Grasshoppers.The grasshopper is classified by entomologists as a "leaping, orthopterous insect belonging to the families Acrididae or Locustidae." The ordinary grasshopper is a member of the former. The Rocky mountain grasshopper or, as it is sometimes called, the Rocky mountain locust, is about one inch long and is migratory in its habits. Its eggs are deposited in the ground in the late summer or autumn, and when the young insects are hatched out the following spring they are ready to migrate. On several occasions they have swept in vast swarms over the country west of the Mississippi river, practically destroying every green thing on their line of March. Neill's History of Minnesota mentions invasions of grasshoppers in the years 1818 and 1819, and the early white settlers of Kansas learned of an Indian tradition regarding a grasshopper visntation[sic] in 1820. John Schoemakers of the old Osage mission wrote of some damage done by grasshoppers in the fall of 1854, and says the crops were destroyed by them in 1855, when some of the horses at the mission were sent to Henry county, Mo., whre they could be cared for until another crop could be raised. John G. Pratt, who came to the Delaware mission in Kansas in 1835, says the first visitation in that section was in 1867.
But the greatest invasion of the insects was that of 1874. The report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture for that year says: "About the 25th of July, one of those periodical calamitous visitations to which the trans-Mississippi states are liable once in from eight to ten years, made its appearance in northern and northwestern Kansasthe grasshopper or locust. The air was filled and the fields and trees were completely covered with these voracious trespassers. At one time, the total destruction of every green thing seemed imminent. Their course was in a southerly and southeasterly direction, and before the close of August the swarming hosts were enveloping the whole state. The visitation was so sudden that the people of the state became panic-stricken. In the western countieswhere immigration for the last two years had been very heavy, and where the chief dependence of the new settlers was corn, potatoes and garden vegetablesthe calamity fell with terrible force."
Starvation or emigration appeared to be the only alternatives for the people of the ravaged districts. In this emergency Gov. Osborn called a special session of the legislature to devise some means of relief. In his message the governor gave a list of the counties that had been devastated by the grasshoppers. Those most seriously affected were Norton, Rooks, Ellis, Russell, Osborne, Phillips, Smith, McPherson, Rice, Barton, Reno, Edwards and Pawnee, but in a number of other counties more or less damage had been wrought. Said the governor: "The number of persons who will require more or less aid, as estimated on the reports received, will not, it is thought, exceed 15,000, and many of these will require but little assistance. The greatest want seems to be for small grain, whereby these destitute people can be subsisted until another crop can be raised . . . . The wishes of the people, so far as I have been informed, are entirely in favor of providing for the present emergency, and for doing it at home. The day has gone by when we need to look to others for assistance."
The special session authorized an issue of state bonds to the amount of $73,000 to provide relief for the stricken people, and authorized the county commissioners in certain counties to issue bondson vote of the people of the countythe proceeds to be used "as a relief fund for the destitute people," and to be used "for the purpose of furnishing them with the necessary food, clothing and fuel only." No levy was to be made for a sinking fund for the payment of these county bonds for ten years. The maximum amount of bonds the counties could thus issue was limited as follows: Barton, Norton, McPherson, Russell, Osborne, Phillips, Reno and Smith, $5,000 each; Rice and Jewell, $4,000 each; Republic, Rooks, Mitchell and Lincoln, $3,000 each; Ottawa, Harvey and Pawnee, $2,000 each; Barber and Ford, $1,000 each. Three days later another act was passed authorizing the commissioners of "any county in the state" to issue bonds, not exceeding one-half of one per cent, of the assessed valuation of property, to be known as "special relief bonds." Appropriations of $1,000 were made out of the surplus in the state treasury for the benefit of Rush and Decatur counties, and $500 for Ness county. (See Osborn's Administration.)
Through the county assessors, returns were received as to the number needing assistance. The greatest demand was for food, the number of people needing rations being reported at 32,614. Of those needing clothing, 8,077 were men, 9,758 were women, and 16,452 were children. In addition to the work done by the state, the United States government furnished through the war department a supply of army clothing. Giles, in his "Thirty Years in Topeka," says this aid consisted of 4,541 woolen blankets, 1,834 overcoats, 131 sack coats, 131 pairs of trousers, and 4,468 pairs of boots.
On the evening of Nov. 19, 1874, a meeting was held in Topeka, at which the "Kansas Central Relief Committee" was organized with Lieut.-Gov. E. S. Stover as chairman, and Henry King, editor or[sic] the Topeka Commonwealth, as secretary. The next day the committee issued an address warning the people of the Eastern states against unprincipled persons who were soliciting aid for the Kansas grasshopper sufferers. Railroad companies transported free of charge the donations made to this committee, and in this way a large amount of rations and clothing was distributed. The committee received and disbursed cash to the amount of $73,863.47; besides 265 carloads and 11,049 packages of supplies, the total value of the assistance rendered being $235,108.47. This included 32,614 rations, and clothing for 8,077 men, 9,758 women and 16,452 children.
Wilder's Annals of Kansas (p. 643), says: "this visitation of grasshoppers, or locusts, was the most serious of any in the history of the State. They reached from the Platte river, on the north, to northern Texas, and penetrated as far east as Sedalia, Mo. Their eggs were deposited in favorable localities over this vast territory. The young hatched the next spring, did great damage to early crops, but in June, having passed into the winged state, they rose into the air and flew back to the northwest, whence their progenitors had come the year before."
In March, 1877, the state legislature passed an act authorizing the township trustees of the different townships, and the mayors of cities not included in any township, when requested in writing by fifteen legal voters in such township or city, to direct the road overseers of the several road districts to warn out all able-bodied male persons between the ages of twelve and sixty-five years, for the purpose of destroying grasshoppers. Persons over the age of eighteen years might pay a dollar a day and be exempt from such work, but failure to answer the call or to pay the stipulated amount subjected such person to a fine of three dollars a day. The next day a supplementary act was passed, providing that the counties in any senatorial district might coöperate in the enforcement of the law. When the grasshoppers appeared in the western counties in 1911, there was some talk of reviving this law, but the scourge was not of sufficient magnitude to render it necessary.Pages 779-781 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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