Gov. Alfalfa Bill of Oklahoma
Rusty Williams
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A Fraught Month

For many Americans, 1931 marked the depth of the Great Depression, with high unemployment, bank failures, evictions, and little help from Washington. State governors did the best they could ease the situation, but few governors had more on their plates than Gov. W. H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray of Oklahoma.

Looking at a single issue of the Daily Oklahoman — July 22, 1931 — proves the point:

  • The Red River Bridge War was in full blaze on the state’s southern border with Texas. The governor calls up the state’s National Guard to confront the Texas Rangers who have shut down a bridge that allows Oklahoman’s access to Texas markets.
  • Food riots rage in Henryetta, where unemployed miners are looting grocery stores to feed their families. Murray is attempting to gather food for delivery to Henryetta to quell the riots.
  • Murray defies the state treasurer and legislature by announcing a moratorium on rent payments for farmers living on lands leased from the state.
  • Murray is pressuring state school superintendents to stop charging schoolchildren for nonessential books, supplies, and other extras.
  • Oklahoma’s largest bakeries have announced a price increase of a penny a loaf, and Murray threatens to have prisoners in the state’s penitentiaries bake bread and sell it for two cents a loaf.

And that’s just one day. Some people remember Alfalfa Bill as a bumpkin but stepped up to use the power of his office for the benefit of Oklahomans who were hurting.

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