Below is an audio file of selected portions of the article recorded by Roger Browne. Click play below to listen. Captions associated with the illustrations in the text are not included in the recording.
In the midst of the corona virus pandemic and accompanying financial panic of 2020, the thoughts of many return to previous crises and how following the temporal and spiritual principles taught by the living prophets can save us from the very brink of destruction. During the financial collapse of 2008,[i] I was particularly impressed by a very optimistic talk by Brigham Young given in 1856, just after a plague far more serious than the Mormon crickets of 1848. [ii]
Even though we usually remember the cricket plague of 1848 where just barely enough of the Latter-day Saints’ crops were saved by the seagulls to get the more than 4,500 pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley through the winter, the most serious insect plague for the pioneers was the great grasshopper invasion of 1855, resulting in the loss of over 70% of the crops throughout the then extensively settled Utah Territory with more than 40,000 inhabitants by 1860. [iii] [iv] [v] [vi]
Mormon Crickets and Rocky Mountain Locusts
Although the pioneers initially fought against the Mormon crickets in 1848, the grasshoppers (locusts) were by far the main ravenous pest. Here is one account of the clouds of grasshoppers that would fill the sky..
“Often the first approach of the grasshoppers was signaled when swarms of them appeared in the air overhead—-an awesome sight. Settlers described them as looking like a ‘heavy snowstorm’ or snowflakes and so numerous as to cover the sky and darken the sun. The Deseret News reported one massive appearance in which ‘the grasshoppers filled the sky for three miles deep, or as far as they could be seen without the aid of telescopes, and somewhat resembling a snow storm.”
Heber C. Kimball’s Report
In 1855, Heber C. Kimball traveled through the Utah territory from Brigham City on the north to St. George in the south, and reported: “From this place south as far as we went, the grasshoppers have cut down the grain, and there is not fifty acres now standing of any kind of grain in Salt Lake Valley, and what is now standing, they are cutting it down as fast as possible. In Utah County the fields are pretty much desolate; in Juab Valley not a green spear of grain is to be seen, nor in Sanpete, nor in Fillmore.” [viii]
Entire Territory on the Verge of a Famine
In 1856, as Brigham Young delivered this address, the saints were praying that their new harvest would be able to keep them from starvation after the previous devastating year of grasshopper attacks.
The handcart companies were on their way to the valley starting in this year, including the ill-fated Willey and Martin handcart companies which started west late in the season.[ix]
If their crops in Utah failed or the hated hoppers returned again in force, the handcart pioneers might have arrived in the valley in the middle of a serious famine.
Brigham Young: Situation in Salt Lake valley in 1847-1848
Here is what Brigham Young said in the tabernacle on June 8, 1856:[x]
“The first year that I came into this valley I had not flour enough to last my family until harvest, and that I had brought with me, and persons were coming to my house every day for bread. I had the blues about one day; I went down to the old fort, and by the time I got back to my house I was completely cured. I said to my wife, ‘Do not let a person come here for food and go away empty handed, for if you do we shall suffer before harvest; but if you give to every individual that comes we shall have enough to last us through.’ ”
“I have proven this many a time, and we have again proven it this year. I have plenty on hand, and shall have plenty, if I keep giving away. More than two hundred persons eat from my provisions every day, besides my own family and those who work for me.
“I intend to keep doing so, that my bread may hold out, for if I do not I shall come short. Do you believe that principle? I know it is true, because I have proven it so many times.”
Brigham Young’s tried and true formula for having plenty and prospering, enough and to spare:
“Do not let a person come for food and go away empty handed”
“I shall have plenty, if I keep giving away.”
Self-Reliant AND Generous
Brigham Young had been diligent in doing all that he could before he received these blessings where the Lord literally multiplied his food. His wagons were full of flour and his land planted as best he could. Also, in true pioneer spirit of thrift, industry and hatred of the dole, those in need who were able bodied would expect and be expected to work for what they received.
Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone, declared in the April 1976 conference:
“I should like to address a few remarks to those who ask, “Do I share with my neighbors who have not followed the counsel? And what about the nonmembers who do not have a year’s supply? Do we have to share with them?” No, we don’t have to share–we get to share! Let us not be concerned about silly thoughts of whether we would share or not. Of course we would share! What would Jesus do? I could not possibly eat food and see my neighbors starving. And if you starve to death after sharing,’greater love hath no man than this .’ ” (John 15:13)
The Book of Mormon strongly emphasizes the importance of gladly ministering to the needy.
