Arrival of the pest.--Attempted precautions.--Their fearlessness.--How the corn vanished.--The orchard stripped.--Down the well.--Their departure.--Their multitude.--The lost cow.--Indians.--The Indian's grave
IT was during this year that Kansas was visited with the dreadful plague of grasshoppers, or, as they are perhaps more correctly called, locusts, for there is no doubt but that they were closely allied to the locust of the Bible. They are said to breed away up in the Rocky Mountains of the north-west, and when they have increased to such an extent that the grass is all eaten up, then they descend upon the fertile prairies, and clear everything away as they go. This has happened twice since the settlement of the country. They travel mostly in a south-easterly direction, and are supposed to perish in the Gulf of Mexico. They move
but slowly, but in such myriads that the farmers are powerless against them.
About a fortnight before they arrived with us, we heard that they were at Junction City, so that it took them fourteen days to travel about thirty-five miles. It was at the beginning of August, and the small grains, such as wheat, etc., were carried and stacked, so that these were secure. The maize, however, was as yet far from ripe, though the ears were well formed. We cut a lot of it, and shocked it to make fodder for the cattle, but it was destroyed with the other, after the beastly things arrived. They came on gradually like a fall of snow. We first saw a glittering cloud high in the sky, and all sparkling in the sun, from which they fell one or two at a time. At first they came down so slowly that the fowls could clear them up, but presently they began to fall in earnest, and then nothing could check them.
They alighted on houses, people, animals, fences, crops, covering everything, while the ground was strewn several inches thick, so that it was impossible to walk about without killing dozens at each step, while it was a hard job to keep them brushed off hands and face.
They seemed to have no fear, but alighted on any-thing. They continued falling for several days, so that they did not decrease in any way. No matter how many were killed, there were hundreds to take the place of one.
They began on the green corn and garden crops, and made a clean sweep. In the morning the corn was waving in all its beauty-and it is about the loveliest crop that grows-a splendid green, and so high and dense that a man riding through it on horseback; would not be seen; in the evening nothing remained but the bare, upright stalks, which were rapidly blackening under the influence of their bites, and through which one could see all over the field. Flowers, leaves, silk, ears, all had vanished'' down their rapacious maws. They cleared off all the apples, peaches, and grapes, of which fruits we had a splendid show; but not a 'single' one of either escaped.
We could walk through the orchard and see perhaps twenty grasshoppers at one apple, drilling right through and through. Presently it would fall to the ground, and amongst the struggling mass there it soon totally disappeared. They left a few things at first which
did not quite taste apparently to their satisfaction. These were the haulm of the potato, the tomato, the sugar-cane or sorghum, and tobacco. But these were all eventually cleared up after every other green leaf had disappeared.
All the trees in the woods were divested of their leaves, and the whole place looked as though there had been a fire raging in every part. One of my daily jobs was to climb down the well to clear the hoppers out to keep them from polluting the water. The windlass was not strong enough to carry me, and so I had to go down without my boots on, and hang on with fingers and toes in the crevices of the stones with which the well was walled. I would then take a small dipper or gourd, and skim all the hoppers into the bucket, which was drawn up and emptied by some one at the top. It was perhaps a little dangerous, but the well was only forty-five feet deep, so that I could not fall farther than that, unless I knocked the bottom out. One of our neighbour's sons was suffocated while on a similar job, the well being full of foul gas. Ours was quite free from this, however. It was awfully cold down at the bottom on a hot summer's
day; to feel the sudden change from hot to cold was very queer. I wonder somewhat that it did not give me a bad cold, but I think that this rough out-of-door life kept us very healthy and hardy.
I remember my brother Jack was once riding across a creek on the ice with a pair of horses, when it gave way, and all disappeared beneath the water. After a bit of a struggle Jack managed to get out, and also to save the horses. The latter were so cold and exhausted that they lay down on the ground unable to stir, and so we covered them up with straw for the night, after giving them a good feed; Jack's clothes were frozen as hard as boards, so that he could hardly walk, but his cold bath did not in the least interfere with his health; he did not catch even a slight cold.
After the grasshoppers had finished every green thing, including chewing the tobacco, they began to seek "fresh fields and pastures new," and gradually departed, having remained about a month; during the latter part of which they had been on starvation fare, eating twigs and bark, and varying their diet with such of their number as were injured and could not
defend themselves. When the main body went, however, they still left swarms behind, who were engaged in laying eggs in the earth ready to be hatched in the sun next spring, so that we had trouble to look forward to, as well as to lament the present.
The fowls and ducks were quite bewildered by their bounteous provision, and thrived and fattened wonderfully-the only things that did during the hoppers' destructive visit. It was enough to make a man's heart ache to stand and see every bit of vegetation destroyed as it was, and at the same time to be utterly powerless to prevent it. All sorts of experiments were tried, but in vain. Fire, of course, destroyed them, but we could not have fire everywhere, among the trees and growing crops. There was nothing to be done but grin and bear it.
