Grasshoppers, Othman A. Abbott’s Description

Pioneer lawyer Othman A. Abbott of Hall County was Nebraska’s first lieutenant governor and a member of the constitutional conventions of 1871 and 1875. In 1928 Abbott recalled his experiences in early Nebraska, including the grasshopper plague which struck the state in 1874:

“There had been earlier plagues of grasshoppers in various parts of the state of Nebraska and in the adjoining states of Iowa and Kansas, but I first made their acquaintance in 1874 when they destroyed practically every green and growing thing in the vicinity of Grand Island. . . .

“They covered the ground almost like a blanket. They jumped to the right and left as you walked through them,–opening a pathway and closing in behind you as you passed. I had some young celery plants in the garden that I was especially proud of and I covered them with some large pie-plant leaves in the morning. When I came home at noon the pie-plant leaves were eaten and the celery leaves were eaten–not a scrap of anything green remained. There was literally nothing left of them but little holes in the ground where they had stood. The grasshopper brigades also ate all the leaves on my little trees, leaving them as bare as in winter.

“The first day they came they ate the wheat in the shocks, stalks as well as grain. There was a great cornfield near the city in tassel with little ears forming and with the growth so rank that you could not see a rod into the field. Before nightfall the whole field was bare of leaves, tassels, and ears. . . .

“The plague was widespread in the year 1874; collections were taken up in behalf of those who were left entirely destitute and a state relief society took charge of collecting supplies to help the sufferers in stricken regions. Most of the relief in Hall County was what went from neighbor to neighbor, but some relief supplies were sent in by the Federal government, principally bacon, lard, and corn meal. . . .

“The grasshoppers were traced as far east as the western counties of Iowa and Missouri. It has been very many years now since they gave up their visits to this country, but those who saw them in those early days will never forget what havoc those insignificant insects wrought because of their overwhelming numbers.”

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