A nightmare unimaginable, rarely mentioned in history books , that caused such damage that huge areas in several states were to be abandoned, often with the aid of troops.
A sudden unexplained migration of frontier population to the coastline. The year was 1875 and it soon was to be called the “Year of the Grasshopper“.
“It was the year 1875 that will long be remembered by the people of at least four states, as the grasshopper year. The scourge struck Western Missouri April, 1875, and commenced devastating some of the fairest portions of our noble commonwealth. They gave Henry [County] an earnest and overwhelming visitation, and demonstrated with an amazing rapidity that their appetite was voracious, and that everything green belonged to them for their sustenance.“
The Rocky Mountain Locust or Melanoplus Spretus
Sightings often placed their swarms in numbers far larger than any other species of locust, with one swarm as recorded at 198,000 square miles (513,000 km²) in size (greater than the area of California), weighing 27.5 million tons, and consisting of some 12.5 trillion insects – the greatest concentration of animals ever recorded.
The grasshoppers traveled in a “perfect swarm.” From July 20 to July 30, 1874, this perfect swarm, again larger than the size of California, flew between Minnesota and the Rio Grande and feasted on the crops of unsuspecting farmers.
The insects arrived in swarms so large they blocked out the sun and sounded like a rainstorm! In the hardest hit areas, the red-legged creatures devoured entire fields of wheat, corn, potatoes, turnips, tobacco, and fruit. The hoppers also gnawed curtains and clothing hung up to dry or still being worn by farmers, who frantically tried to bat the hungry swarms away from their crops.
Attracted to the salt from perspiration, the over-sized insects chewed on the wooden handles of rakes, hoes, and pitchforks, and on the leather of saddles and harness, and wool from live sheep. Tree bark would be stripped off of the trees, leaving tree trunks barren. There would be so many locusts that the locomotives would be stopped cold, not being able to get traction because the insects made the rails too slippery.
So where did the title of this post come from? From a person by the name of Albert Child, a physician who actually measured the swarm. Forever known afterwords as Albert’s Swarm, this quote describes what seems to be almost indescribable …
“According to the first-hand account of A. L. Child transcribed by Riley et al. (1880), a swarm of Rocky Mountain locusts passed over Plattsmouth, Nebraska, in 1875. By timing the rate of movement as the insects streamed overhead for 5 days and by telegraphing to surrounding towns, he was able to estimate that the swarm was 1,800 miles long and at least 110 miles wide. Based on his information, this swarm covered a swath equal to the combined areas of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.”
I think that may need to be repeated… A swarm of locusts that is 1800 miles long and 110 miles wide !!
“In 1875, near Lane, Kansas, they crossed the Potawotomie Creek, which is about four rods wide, by millions; while the Big and Little Blues, tributaries of the Missouri, near Independence, the one about 100 feet wide at its mouth, and the other not so wide, were crossed at numerous places by the moving armies, which would march down to the water’s edge and commence jumping in, one upon another, till they would pontoon the stream, so as to effect a crossing. Two of these mighty armies also met, one moving east and the other west, on the river-bluff, in the same locality, and each turning their course north and down the bluff, and coming to a perpendicular ledge of rock 25 or 30 feet high, passed over in a sheet apparently 6 or 7 inches thick, and causing a roaring noise similar to a cataract of water.”
Riley’s Eighth Report, p. 118. recorded in First Annual Report Of The United States Entomological Commission For The Year 1877 Relating To The Rocky Mountain Locust
So what happened to the Rocky Mountain Locust after that devastating year? No one really knows for sure. Within 4 years, they were scarcely seen again. By 1902, the insect was officially declared extinct.. never to be seen again.
One of the great mysteries of nature.