Another IAGenWeb Project





THE YEAR 1875 was marked by no event worthy of particular mention. The farms that year proved remarkably productive, and excepting a portion of the crops that were badly damaged by the long-continued rains in the months of August and September, the season would have proved a remarkably prosperous one. The people were beginning to look once more with hope to the future. But they were again doomed to disappointment. The grasshopper scourge through which they had just passed such a dreadful experience, and which they fondly hoped had left them forever, again made its appearance in the summer of 1876 in greater numbers than ever, this time coming from the northwest instead of the south-west.


The details of this invasion are so similar to the one of three years before that they need not be repeated. The grasshoppers came in greater numbers than ever .and their devastations were more general. This time no effort was made to secure outside relief. Many of the settlers who had been obliged to mortgage their homes to tide them over the first period of destitution now gave up the struggle and disposed of their places for what they could get, which was not much. Many realized nothing in addition to the encumbrances already on them. Whole neighborhoods were depopulated. The settlement at Lakeville furnishes the most conspicuous instance of this kind. Over fifty homesteads had been taken and were occupied in that immediate vicinity at the time the grasshoppers struck them in 1873. Of these not more than half a dozen were occupying their places when the grasshoppers disappeared in 1877.


What was true of Lakeville was equally true of other neighborhoods, though perhaps not to quite so marked an extent, as the number of newcomers about Lakeville was greater at that time than any other point and the abandonment of their claims more general. The insects made their final flight in July, 1877, since which time they have not infested the country to any noticeable extent. They destroyed the crops here in 1873, 1874, 1876 and 1877, the last year being the worst of all. In Osceola County the reverse was true, the first year being the most disastrous, but here the last year was worse. The grasshopper questions furnished a fruitful topic for newspaper writers, and many articles, wise and otherwise, were inflicted on a long suffering public. The following from the Sioux City Journal will serve as an example. It is quite certain that had the writer thereof ever tried or seen tried the experiment he recommends, the article would never have been written. The article is as follows:


"The grasshopper deposits its eggs at the roots of the grass in the latter part of summer or early autumn. The eggs hatch out early in spring and during the months of April, May and June, according as the season is early or late; they are wingless, their sole power of locomotion being the hop. To destroy them, all that is needed is for each county, town or district to organize itself into a fire brigade throughout the district where their eggs are known to be deposited. This fire brigade shall see that the prairies are not burned over in the fall, and thus they will have the grass for the next spring and to be employed upon the pests while they are yet hoppers--the means of sure death. To apply it let all agree upon a certain day, say in April or May, or at any time when they are sere all the hoppers are hatched and none are yet winged. All being ready, let every person, man, woman and boy, turn out with torches and simultaneously fire the whole prairie, and the work, if well done, will destroy the whole crop of grasshoppers for that year, and none will be left to `soar their gossamer wings' or lay eggs for another year."


The Annals of Iowa, Volume 4, Number 6, contains an exhaustive article on the grasshopper invasion of 1867 and 1868, as well as that of 1873 and 1876, written by the late Ex-Governor C. C. Carpenter, and the conditions so vividly described by him are so exactly similar to what occurred here a few years later, that a few extracts will not be wholly out of place. His observations were confined principally to the counties of Greene, Boone, Story, Hamilton, and Webster. He says:


"One of the most serious of the pioneer experiences of northwestern Iowa was the grasshopper invasion. The reader who did not see the destruction wrought by the grasshoppers and the strange phenomena of their coming and going will be very apt to regard the story of an eye witness as incredible. They made their first appearance in 1867. The Hon. Charles Richards, at that time a citizen of Fort Dodge, gives the following account of their coming:


" `The first appearance of these pests was on the eighth of September, 1867, when about noon the air was discovered to be filled with grasshoppers coming from the west, settling about as fast as the flakes of an ordinary snowstorm. In fact, it appeared like a snowstorm, when the larger flakes of snow fall slowly and perpendicularly, there being no wind. They immediately began to deposit their eggs, choosing new breaking and hard ground along the roads, but not confining themselves to such places and being the worst where the soil was sandy. They continued to cover the ground, fences and buildings, eating everything, and in many places eating the bark from the young growth of the apple, cherry and other trees, and nearly destroying currant, gooseberries and shrubs, generally eating the fruit buds for the next year. They disappeared with the first frost, not flying away, but hid themselves and died.


