Marengo resident Judge Edward Shurtleff recalled the Grand Jury that examined the case of the two police officers who fired their weapons in self-defense during the 1924 milk strike in Garden Prairie. Richard Saunders was mortally wounded in the incident

The year 1924 was a tumultuous year for McHenry County’s milk industry. As 1923 came to a close dairy farmers in the Chicago Milk Shed were at odds with dealers. The Milk Producers Association represented dairy farmers, and the price of milk was negotiated with the large dairies in Chicago - a great distance away from the dairy barns and pastures. Finally negotiations broke down and on New Year’s Day the dairy farmers in northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, and northwester Indiana went on strike. In McHenry all of the farmers honored the strike with only one exception; the dairy farmers in the Union area. After a marathon negotiation session the strike was finally settled on January 14th.

The agreement reached in January, 1924 was for only three months, and almost immediately after the strike was settled new talks surfaced about another strike in April,f 1924. In an editorial that appeared in the January 4, 1924, edition of the Woodstock Daily Sentinel; the newspaper’s editor Charles F. Renich reported that according to the US Department of Agriculture “the Producer in the Chicago District receives the lowest price paid in any large city district in the United States.” If true, then the farmers lost more ground in mid-March when they settled for $2.55 per hundred pounds – a 12 ½ cent reduction from the previous agreement.

In December, 1924 tensions between milk producers and dealers rose again; this time in neighboring Garden Prairie in Boone County. Gifford Milk Products posted their offer price for milk in the Belvidere Daily Republican. One of these short blurbs appeared in the November 29, 1924, issue of the newspaper and announced; “Effective December 1 and until further notice, we will pay $2.00 per 100 pounds for 3.5 test milk at Garden Prairie.”

Predictably tensions rose; local milk producers wanted $2.25 per hundred pounds, and by December 8th area farmers picketed the plant. The picketers also blocked the highway leading to the plant and stopped trucks that were delivering milk. Garden Prairie’s mayor appealed to local and state law enforcement for to help to clear the highway through the little village. Boone County Sheriff Fair responded to the picket site and spoke with the strike organizer John Sullivan of Marengo. Sullivan told the lawman that the picketers would not close the highway.

The strikers broke their promise; on the following day a milk truck driven by Frank McKiski was headed towards the milk plant when it was stopped on the state highway. Approximately forty angry picketers swarmed the truck. Illinois Highway Patrolman Paul Clendening and Belvidere Police Department Officer Fremont Nester were called to the scene to open the highway, and assist to in getting the truck through. Clendening jumped on to the truck, and told the picketers that the truck was going through – the mob became furious. Logs, branches, bricks, and cans were hurled at the truck and the two police officers. A gang of men threw a railroad tie at the vehicle. One witness later testified that the crowd screamed; “get him, hang him, and “get the cop.” Clendening defended himself by using his revolver as a club and struck one man in the head. The angry mob continued its attack, and finally both officers fired warning shots into ground and in the air to scare the mob. Unfortunately; one .45 caliber steel jacketed bullet found its target in the leg of Richard Saunders of Marengo. The bullet entered Saunders left leg between the hip and the knee, and travelled into his abdomen causing a mortal wound. The shooting broke the picketers resolve, and peace was finally restored – the road was open, and milk deliveries resumed.

The twenty-four year old Saunders was treated at St. Joseph’s Hospital and initially doctors felt the patient would fully recover. But, on the December 11th Saunders condition worsened and he passed away. As customary in those days both officers were arrested, and charged with assault with a deadly weapon, assault with intent to commit murder, and assault and battery; however, they were both released on a “liberty bond.”

Judge Shurtleff, a Marengo resident, convened a grand jury to hear the officers’ cases. The panel spent one week examing evidence, and on December 20th the jury reported to the Judge Shurtleff that there would be no indictments in case.

As the remaining days of 1924 ticked off the calendar milk deliveries to Gifford Milk Products were being made in increasing amounts. I couldn’t find a newspapers article that reported that the strike was officially settled, but eventually milk flow to the plant resumed to prestrike levels.

The January 7, 1925, edition of the Belvidere Daily Republican featured another short blurb announcing the price that Gifford Milk Products paid farmers for their milk - $2.00 per 100 pounds. Looks like things returned to normal – at least for some of the people involved in the milk strike. 

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