I’ve watched the first three episodes of USA’s Damnation, and I’m torn. The writer in me is enjoying the characters and plot. The historian in me, however, hates this show.
I don’t think the writers of Damnation have read any books about Iowa history. I felt they watched episodes of Boardwalk Empire and Deadwood and thought, heck, let’s just make Damnation like Deadwood. Let’s have shootouts and whorehouses and gunslingers. We’ll just put people in 1930s clothing. No one will notice or care. Their blog post isn’t history at all. It’s just some lazy links to websites. The writer could at least have tried to be somewhat true to Iowa history. Since the writers don’t feel they have to, I will. Here’s my counter to their blog post.
1. The Great Depression & Labor Strikes:
The farmers of Iowa’s anger had been simmering for nearly a decade before it exploded into demonstration and violence in the 1930s [Ossian, 22]. Farmers wanted better money for their commodities. They picketed. They blocked roads. Violence did occur, but death was rare. Some individuals such as Mother Bloo who was a communist supporter of the neighboring state of South Dakota wanted violence. She attempted to rile up the natives of Sioux City [Mills, A Judge, 55]. She blamed banks and big business for the farmers’ troubles. She and others like her lost their leverage when New Deal programs provided farmers better subsidies [Mills, A Judge, 58].
Prohibition in Iowa didn’t begin with the Volstead Act. Iowa was dry long before the rest of the nation and would impose strict laws on liquor by the drink decades past the federal repeal in 1933 [Mills, Looking in Windows, 118; “Iowa Ends 47 Year Drouth”]. Iowa farmers, especially in western counties such as Templeton, banded together to thwart state and federal law and keep their farmers and communities afloat by manufacturing, selling and transporting illegal liquor [Bauer, 7].
3. The Black Legion:
Nope. Nope. And nope. The Black Legion may have been in Michigan and Ohio, but not in Iowa. Do the writers have a map? Are Michigan and Ohio anywhere near Iowa? Why not focus on the Farmer’s Holiday Association [Karr, 637]. Instead, they focus on a radical group that never really had a stronghold in the state [Langton, “Time Machine”]. Even the KKK was limited in Iowa. Since Iowa’s black population was very small in rural areas [Outside In, 28-30], most of the violence and agitation was directed at Catholics. Those that called themselves KKK members were unorganized and ineffective. They spent most of their time infighting [Schwieder, 307]. By the mid-1920s, the KKK began to lose their political power in Iowa as well as elsewhere in the country [Schwieder, 298].
- Bauer, Bryce T. Gentlemen Bootleggers. Ebook. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press Incorporated, 2014.
- “Iowa Ends 47 Year Drouth on Liquor-by-the-Drink.” Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Illinois: 6 July 1963.
- Karr, Rodney D. “Farmer Rebels in Plymouth County, Iowa, 1932-1933.” The Annals of Iowa 47, no. 7 (1985): 637-645.
- Langton, Diane. “Time Machine: History of the Klan in Iowa.” The Gazette. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: 7 October 2017. Accessed: 4 December 2017.
- Mills, George. A Judge and a Rope and Other Stories of Bygone Iowa. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1994.
- Mills, George. Looking In Windows Surprising Stories of Old Des Moines. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1991.
- Ossian, Lisa L. The Depression Dilemmas of Rural Iowa, 1929-1933. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2011.
- Outside In: African-American History in Iowa, 1838-2000. Des Moines, Iowa: State Historical Society of Iowa, 2001.
- Schwieder, Dorothy. “A Farmer and the Ku Klux Klan in Northwest Iowa.” The Annals of Iowa 61, no. 3 (2002): 286–320.