Those of us who are history buffs are probably familiar with the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, or the Chicago Beer Wars of the 1920’s. It doesn’t take too much of a stretch to believe that beverages such as whiskey or beer can be connected to trouble such as a rebellion or war. But, what about milk? This beverage conjures up images of kids, kittens, and cookies – not war! Well that’s exactly what happened at the August Thurow farm in Coral Township in April of 1932. One similarity did exist between the Coral Milk War, the Whiskey Rebellion, and the Chicago Beer Wars – and that was money!

Back in those days local area dairy farmers belonged to the Pure Milk Association, an organization that represented 19,000 dairy farmers who produced milk for Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. A March 24, 1932, article in the Woodstock Sentinel stated that the Pure Milk Association negotiated the price for the sale of dairy products, and we’re not talking small potatoes either; the same article reported that a total of 1.4 billion pounds of milk was produced, and earned association members over $29 million. The article did not specify a time period for these numbers.

There was one kink in the whole formula. It seems that a group of dairy farmers didn’t belong to the Pure Milk Association. They sold their milk to a condensery in Garden Prairie for a lesser price than the members of the association were earning. The trouble began when the Charles Karmel Dairy of Chicago decided to circumvent the Pure Milk Association, and offered the independent farmers more money for their milk then they were getting paid at Garden Prairie, but sixty cents less per a hundred pounds than the dairy was paying the members of the association. The independent farmers accepted the offer.

The Thurow farm was the McHenry County staging point for the independent farmers. Their milk was trucked to Coral from their individual farms and loaded on to a much larger truck for the trip to Chicago. The Pure Milk Association farmers caught wind of this operation, realized it was eating into their profits, and decided to put a stop to. On the morning of April 11, 1932, about 300 dairy farmers from McHenry and surrounding counties came to the Thurow farmstead in an effort to block the shipment. Tempers flared and some of the rioters began to dump cans of milk while others tainted the white liquid with kerosene.

In Woodstock, Sheriff Edinger was notified of the disturbance and he swiftly responded to the scene with Deputy Harold Reese and Special Deputies Sidney Corson and Harold Clark. The scene was tumultuous as the two angry groups of farmers were on the verge of clashing. In an effort to do their duty and preserve the peace, Edinger and his men wedged themselves between the rioters. In the melee, two members of the Pure Milk Association decided to teach the meddlers of the law a lesson. An April 14, 1932, article in the Woodstock Sentinel reported that , “… one of the association members,…was struck on the head with the butt end of a pistol by the sheriff, after the former jumped on his back and attempted to pommel the officer.” While his boss was engaged in combat Deputy Reese had his hands full with another trouble-maker. The officer and attacker exchanged fist blows that resulted in “sore heads” for both pugilists.

Eventually both attackers were subdued, placed under arrest, and transported to the county jail in Woodstock. The situation simmered down to a point where both factions met at the negotiation table. By the following day a truce had been called; about 35 independent farmers were absorbed into the Pure Milk Association, and the Charles Karmel Dairy agreed to buy its milk from association members.

Peace returned to Coral Township, but the incident didn’t fade from the headlines. In June the McHenry County State’s Attorney impaneled a grand jury to investigate the incident. The following month a Marengo Republican News headline read, “54 Are Indicted By County Jury For “Milk Riot.”” The case continued to drag on and finally in October of 1932, all charges, with the exception of the two men who attacked the officers, were dropped and the books were finally closed on the Milk Riot.

This coming Christmas Eve, as you are putting out that plate of cookies and a tall glass of milk for Santa Clause, take a moment to ponder the greedy milk rioters who undoubtedly in 1932 made Santa’s naughty list and got nothing but a chunk of coal for their exploits.


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