Grasshopper Plague of 1874
Following the Civil War, many settlers came to Kansas in hopes of finding inexpensive land and a better life. By 1874, many of these newly arrived families had broken the prairie and planted their crops. During the spring and early summer months of that year the state experienced sufficient rains. Eagerly the farmers looked forward to the harvest. However during the heat of summer a drought occurred. Yet this was not the most devastating thing to happen to the farmers that summer.
The invasion began in late July when without warning millions of grasshoppers, or Rocky Mountain locusts, descended on the prairies from the Dakotas to Texas. The insects arrived in swarms so large they blocked out the sun and sounded like a rainstorm. Crops were eaten out of the ground, as well as the wool from live sheep and clothing off people's backs. Paper, tree bark and even wooden tool handles were devoured. Hoppers were reported to have been several inches deep on the ground and locomotives could not get traction because the insects made the rails too slippery.
As a whole, Kansans refused to be defeated. The settlers did their best to stop the hoppers by raking them into piles, like leaves, and burning them but these efforts were in vain because of the sheer numbers of the pests. Inventive citizens built hopper dozers or grasshopper harvesters to combat future visitations. The hoppers usually stayed from two days to a week and then left as they had come, on the wind. The areas hit the worst were where most of the settlers were new arrivals, not having had the time to establish themselves in their new homes. The needs of the newly arrived immigrants in the western counties of Kansas were greater than the more settled eastern portion. They needed grain for their next year’s crops and to feed their work animals. They also needed provisions and clothing to make it through the coming winter.
In September the governor convened an extra session of the legislature hoping to find a way to help Kansans survive the calamity. The legislature determined that it did not have the power to take money directly from the state’s treasury to help with the emergency. The plea for help went across America. Soon aid for the destitute Kansans began to arrive. Railroads provided free transportation of the barrels, boxes, and bales of supplies such as beans, pork, and rice. America’s farmers even donated railcars full of barley and corn to assist Kansans with the next year’s planting.
The needs of the newly arrived immigrants in the western counties of Kansas were greater than the more settled eastern portion. They needed grain for their next year’s crops and to feed their work animals. They also needed provisions and clothing to make it through the coming winter.
Governor Thomas Osborn called a special session of the legislature to issue bonds to relieve the destitution left by the grasshoppers. The rest of the nation responded to pleads for aid by sending money and supplies, which were often hauled free of charge by the railroads.
Entry: Grasshopper Plague of 1874
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: June 2003
Date Modified: March 2013
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.