“And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.” (Alma 1:30)
Our Generosity Determines our having “Enough and to Spare”
The prophetic and scriptural message seems to be that after diligent effort to be obedient and self-reliant, it is our Christian generosity that then determines that we will have plenty, even extended miraculously, even and especially during difficult times.
[i] Ronald P. Millett,’This is a Significant Jubilee Year and a Time to be Prepared,” Meridian Magazine, March 3, 2009.
“As the Israelites prepared to enter the promised land of Canaan, the Lord revealed to Moses a plan that included storing food in preparation for Sabbath and Jubilee years. The storage of food for these sacred years of renewal and freedom also provided incidental protection from famines and other calamities.
“In our day these same positive principles appear to be at the foundation of the modern Church home production and storage program that is receiving renewed emphasis. As new research suggests, if the Savior was born in a Jubilee year, this last fall (September/October 2008) would have been the start of a Jubilee year celebration which the temple priest would announce by blowing a trumpet.”
“Author’s note: An indicator of the magnitude of this debt problem is the stock market collapse and wild gyrations during the fall of 2008. John Pratt’s ancient calendars indicate that the Jubilee year would begin on Sunday, September 28, 2008 (“Joshua’s Seventieth Jubilee” article). Continuing the Hebrew day that began that evening, the US stock market registered a 777.68 point drop the following day, Monday, September 29, 2008 when the US House of Representatives rejected the initial version of the financial bailout plan. This drop was the largest single day negative change in the Dow Jones Industrial average in the history of the stock market.”
Bing query report, query= wikipedia stock market crash of 2008
Date of query: July 16, 2020.
“The stock market crash of 2008 occurred on Sept. 29, 2008. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 777.68 points in intraday trading. Until the stock market crash of 2020, it was the largest point drop in history. The market crashed because Congress rejected the bank bailout bill.”
“Stock market crash of 2008,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved 7’/16/2008.
[ii] Ronald P. Millett,”The stone cut without hands: the accelerating growth of the kingdom of God,” Meridian Magazine, December 5, 2016.
Ronald P. Millett, “No One to Go Away Empty Handed,” Meridian Magazine, September 10, 2008.
[iii] Territory of Utah census 1860.
[iv] “Mormon cricket,” encyclopedia britannica, Britannica.com, retrieved 7/18/2020.
“In shield-backed katydid family
The Mormon cricket (Anabrus simplex) is a well-known wingless species of shield-backed katydid in North America, where it once was a serious pest in the Great Plains. In 1848 at Salt Lake City, Deseret (later Utah), the arrival of a flock of sea gulls saved the day.”
“Crickets and Seagulls,” history topics, churchofjesuschrist.org.
“The first Latter-day Saints to enter the Salt Lake Valley in the summer of 1847 immediately set to work preparing the dry soil for a spring harvest. However, there were serious food shortages that winter, leaving the Saints to eagerly look forward to their spring crops. As the crops grew that spring, they looked thick and green, and farmers anticipated a rich yield. Tragically, however, swarms of crickets descended on the fields in late May 1848, threatening to destroy much of the pioneers’ potential food supply. For at least a month, the Saints contended against the crickets in what some called the Cricket War of 1848.
“During the summer, the situation grew increasingly dire. Farmers watched as the crickets devoured acres of grain and vegetables. Brigham Young, who was then leading a large company across the plains, received reports that some were considering leaving the valley for California or Oregon. Others advised Young to discourage ongoing pioneer migration to the area for fear the settlers would starve. Meanwhile, families battled against the crickets with brooms, brushes, sticks, and ropes, but nothing seemed to deter the “army of famine and despair.” Many prayed that the Lord would deliver them from the infestation.
“In early June large flocks of California gulls swept the valley, feasting on the crickets. The number of gulls at first frightened many of the farmers, who feared another calamity may have struck their vulnerable crops. But soon they watched the gulls gorge on crickets, drink water, regurgitate the indigestible parts, and return for more. Although the cricket infestation lingered for another few weeks, the gulls had consumed enough to mitigate the damage.”
“Mormon cricket,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved 7/18/2020.
“The Mormon cricket (Anabrus simplex) is a large insect that can grow to almost 8 cm (3 inches) in length. It lives throughout western North America in rangelands dominated by sagebrush and forbs. Despite its name, the Mormon cricket is actually a shieldbacked katydid, not a cricket.”
“It takes its name from Mormon settlers in Utah, who encountered them while pushing westward, and for the prominent role they play in the miracle of the gulls.”
