Grasshopper Plague, Dodge County, Nebraska

The years between 1873 and 1878 were dark, hard years for the settlers in Nebraska and Western Iowa, on account of the grasshoppers, which came down in vast armies, even like the stars of heaven or sands on the sea-shore, innumerable. They destroyed all kinds of vegetation. This occurred not alone one season, but for four or more in succession. No one but he who has gone through a like experience can begin to know the feelings of the husbandmen whose crops bid fair to yield a bountiful harvest, and then within three days have all in ruins. There were debts to meet, the good wife and children to care for and clothe during a long, cold winter and no bank account to draw on. Indeed those were days that tried men's souls.

A citizen writing to an eastern friend said: "This summer (1874) is the hottest I ever experienced. For three weeks the thermometer registered from 90 to 106 degrees. A strong south wind has been constantly blowing. It has hurt our wheat badly—part of my own is burned up—Saturday, August 11, grasshoppers began to drop down.

They are now in seven counties and more to hear from. When they first came, man or beast could not travel. The air was filled with them and it gave the appearance of a great snow storm with a heavy wind; they covered everything on the ground, buildings, fences and all. Such a sight I never wish to behold again. Turkeys and chickens had no use for them and retired in seeming disgust. Think of them commencing at ten in the morning and constantly coming until nightfall. Just above me is a side track on the railway line and in the afternoon they wanted to switch some cars but were foiled in the attempt as the grasshoppers covered the ties and rails in such masses that they caused the wheels to slip instead of roll on the rails. This is no fancy picture but can be vouched for and proven.

"You can't kill the infernal cusses. I took two and held them under water ten minutes and when I released them they were spry as ever. These I send in my letter I pinched the heads off of as you can see. You can't kill them by stepping on them. I hope these will have a good time on their way to New York and may they die on the journey for I assure you they are not dead yet! One I pinched Sabbath last and I see he still kicks defiantly! I also send you the tail of a rattle snake and if you like them I will send you a whole one in my next letter."

In 1875 the farmers had been so badly eaten out by the grasshoppers that they could not procure seed grain. They had paid, a number of years, as high as sixty per cent interest on money to purchase seed with. That extortion was bad as the "hoppergrass" was himself and yet of selfish human origin. Hon. George W. E. Dorsey, later Congressman, came to the front and advertised to lend needy farmers money in all amounting to five thousand dollars, at 10 per cent which at that date in Nebraska was but half value of general interest.

Dodge County | Nebraska AHGP

Source: History of Dodge and Washington Counties, Nebraska, Rev. William H. Buss and Thomas T. Osterman, Volume 1, The American Historical Society, Chicago, 1921.

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