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IT WAS BEFORE been stated that the period from 1868 to 1873 was a period of the most general prosperity enjoyed by the early settlers. The development of the country was at this time quite rapid. The vacant land was all claimed under either the homestead or preemption laws and was being improved as fast as the limited means of the settlers would permit. A daily mail had been established from Spencer to Jackson and other mail facilities had been secured in other regions sufficient for their immediate wants. A postoffice had been established at Lakeville, where a lively settlement had sprung up and another one at Silver Lake. All of the congressional townships in the county were organized as civil townships. Schoolhouses were built and educational facilities provided for on a scale of the greatest liberality, and people were beginning to feel that .a period of prosperity was opening before them, and were looking forward with high hopes and bright anticipations for the good time coming for which they had waited so long and labored so hard; when they should realize a substantial reward for the many dangers they had braved, the hardships and privations they had endured and the obstacles they had overcome and surmounted.


All this was beginning to seem a thing of the past; a new era was dawning which bade fair to gladden the hearts of those staunch pioneers who had devoted the energies of their youth and strength of their manhood to the work of opening up and developing this, one of the fairest regions God's sun ever shone upon, for the occupancy and enjoyment of those who should come .after them. But from this dream of happiness and prosperity of growth and development the infant settlement was destined to a rude and rough awakening.


The summer of 1873 will ever be memorable in the annals of northwestern Iowa as being the time when that terrible scourge, the army of grasshoppers first commenced their depredations upon a scale that threatened to interfere to a material extent with the growth and prosperity of the country. The extent of the calamity which befell this country in the grass hopper raid of 1873 to 1877 has never been fully comprehended or understood except by the immediate sufferers. The almost total loss of four successive crops in any agricultural country would be considered a calamity that it would require years to recover from, yet that was just what befell the counties of northwestern Iowa at this period.


Previous to this time there had been two invasions of the grasshopper into northwestern Iowa, neither of which did much damage or created much alarm so far north as this county. In 1867 and 1868 they were quite thick in the neighborhood of Sioux City and up the Floyd Valley. That season they came as far north as the southern portion of this county, but it was so late in the season that the damage done by them at that time was inconsiderable. That season they also did a vast deal of damage in Humboldt, Webster, Hamilton and Greene Counties, and other places between the Des Moines and Missouri Rivers.


The army grasshopper, or as it is sometimes more appropriately designated, the Rocky Mountain locust, is indigenous to the barren table lands along the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains. D. A. W. Perkins, in discussing this question in the history of Osceola County, says:


"In Wyoming, western Nebraska, Texas, the Indian Territory and New Mexico, the broods were annually hatched. In their native haunts they attained an enormous size, many specimens being three inches in length. Scientific men who have studied the habits of the grasshoppers state that each succeeding brood degenerates in size and after three or four generations the weaker are obliged to swarm and seek other quarters, being driven out by the larger and stronger insects. These exiles rise and go with the wind, keeping the direction in which they first started, stopping in their flight for subsistence and depositing eggs in a prolific manner during the incubating season, which lasted from the middle of June to the middle of September."


The advance guard of this invading army first put in an appearance in this county about the middle of June, 1873, coming from the southwest. The first seen of them was, a huge black cloud which was none other than a huge swarm of grass hoppers. Their movements were accompanied by a dull roaring or buzzing sound that terrified the ears. They swarmed in such vast numbers, as to obscure the light of the sun, giving everything that weird, sombre look that is always noticed during a solar eclipse. The phenomenon of stars being visible in the day time, by reason of the obscurity of the sun, was observed by many. The buzzing, roaring sound by which their flight was accompanied was ominous of approaching disaster. They settled down on the fields of growing grain in such numbers that it soon became evident that nothing could escape their ravages. They seined endowed with an intuition or unerring instinct that directed them to the nearest grain fields, no matter in which direction they were located. If by chance they happened to alight on the uncultivated prairie a movement would immediately commence in the direction of the nearest growing fields. Their first appearance was alarming and their devastations were appalling.


These grasshoppers had crossed the Missouri River and commenced foraging in the bordering Iowa counties, devouring everything as they went. By harvest time there was but little left to harvest and that of an inferior quality. The grasshoppers deposited their eggs in countless numbers. The greater portion of the land under cultivation was thoroughly impregnated with them. Land that had been cleared of all vegetation suited them best. In such places the number of eggs that would be deposited on a given surface was thoroughly astounding. These eggs were in cells containing from twenty-five to fifty each and were deposited about half an inch beneath the surface. They were deposited in the late summer and early fall months and remained oil the ground during the winter, when they were hatched out in the spring by the warm rays of the sun acting upon the sandy surface of the ground. The more sand in the soil the earlier they hatched out and the more vigorous the "hoppers." The following extracts from J. A. Smith's pamphlet on northwestern Iowa conveys a very intelligent idea of the situation:


"Early in the spring of 1874 the eggs deposited the season before commenced hatching and the soil looked literally alive with insignificant looking insects a quarter of an inch in length but possessing great vitality and surprising appetites. As if by instinct their first movements were toward the fields where tender shoots of grain were making their modest appearance. Sometimes the first intimation a farmer would have of what was going on would be from noticing along one side of his field a narrow strip where the grain was missing. At first perhaps he would attribute it to a balk in sowing, but each day it grew wider and a closer examination would reveal the presence of myriads of young grasshoppers. As spring advanced it became evident that comparatively few eggs had been deposited in the territory that had suffered the worst, in 1873. They had been laid further east. In Kossuth, Emmet, Dickinson and Palo Alto Counties in Iowa, and in Martin and Jackson Counties, Minnesota, the young ones were hatched out in far greater numbers than elsewhere.


