Grasshoppers of 1867

Morris County has had numerous visits from swarms of grasshoppers over the past 150 years.  Sometimes the hoppers left without causing any damage, while at other times they devoured everything in sight.  During years of draught this was especially devastating to the farmers.

September 19th, 1867 at about 4 o’clock the grasshoppers came, and as John Maloy put it, “to the great consternation of those who had crops, and more especially to those who had none.”  Fortunately this was one of the occasions when the hoppers passed through without doing any damage.   It is from this visit paid by the hoppers that we have the following anecdote from Maloy concerning a great tippler of the olden days in Council Grove, Sampson Pearson.  “When the hoppers alighted Sampson was sitting in Bernstien’s saloon [once located on west Main Street on the south side of the 200 block] playing his favorite tune, ‘Rock Island,’ on the public fiddle.  When grasshoppers began to rain upon the earth he swallowed another draft, mounted his nag and hied for home.  He was in a tremor of excitement, and when a neighbor accosted him on the way to know why he rode so fast, he stopped long enough to say laconically: “Grasshoppers! Hundreds! Thousands! Millions!! Yes, By the Eternal, Units of them!!!”

I thought it appropriate to share an account from a Morris County settler who lived through the ‘grasshopper plague’ of 1874.  The following is extracted from J.P. Scott Jr.’s biography written by his younger brother S.C. Scott.  We have read a bit about these two in previous articles.  Their family lived about 6 miles north of Council Grove.  Although I believe S.C. Scott may have been a bit dramatic and possibly romantic in his writing, this is one of the few firsthand accounts we have concerning early Morris County life.  I leave it to the reader to separate fact from exaggeration.

“In 1874, the sky was black, a moving, whirling mass overhead, a hissing, fluttering sound. At first, some proclaimed that time was at an end. Chickens went to roost. The pioneers were dumbfounded. Many rushed to caves and cellars. Men rushed from the fields. Then, a moving mass came nearer, as they came in from above and every point of the compass. Finally, with a cracking, thumping sound, live objects were covering all vegetation, in the houses and everywhere.

“…Grasshoppers, yes, -they ate everything green and dry, even eating holes in fork handles, hoe handles, and tools.

 “Every farmer had a hard luck story, but many took it good-naturedly, along with the other predicaments of Kansas pioneering. But that fall and winter, starvation and distress followed. (The 1934-1936 drought in Kansas is nothing compared to the grasshoppers on the Neosho River.) Cattle, horses, and hogs died for want of food. Before they died, they had eaten up all of the twigs, limbs and bark off the trees, leaving a desolate picture for the pioneers to start through the winter.

“Many people left for the Eastern states rather than perish. After funds were sent them to make the trip on, aid was asked for by those that remained. Clothing and provisions were sent by Eastern states to the starving in Kansas. The Eastern papers told hideous stories of the Indians, grasshoppers and cyclones in Kansas. Township trustees were the dispensers of this aid, and showed much preference in dealing out foodstuffs. The grasshoppers wintered over Kansas, and in the following year, 1875, cleaned up the early crops and bid farewell to Kansas. The winter of 1875 was a severe one. Stock as well as the remaining pioneers suffered from cold and hunger.

“On New Year’s Day, 1875, at the home of our subject [James Scott], there was not a morsel of anything to eat for dinner. Aid had been delayed, and the father had to make a trip six miles to renew his efforts to obtain food. In his return to the cabin, a happy family was awaiting him, and that evening, all heads bowed in humble prayer to the God of all peoples for the loving kindness and tender mercies bestowed upon them. Kansas pioneers, for the most part, were peace-loving, home-seeking folks, and church and schools were foremost in their hearts.

“Money was a thing of the past, but a generous democratic spirit was manifest by all. Those that had, willingly assisted those that had not in every way possible. Stamps to write to relatives and loved ones in Ohio were as “scarce as hen’s teeth,” this was a part of the experience of the pioneers on the Neosho during the grasshopper raid. Words cannot describe the horror of those eventful days. The winter of 1875 was so cold that schools and all activities in the country were confined to the homes.

“The years alluded to is what puts pluck and determination into the hearts of those that ‘stick.’ Homes were left, mortgaged for a paltry sum, and a new populace was ushered in. Times became better, and Kansas by 1876 was foremost in the quality of fruit production. By 1889, Kansas had fully recovered from the grasshopper raid. Press says that the young set of today [1937] “ain’t seen nothing yet.” And he is correct.

“It takes nerve as well as backbone to stick it out against the drought and hot winds of Kansas.”

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