In the summer of 1917, rural Oklahoma was the unlikely setting for a failed governmental overthrow; the infamous Green Corn Rebellion. Never heard of it? You’re not alone. The Green Corn Rebellion is a little-known part of U.S. history in which poor farmers who’d aligned themselves with the Socialist Party of America worked up a short-lived uprising which grew out of the recently passed national draft law.
Despite the political stereotype of today, which casts most Southern states as conservative strongholds, early 20th Century Oklahoma was fertile ground for the Socialist Party, which wielded considerable political muscle (generally garnering as much as 10 percent of the vote in elections). The Oklahoma farmers felt that World War I was a rich man's war, and they vehemently opposed it. The farmers didn’t want their sons forced into a battle with European entities in which they had no quarrel.
Things came to a head when the government tried to enforce the national draft law passed by Congress. On August 2, 1917, a group of farmers from rural sections of Southeast Oklahoma — encouraged by local socialists and the Arkansas-based Working Class Union — formed a group to fight the draft. The rebels were under the false impression that they’d get the support of the Industrial Workers of the World, but that group had rejected affiliation with the WCU a few months earlier because the WCU accepted membership from those other than wage workers. So, a few hundred rebels, armed with pistols and small caliber rifles, met on the banks of the South Canadian River in preparation for a march on the nation’s capitol, Washington, D.C..
Local townspeople got wind of the rebellion brewing on the nearby riverbanks and gathered together their own forces, fighting several small battles and eventually scattering the would-be revolutionaries. When the dust and gunpowder settled, four townsmen, three rebels, and a local schoolteacher (mistakenly killed by a posse after he ran a roadblock) were left dead. 266 men were arrested, with some of the rebels serving terms ranging from a few months to 10 years.
The Green Corn Rebellion forever weakened the Socialist Party in Oklahoma and the national organization took a hit, too. Even though the rebellion was touched off by the spontaneous acts of the disgruntled Oklahoma farmers, the national Socialist Party was blamed for their actions. The rebellion was one in a series of events that eventually led to the diminished appeal of the party and helped create the subsequent Red Scare.