"The early part of the season was extremely dry; no rain fell until the middle of June. Grain did not grow, but the grasshoppers did, and before the drouth ended the crops in the counties named were eaten and parched beyond all hope of recovery. About the middle of June, however, a considerable rain fell and, outside of the before mentioned counties, the prospects were generally favorable for good crops. The young grasshoppers commenced to get wings about the middle of June and in a few days they began to rise and fly. The prospect seemed good for a speedy riddance of the pests, but Providence had ordained otherwise. The perverse insects were waiting for an easterly wind and the perverse wind blew from the southwest for nearly three weeks, a phenomenon of rare occurrence in this region, as it very seldom blows from one quarter more than three days, at a time. During this time the grass-hoppers were almost constantly on the move. Straggling swarms found their way to central Iowa doing, however, but little damage.


"About the tenth or twelfth of July the wind changed to the east and as by common consent the countless multitude took their departure westward. Up to this time the crops had been damaged but slightly in the western counties but during the two or three days of their flight the grain fields in these counties were injured to quite an extent. After the date above mentioned, with one or two unimportant exceptions, no grasshoppers were seen.


"There is no evidence that this region was visited in 1874 by foreign swarms, though it has been stated that such was the fact. On the contrary there is every reason for believing they were all hatched here. According to the most reliable information the grasshoppers hatched here produced no eggs and the inference is that they were incapable of so doing. They were much smaller than their predecessors and besides they were covered with parasites in the shape of little red bugs which made sad havoc in their ranks. What became of them after leaving here seems a mystery, but probably their enfeebled constitutions succumbed to the attacks of the parasites and the depleting effects of general debility."


This grasshopper raid was very discouraging to the country and interfered materially with its progress.


It will be remembered that during the four years previous to 1874, a heavy tide of emigration had been constantly pouring in. During that time all of the vacant government land in the county had been taken by settlers mostly under the homestead act. This land was principally prairie, the timber land having been previously taken. Like the pioneers of all new countries these later comers were mostly poor men and the best of them had barely enough to tide their over from the time of taking their homesteads to such time as they would be able to open up their claims and raise a crop. They had just commenced to open their farms and were dependent upon their crops for subsistence. What would have been in older localities a serious misfortune was to them absolute ruin. The result was great destitution and the necessity in the more recently settled neighborhoods of asking for outside assistance. The situation, however, was not so desperate in this county as it was in the counties to the west of here and most of the outside aid sent to this portion of the state went to O'Brien, Osceola, Sioux and Lyon Counties.


One of the serious aspects of the case was the seed grain question. The legislature being in session an appeal was made to then for state assistance in the matter of securing the necessary seed. In answer to this appeal a bill was passed and became a law appropriating fifty thousand dollars to aid in that matter. Under the provisions of the bill a commission was appointed whose duty it was to make a thorough investigation of all of the conditions and circumstances of the case and then take such action as the exigencies demanded. The names of the commissioners so appointed were Hon. Tasker of Jones County, Dr. Levi Fuller of Fayette and Hon. O. B. Brown of Van Buren. After a thorough investigation of the matter, they decided to purchase and distribute seed directly to the settlers. Local committees were appointed to assist the commission in their work. The distribution for Dickinson and Osceola Counties was made at Sibley. They adopted a list of questions that each applicant was required to answer in writing and from these answers the commissioners decided whether the applicant was entitled to relief or not, and if so his portion was dealt out to him.


Each applicant received about fifteen bushels of seed wheat, besides some seed corn and garden seeds. A considerable quantity of garden seeds was also distributed by the general government through the Interior Department. About one hundred applications for seed grain were answered from this county. A good many who would have been entitled to aid under the provisions of the law were too proud to make the application. They had passed through hard times before and the same self-denial would take them through again. There was about fifteen thousand dollars of the appropriation left after the distribution was completed and this was covered back into the state treasury. But the well meant efforts of the state to relieve the situation were unavailing. As has been before stated the growing crops were destroyed by the myriads of young grasshoppers as fast as they made their appearance above the surface.


After the departure of the grasshoppers in 1874 our people experienced a sense of relief and hoped that they would not again be visited by the plague for years, if ever. The loss of the greater portion of their crops for two years in succession imposed a burden upon them heavy to be borne, but they had passed the ordeal and now with fortune favoring them in the future they hoped to recover a portion of what they had lost. Many had been obliged to mortgage their farms to keep their families from suffering while all were compelled to practice a degree of economy and self-denial to which they had formerly been strangers.