“Although flightless, the Mormon cricket is capable of traveling up to two kilometers a day in its swarming phase, during which it is a serious agricultural pest and traffic hazard.”
Davis Bitton and Linda P. Wilcox, “Pestiferous Ironclads: The Grasshopper Problem in Pioneer Utah,” Utah Historical Quarterly, 46 #4. Retrieved 7/18/2020.
“The “Mormon cricket” looks like a cricket and is called a cricket but is technically a large, black, long-horned, wingless grasshopper. Real crickets have wings. See Frank T Cowan, Life History, Habits, and Control of the Mormon Cricket, U.S. Department of Agriculture Technical Bulletin No. 161 (Washington, D.C., 1929), p. 3”
RPMNote: This next quote is about the grasshoppers, not the Mormon crickets.
“The worst year, by any measurement, was 1855, when grasshoppers invaded the territory from the far north through Iron County, wiping out the third sowing of some crops in Salt Lake County, destroying all or nine-tenths of the grain in some Iron County towns, and denuding whole fields elsewhere. Following a trip throughout the territory in the spring of 1855, Heber C. Kimball wrote to his son William, describing the extent of the devastation:
“From this place south as far as we went, the grasshoppers have cut down the grain, and there is not fifty acres now standing of any kind of grain in Salt Lake Valley, and what is now standing, they are cutting it down as fast as possible. In Utah county the fields are pretty much desolate; in Juab Valley not a green spear of grain is to be seen, nor in Sanpete, nor in Fillmore. In Little Salt Lake they are still sowing, also at Cedar City, that county being so much later the grain is not yet up, but the grasshoppers are there, ready to sweep down the grain as soon as it comes up. In the north as far as Boxelder the scenery is the same…. and to look at things at this present time, there is not the least prospect of raising one bushel of grain in the valleys this present season…. I must say there is more green stuff in the gardens in G. S. L. City than there is in all the rest of the counties; still there is a great many of the gardens in the city entirely ruined. Brother Wm. C. Staines told me this morning that he had 500,000 young apple trees come up and they are all cut down to the ground, and many gardens where the peach trees were full of peaches, every leaf and peach are gone.”
[v] “Rocky Mountain Locust,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved 7/18/2020.
“The Rocky Mountain locust (Melanoplus spretus) is an extinct species of locust that ranged through the western half of the United States and some western portions of Canada with large numbers seen until the end of the 19th century. Sightings often placed their swarms in numbers far larger than any other locust species, with one famous sighting in 1875 estimated at 198,000 square miles (510,000 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 speculatively guessed, according to Guinness World Records.”
“Locust,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved 7/19/2020.
Swarming illustration of Australian Plague Locusts.
Davis Bitton and Linda P. Wilcox, “Pestiferous Ironclads: The Grasshopper Problem in Pioneer Utah,” Utah Historical Quarterly, 46 #4. Retrieved 7/18/2020.
[vi] Ronald P. Millett, “The Miraculous End of the Little Ice Age as the Pioneers Went West,” Meridian Magazine,
July 23, 2019.
“Surprisingly, the end of the “Little Ice Age,” a more than 500 year-long cold climatic period and the start of a much warmer modern climatic period are closely synchronized with the Pioneer Trek to the Great Salt Lake Basin under the leadership of the Prophet Brigham Young. The pioneers considered being able to plant, grow, and harvest sufficient food for the 4,400 saints in 1848 in the valley a miracle. This miracle included the remarkable battle between the “Mormon Crickets” and the Seagulls.”
[vii] “Billions Of Locusts Are Swarming East Africa,” youtube.com, Retrieved 7/19/2020.
[viii] Ronald P. Millett, “No One to Go Away Empty Handed,” Meridian Magazine, September 10, 2008.
“Heber C Kimball,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved 6/18/2020.
[ix] Howard Christy, “Handcart Companies,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1992.
“Making singing time fun one song at a time,” July 9, 2012.
[x] Ronald P. Millett, “No One to Go Away Empty Handed,” Meridian Magazine, September 10, 2008.
“I have formerly told this community of a circumstance that occurred to brother Heber and myself, when we were on our way to England . We paid our passage to Kirtland, and to my certain knowledge we had only $13.50, but we paid out $87.00; this is but one instance among many which I could name.
“You who have flour and meat, deal it out, and do not be afraid that you will be too much straightened, for if you will give, you will have plenty, for it is God who sustains us and we have got to learn this lesson. All I ask of you is to apply your heart to wisdom and to watch the providences of God, until you prove for yourselves that I am telling the truth, even that which I do know and have experienced.”