" `No amount of cultivating the soil and disturbing the eggs seemed to injure or destroy them. I had two hundred acres of new breaking, and as soon as the frost was out commenced dragging the ground, exposing the eggs. The ground looked as if rice had been sown very thickly. I thought the dragging, while it was still freezing at night, thus exposing the eggs, breaking up the shell or case in which the eggs, some twenty or thirty in each shell, would destroy them, but I believe that every egg hatched.


" `As the wheat began to sprout and grow the grasshoppers began to hatch, and seemed to literally cover the ground, they being about an eighth of an inch long when hatched. They fed on, all young and tender plants, but seemed to prefer barley and wheat in the fields and tender vegetables in the garden. Many kept the wheat trimmed, and if it is a dry season it will not grow fast enough to head. But generally here in 1868 the wheat headed out and the stalk was trimmed bare, not a leaflet, and then they went up on the head and ate or destroyed it. Within ten days from the time the wheat heads out they moult. Prior to this time they have no wings, but within a period of five or six days they entirely changed their appearance and habits, and from an ordinary grasshopper became a winged insect, capable of flying thousands of miles.


" `In moulting they shed the entire outer skin or covering even to the bottom of their feet and over their eyes. I have caught them when fully developed and ready to moult, or shed their outside covering, and pulled it off, developing their wings, neatly folded, almost white in color and so frail that the least touch destroys them. But in two days they begin to fly. First short flights across the fields where they are feeding, and then longer flights, and within ten days after they moult, all the grasshoppers seem instinctively to rise very high and make a long flight, those of 1867 never having been heard of after leaving here and all leaving within ten days after they had their wings.'


"Further on in the same article Mr. Richards writes of the invasion of 1873 and 1874. He first refers to the fact that they were not nearly as destructive in Webster and the adjoining counties as in those farther to the northwest, and then continues as follows:


" `This time they were early enough in the season to destroy all the crops in those counties, evidently having hatched farther south and having attained maturity much earlier than those of 1867. They went through exactly the same process of depositing and hatching eggs, and destroying crops .as before and were identical in every respect. The only difference was in their mode of leaving. They made many attempts to leave, rising en masse for a long flight, when adverse winds would bring them down. It is a fact well demonstrated that their instinct teaches them in what direction to fly, and if the wind is adverse they will settle down in a few hours, when if the wind was in the direction they wished to go, they never would be heard of again within hundreds of miles.' "


Governor Carpenter then says:


"I have copied this article as it was written by Mr. Richards .at the time, because it not only gives a description of the ruin wrought, but goes with particularity into the habits and characteristics of the itinerary grasshopper. Persons who were not conversant with this invasion can hardly realize with what anxiety the people scanned the heavens for several years after each return of the season, when they had put in an appearance on the occasion of their previous visit. The great body of the invaders were generally preceded a day or two by scattering grasshoppers.


"In a clear day, by looking far away towards the sun, you would see every now and then a white winged forerunner of the swarm which was to follow. Years after they had gone there was a lurking fear that they would return. And if there were any indications of their appearance, especially when during two or three days the prevailing winds had been from the southwest, people would be seen on a clear day standing with their hands, above their eyes to protect them from the vertical rays of the sun, peering into the heavens, almost trembling lest they should discover the forerunners of the white winged messengers of destruction. To illustrate the absolute fearfulness of the grasshopper scourge, I have recalled a few of the incidents of their visitation. And fearing the reader who has had no personal experience with grasshoppers might be inclined to regard the story as `fishy,' I have taken pains to fortify myself with the documents. I have a letter from J. M. Brainard, editor of the Boone Standard, relating incidents of his own experience during these years: * * * He says:


That fall I made frequent trips over the Northwestern road from my home to Council Bluffs, and the road was not a very perfect one at that time, either in roadbed or grades. One day, it was well along in the afternoon, I was going west ward, .and by the time we had reached Tiptop (now Arcadia) the sun had got low and the air slightly cool, so that the hoppers clustered on the rails, the warmth being grateful to them. The grade at Tiptop was pretty stiff, and our train actually came to a standstill on the rails greased by the crushed bodies of the insects. This occurred more than once, necessitating the engineer to back for a distance and then make a rush for the summit, liberally sanding the track as he did so. I think I made a note of it for my paper, The Story County Aegis, for in 1876, on visiting my old Pennsylvania home, a revered uncle took me to task for the improbable statement, and when I assured him of its truthfulness he dryly remarked, `Ah, John, you have lived so long in the West that I fear you have grown to be as big a liar as any of then.' "