The bulk of the army, after leaving us, travelled on right across the State of Kansas, part of Missouri, and Arkansas, and even reached into Texas; but by that time frost had set in, and I suppose that in search of a warmer climate they took a long flight, and they are said to have been lost-to sight, but not to
memory dear-in the sea, in the Gulf of Mexico. Their numbers were something awful to contemplate. Some little idea of them may be formed when I say that there was a band at least two hundred and fifty miles wide, extending quite across the State, and about twenty miles deep from vanguard to rear, an ever-shifting mass, gradually moving on; and when I say that the majority of this belt of land-five thousand square miles-was so covered that each footstep killed dozens,-though of course they congregated mostly about the cultivated fields,- enough will have been said to show the utter impossibility of in any way destroying them. After they had left us the weather kept remarkably warm, and all the trees, after having their leaves stripped by the hoppers, began to sprout again, and the apple and peach trees presented the peculiar sight of being covered with blossom in November. But of course they were soon stripped again by the frosts.
This winter was a hard one, for so many people had lost nearly everything by the hoppers, such as had very little land in small grain, and for prairie farmers who had no
wood to cut and sell. I continued on with old Zedekiah, chopping wood nearly all winter, and looking after the cattle, a number of which he was again wintering. We were rather unfortunate with the cattle, they used to get stuck in the mud so much. It was a fearful job to get them out sometimes, wading in mud and water up to ones waist to hitch a rope round their horns. Then when rescued they did not always recover, but were so perished with the cold and wet that they succumbed despite all our efforts to keep them alive with pails of warm bran mash, boiled potatoes, and boiled corn.
At one time we lost a cow for four days. She went out one morning with the others, but failed to turn up at night to be fed. They were not housed at all, but spent the night in the woods, where it was warmer than in the corral. Well, the next morning came, and as she was still missing, I got on a pony and started to hunt for her. It was almost a matter of certainty that she was stuck somewhere, but where? That was the question. I rode carefully up and down the creek for miles both sides to give no chance away, inspecting every
branch of the creek, and travelling far beyond their usual feeding-ground, but all in vain.
The next day Miss Blake started off as well as myself in a different direction, and kept up the search all day, but evening came, and the cow was still gone. The third day the old man joined in the hunt, but we were again unsuccessful, though we found another cow that had got stuck that day. On the evening of the fourth day I was riding home rather dejected at our ill luck, and was in sight of the house, when, passing by a little bit of a pond in a hollow of the hills, I thought that I detected in the long grass something more solid than reeds or bushes. I rode up closer, and to my infinite surprise and joy found the lost cow. She was so deep in the mud that only her head remained exposed to view, and one might have passed within a few feet without seeing her.
I could scarce believe my eyes upon finding her actually within sight of the house after our most diligent search. Didn't I gallop home in a hurry for a team to pull her out! It was a terrible job, and we almost expected to pull her horns off or break her neck, so deeply mired was she. But at last we got her
out and fed her with a pail of hot mash, and rubbed her down with dry hay, and then covered her up for the night, for, of course, she was quite unable to stand. She lingered a few days, and then died, the cold and exposure having proved too much for her.
Old Zedekiah gave me a dollar for finding her, which he had offered before as a reward. That was all the money I ever received from him during my stay of fourteen months. But I think that cash was always rather a scarce article with him. He and I together did all the work of a one-hundred-and-sixty-acre farm, scarcely hiring a man for a day, except in harvest time; and as old Zedekiah was over sixty and a little shrivelled-up man, you may guess that I had plenty of hard word to get through. I ran the mowing-machine and the horse-rake, during the haying season-besides loading and stacking all the hay while the old man pitched,-and the reaping-machine in harvest.
A lot of our haying was done at night by the light of the moon, owing to the prevalence of high winds during the day time, which made it impossible to load or stack. This was a little risky, as in carrying hay snakes are
sometimes thrown up with the hay-cock, and in the semi-darkness this is not a pleasant experience.
Other heavy work I did my share in equal with the old man, such as ploughing, etc., as we had two teams; so he ploughed with one and I with the other. I was rather fond of this work when the ground was not too heavy, and used to take a pride in getting a furrow as straight as possible.
In setting out a piece of land to plough, one fastens two or three stakes in the ground in a straight line across the field, and then drives right at them with eyes fixed and scarcely troubling about the depth or evenness of the furrow, so long as it is straight. Then the horses are turned sharp round and driven back, the plough throwing the next furrow on top of the first one. This forms a "ridge furrow."
Sometimes ploughing is started from the outside edge of a piece of ground, and carried round and round until none remains to be done. This forms a "dead furrow," almost a little ditch in the centre of the piece.
We were annoyed a good deal by the begging and stealing of the Indians down here. A
few miles south of Council Grove there was a reservation, a large piece of land several miles square, left entirely for the Indians, and upon which no white man had a right to set foot. Here they lived in their primitive style, hunting, fishing, and trapping, despite all the efforts of the Government to civilise them. Several nice stone houses had been built for them with this aim, but, after trying them, the lndians went back to their wretched wigwams, and used the houses to stable their miserable little ponies in the winter.
Although the whites were not allowed on their land, the Indians still had the right of hunting as they thought fit all over the country, and as a result of this practice, one day one of our pigs came rushing in from the woods with an arrow through its body.
They have since been moved some two hundred miles further west, and the reservation opened up for settlement.
One day I found an Indian's grave, and obtained a lot of relics, which had been buried with him for his use in the happy hunting grounds.There were a pair of bullet moulds, a brass thimble, several arrow heads, and
various other small articles. I think, though, that someone else had been there before me, as the bones were very disordered, and I did not see the skull at all. The grave was on the top of a high bluff; whence lovely views of the Neosho Valley were obtained.