For decades, from about 1925 and into the 1970s, Teton County grew a lot of peas. Peas start to lose their value quickly after they are picked, so a secondary industry popped up in the county: ice harvesting. Peas are picked in August, not a time when ice is widely available, so ice blocks were cut in the winter and stored all summer to keep peas cool in transit after harvest.
Getting peas to market quickly also necessitated the employment of armies of pea pickers. Most were seasonal workers from Mexico. In 1935, some of those workers realized that the farmers might not have the upper hand when it came to wages. They vowed to strike, demanding 85 cents per hundred weight of peas instead of the offered 70 cents. Farmers were over a barrel, because they had to get the crop out fast. So, of course, they caved to the pickers demands.
Just kidding. The farmers called Idaho Governor C. Ben Ross and asked him to declare martial law and send in the Idaho National Guard.
Ross issued the order, sending in 150 armed men from Boise, Buhl, and Twin Falls. Some 2,000 field workers were on strike. The local sheriff blamed “white agitators” for stirring up the Mexican workers.
Workers who didn’t want to toil for the wages offered were told to get out of Idaho. About 100 of the agitators were deported. After a couple of days everyone else went back to work for 70 cents per hundred weight and the harvest—which turned out to be a record crop—was completed.
Martial law has not been declared often in an agricultural emergency in Idaho, but in this one instance the guardsmen solved two ag problems. Coincidentally there was a dispute raging over water between Teton River Basin water users and Snake River Valley users downstream. Drought had made the upper basin farmers stingy with their water. They closed headgates, keeping water in the valley and not letting it flow downstream. Guardsmen, guarding headgates, convinced the Teton water users to open the gates and let the water flow, as downstream users had an established right to it.
So, one more problem solved with a show of force. When the Guard made peace with the pea pickers and the water users, they went back home. Governor Ross said it was all good and went Sagehen hunting.
Two minor footnotes: First, calling out the Idaho National Guard did result in one casualty. A guardsman accidentally shot himself in the knee while disassembling a .45 caliber pistol. Second, using the phrase “pea picker” reminds me that there is one more thing about peas and Idaho that you should know. Tennessee Ernie Ford, "The Ol' Pea-Picker,” spent much of his last years at his cabin near Grandjean, Idaho. Ernie earned that nickname because he often said, "Bless your pea-pickin' heart!"