

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The rebellion never happened and 458 men were eventually arrested. Most were released for lack of evidence. Eighty-six pleaded guilty and went to federal prison. The biggest casualty was the end of the Oklahoma Socialist Party.

That insurrectionist rebellion attempt more than 100 years ago was on the minds of a few historians this past week. Although the Green Corn rebellion never made it past the state’s border, the organizers’ idea of forcefully overthrowing the U.S. government was just as strong.

According to published reports, Socialists were gaining strength in Oklahoma in the early days of statehood.

In southeastern Oklahoma thousands of angry, frustrated tenant farmers were strapped by exorbitant interest rates on farm debt. By 1914 there were 175 elected Socialists in town and county positions. Most were members of the Working Class Union whose goal was the end of capitalism.

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Organizers capitalized on the evangelical Christianity of the Oklahomans and spread the gospel of socialism at camp meetings, according to the Smithsonian Magazine.

President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to enter World War I meant Oklahoma farm boys would be drafted. Wilson’s decision was the spark that lit the Socialists’ fuse.

Closer to home, in eastern Cleveland County and western Pottawatomie County, a band of Green Corn rebels met around the rural towns of Brown and Pink.

According to published reports, they met in dugouts, farmhouses and in the woods. Their activities were reported and the local cell of the Working Class Union was crushed. Five men were convicted of conspiracy.

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