Commenting on the above, Governor Carpenter says:


'The fact that railroad trains were impeded may seem a strange phenomenon. But there was a cause for the great number of grasshoppers that drifted to the railroad track hinted at by Mr. Brainard. Those who studied their habits observed that they were fond of warmth, even heat. The fence enclosing a field where they `were getting in their work' indicated the disposition of the grasshopper. Towards evening the bottom boards on the south side of the fence would be covered with them, hanging upon them like swarms of bees. When the suggestion of the autumn frosts began to cool the atmosphere the grasshoppers would assemble at the railroad track and hang in swarms on the iron rails which had been warmed by the rays of the sun. The effect of this invasion upon the business of northwestern Iowa was most appalling. * * * Nothing could be more dreary and disheartening than a wheat field with the bare stalks standing, stripped of every leaf and even the heads entirely devoured. People tried all sorts of experiments to drive the pests from their fields. I remember my brother, R. E. Carpenter, had a fine piece of wheat, and he bought a long rope, a hundred feet long, and hitching a horse at each end, he mounted one and his hired man the other, and with horses a hundred feet apart and .abreast they rode back and forth over the field three or four times a day, the rope swinging along between, sweeping a strip a hundred feet wide. They would always ride their horses in the same paths so that they destroyed but little grain and kept the grasshoppers so constantly disturbed that they did but little damage."


The experiment described by Governor Carpenter was repeatedly tried in this county but with indifferent success, as the hopper would fly up and immediately light down again in the rear of the passing rope and resume their work of destruction just as if nothing had happened, thus proving that the insects were more numerous here and the destruction of crops more complete than in the territory that came under his observation. Further on he describes a "hopper dozer" that was contrived and successfully used by Hon. Charles Aldrich on his farm in Hamilton County. "Hopper dozers" nearly identical with the one described by Governor Carpenter were made and used by a number of our farmers, and while millions of the insects were destroyed, like the Chinese soldiers, other millions rose to fill their places and the devastation continued without perceptible interruption.


Before closing his article Governor Carpenter refers to the lively interest taken by General N. B. Baker in the struggles of the settlers against the adverse circumstances surrounding them, and the activity manifested by him in all plans for their relief. He refers to a convention held at Fort Dodge to consider among other things the obtaining and distributing supplies. He says:


"Delegates were in attendance from the various counties of northwestern Iowa and from Dakota. Among these there was one whose great heart was thoroughly aroused at the tale of woe which came from the stricken region, and who not only had leisure, but had the disposition to give his time and energies to the work of relief. I refer to General X. B. Baker, the adjutant general of the state of Iowa. He with Colonel Spofford of Des Moines and the writer, then living in Des Moines, attended this convention. It was determined to appoint a committee to visit the various counties in northwestern Iowa and Dakota, and upon consultation with the people appoint local committees through whom the work of distribution could be intelligently performed. General Baker was made the chairman of this committee. This was in the early part of January, 1874."


People who resided at Spirit Lake during the summer of 1876 doubtless remember that General Baker spent some time there that summer, boarding, at the Crandall House. The excitement and the unusual and unnatural labor he had performed in connection with his endeavors for the relief of the "grasshopper sufferers" had seriously impaired his health, and his physician recommended a trip to the lakes. There was no railroads then and he came from Storm Lake by carriage. For some time after his arrival here he gained strength and vitality, and his spirits rose accordingly, and his friends here hoped and believed that he would receive permanent benefit from his outing and that he would gradually recover his former strength and activity.


As usual Crandall had a very fine garden that summer and the General was very much interested in it, and spent considerable time strolling around it and watching its growth. The suddenness with which the grasshoppers alighted down on the country that summer has already been noticed. The General sat in the garden and watched them. While he had been largely interested in the various schemes devised for the relief of the grasshopper sufferers, and knew as others knew of the destruction they had wrought, yet this was the first time he had been in the midst of it, and the rapidity with which they got in their work was a revelation to him.


