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Turner, Daniel Webster
(March 17, 1877–April 15, 1969)

–25th governor of Iowa and a founder of the National farmer Organization (NFO)—was the fifth of nine children of Almira (Baker) Turner and Austin Bates Turner, a merchant and Civil War veteran. Daniel Turner served for 18 months in Company K, 51st Iowa Regiment, fighting guerrillas in the Philippines. On his return he settled down, went into business with his father, and, in 1900, married Alice Sample. He also remained in the reserves, rising to the rank of major before resigning in 1911.

    In 1903 he ran for the Iowa Senate seat from Adams and Taylor counties. His Republican opponent withdrew, as did his Demo- cratic one. Once elected, Turner supported the Republican progressive Governor Albert Cummins loyally. He proposed a few progressive reform bills of his own–requiring more information from county school superintendents and regulating the purity of linseed oil– but as a freshman senator he had little influence. Turner was especially vocal in his opposition to the railroads' control of much of Iowa politics. He worked against the free pass system and the influence of railroad money on Iowa politicians. He strongly supported primary elections bills until one went into effect in June 1908. He also supported changing the U.S. Constitution to elect U.S. senators directly as a way to limit the railroads' influence in Washington.

    Turner declined to run for another term in 1908 and went home to run the family business, but he did not retire from politics. He spoke at the 1912 Republican State Convention. Unlike many Iowa progressives he supported the party when Theodore Roosevelt bolted to form the Bull Moose Party. In the mid 1920s he was a strong supporter of the McNary—Haugen Bill, and he repeatedly decried the control of Republican conservatives over his beloved GOP. In 1926 he refused nomination to replace Senator Cummins, who had died in office.

    In 1929 Turner decided to run for governor of Iowa as the progressive Republican running against the "Standpats."He came out for a state income tax, which his two primary opponents opposed. In the June 1930 primary, Turner won 229,645 votes to 116,431 for Ed Smith and 21,263 for Otto Lange, the last time winning the Republican primary was tantamount to winning the general election. Turner was elected in a landslide in November 1930, defeating Democrat Fred P. Hagemann of Waverly.

    As governor, Turner supported the state income tax, conservation measures, and municipal utilities, and he cracked down on improprieties in state government. His greatest challenge came in the spring of 1931, when farmer discontent with federal and state farm policies exploded over the issue of mandatory tuberculin testing of cattle by Iowa state veterinarians. In March 1931 farmer prevented state officials from testing on William Buttebrodt's Cedar County farm, and farmer from across the state, members of Milo Reno 's newly formed farmer Protective Association, took over the House chamber in the capitol at Des Moines. Turner promised to enforce state testing laws and to oppose efforts in the legislature to change them. When state veterinarians were prevented from testing cattle on two different farms in Cedar County in late August, Turner sent state agents with the veterinarians to Jake Lenker's farm, where 500 farmer clashed with the state officials. Turner was in Washington, D.C., at the time, meeting with President Herbert Hoover. Turner called out the National Guard by telephone and sent them to restore order in Cedar County. In late September state veterinarians, in the company of the National Guard, again went to the Lenker farm to test his cattle, but there were no cows to test. Lenker claimed to have sold his herd and was arrested for moving cattle under quarantine. Tensions subsided, and by October 1931 testing in Cedar County was finished, and the soldiers left.

    By contrast, when Milo Reno's farmer' Holiday Association (FHA) called for farmer to withhold produce from the market in August 1932, Governor Turner was loathe to call out the National Guard. He urged local officials to keep the roads open and held the National Guard in readiness. However, sympathy with the farmer and disgust with President Hoover's failed farm policies made Turner reluctant to act, even when farmer outside Sioux City turned back trucks and dumped milk onto the road and violence erupted there and elsewhere in western Iowa. When Reno called for a suspension of the strike, Turner agreed to the FHA proposal that midwestern governors meet in Sioux City to discuss the farm problem with the FHA men. Reno asked the governors of the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Iowa to support state action to stop foreclosures, congressional action to reinflate the farm economy, voluntary farmer crop withholding, and state action to prevent crop sales at less than the cost of production.

    Turner and the other governors agreed to telegraph President Hoover to ask for a federal financial institution halt to foreclosures, but Turner led opposition to the demand for state support of crop withholding–arguing that it could easily lead to violence.

    Turner was defeated in two bids for reelection in 1932 and 1934. He served on the War Production Board in Washington, D.C., from 1941 to 1945. He lived a long life, dying at age 92 in 1969, and was buried in Corning, Iowa.
Sources See Donald Lee Dougherty, "The Evolution of a Progressive: Daniel Webster Turner of Iowa" (master's thesis, Drake University, 1973). For more on the "Cow War," see Frank D. Di Leva, "Frantic farmer Fight Law: Depression Prices Incited Iowa Farm Insurgence," Annals of Iowa 32 (1953), 81–109. On the Famers' Holiday, see Lowell Keith Dyson, "The Farm Holiday Movement" (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1968); Rodney D. Karr, "farmer Rebels in Plymouth County, Iowa, 1932–1933," Annals of Iowa 47 (1985), 637–45; Theodore Saloutos and John D. Hicks, Agricultural Discontent in the Middle West (1951); and John L. Shover, Cornbelt Rebellion: The farmer' Holiday Association (1965).
Contributor: Duncan Stewart

Cite as: Stewart, Duncan. "Turner, Daniel Webster" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 19 March 2018