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| 3/4/2014 9:34:00 AM

A Kansas family sweeping grasshoppers
A Kansas family sweeping grasshoppers into a pile and burning them. (Image from the May-June, 1975 issue of Iron Men Album.)

In the December 25, 1873 issue of the Yankton Press and Dakotian (still published in Yankton, SD), appeared the following letter from a disillusioned farmer: "The basest fraud on earth is agriculture. She has made me a 1,000 promises and has broken every one of them...the fact is, agriculture would demoralize a saint...I fight pigs, chickens, the moles, the birds, the bugs, the worms, everything in which there is a breath of life. ..I fight heat, the frost, the rain, the hail. In short, I fight the universe, and get whipped in every battle."

During the mid-1870s, most of the farmers in the plains states could relate to the letter writer. It started in 1873 with a severe drought which caused the Rocky Mountain locust, which most folks called a grasshopper, to head east looking for food.

One Kansas woman, who was a child at the time and stood with her family at a window watching, later recalled how, when the great cloud of hoppers hit it was like a hailstorm hitting the house and how a pair of overalls hanging on a clothesline disappeared as they were devoured by the hungry insects.

The Junction City (Kansas) Union wrote on August 1, 1874, “Misfortunes never come singly, and a ‘dry spell’ brings with it any number of disasters and inconveniences. A drouth nourishes chinch bugs, sunstrokes, grass-hoppers and profanity. The grasshoppers seem determined to eat up what the drouth has left. The greatest ravages we have heard of have been between Wakefield and Clay Center. Passengers who came in on Thursday evening represent the country along the road as swarming with them. Bodies of them passed over this city on Monday, but so far fields in this immediate vicinity have generally escaped their ravages.” A few days later the same paper announced: “The hoppers have ‘arriv.’”


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