Reports soon commenced coming in of the nature and extent of the invasion, and all were soon convinced that the destruction of the growing crops would be more general than anything that had preceded it. The effect of all this on the General's physical condition was disastrous in the extreme. From being the brightest and jolliest man in the crowd, he became moody and low spirited. He brooded over the destitute condition of the newcomers as though he had a direct and personal interest in them. He soon lost all that he had gained since coming here, and his friends were not long in realizing that his case was hopeless and advised that he return to his home in Des Moines at once, which he did. He continued to fail from that time until his death, which was a few months later. The fob lowing extract is from Hon. D. A. W. Perkins' "History of Osceola County:"


"As the grasshopper years went on the people themselves, scientific men and even the halls of legislation, were discussing the question of how to drive the `hoppers' from the country. Many and varied were the experiments. They tried smudging, burning the prairie, burning tar, digging ditches and every conceivable thing that the ingenuity of man could suggest, even to a huge trap in which to snare and catch them. Minnesota offered a bounty of a certain amount per bushel for them, and actually paid out quite a sum, which helped the people along, but the idea of delivering a crop of grasshoppers for .a consideration strikes us now as bordering on the ridiculous." "The grasshopper business, too, had its humorous side, and there was much wit grew out of it and the eastern papers made much fun of us, and not only that, but seriously charged us with being a country liable to such things, and hence unfit to live in. The county papers in northwestern Iowa would each claim that the other county was the worst. The Gazette said in one issue they were mostly in Dickinson County, and the Beacon gives this assertion the lie and says they are on the border of Osceola `peeking over.' Some agricultural house printed a card bearing the picture of an enormous grasshopper sitting on a board fence, gazing at a wheat field, and underneath the words, 'In this s(wheat) bye and bye.'


"The poet was also at work and the following one of the numerous productions:




"Half a league, Half a league,

Half a league onward,

Right from the West they calve

More than six hundred.


Out from forest and glade,

`Charge for the corn,' they said,

Then for the fields they made

More than six hundred.


Fields to the right of them,

Fields to the left of them,

Fields in front of them

Pillaged and plundered;

Naught could their numbers tell,

Down on the crop they fell,

Nor left a stalk or shell,

More than six hundred.


Flashed all their red legs bare,

Flashed as they turned in air,

Robbing the farmers there,

Charging an orchard while

All the world wondered.

Plunged in the smudge and smoke

Right through the corn they broke,

Hopper and locust;

Peeled they the stalks all bare,

Shattered and sundered,

Then they went onward—but

More than six hundred."


As has been before stated the grasshoppers made their final flight in the summer of 1877. Over one-half of the population had given up the struggle, disposed of their places for a mere nominal sum and left. The other half found themselves in decidedly straightened circumstances. To them it was like commencing anew with the odds against them. The question that presented itself to them the strongest was this: What is in store for us in the future? Is this region of country more subject to incursions of this kind than other localities? Are we to be subjected in the future to raids of this character in oft-recurring periods? If so, it were better that the country be abandoned and turned over again to the savages from whom it had been reclaimed. Perhaps the feeling prevailing at that time cannot be better shown than by the following short extract from an article written in the fall of 1876:


"The extent of the damage clone the present season is incalculable, and it is no wonder that our people are discouraged and despondent, but to their credit be it said that they are looking the situation squarely in the face, and while many are leaving, they are for the most part those who can be the easiest spared. The old settlers, those who have borne the burdens of the past and have labored hardest to overcome the difficulties which have stood in their way, are still hopeful for the future. They cannot believe that this, one of the fairest regions in Iowa, is to be cursed by periodic visitations of this dreaded pest. It is well known that there are many other localities in the country where the devastation the present year has been even greater than here. In portions of New York and Canada whole counties have been devastated, as is also the case in some of the southern states, and we firmly believe that regions of country where the scourge has hitherto been unknown are just as liable to be the victims of the next raid as northwestern Iowa."


Looking back at the conditions as they then existed, we can only wonder that the settlers faced them with as much courage and fortitude as they did. At the present time the loss of any material portion of a crop by drouth, hail or any other cause is deemed a serious calamity. What then the result would be if four entire crops in succession were destroyed we can only faintly conjecture.