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Bates County
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The Grasshopper Plague


(By Lucien Green.)

In Kansas — The Grangers — Poor Crop Years — Invasion — J. C. Taylorsmall Damage — The "Juanita Of The West" — Journey To Bates County -
Destination - Reception - John Mcconnell - Captain John W. Hannah - The Attack  -Leave Taking - Good Feeling - Crops.

Our recollections of the invasion of the grasshoppers began in Coffey county, Kansas where we located in 1873. Lest the inquisitive inquire why any one should leave Ohio for Kansas will explain : We were looking for health and more acres of land. We did not find health and acres grew less. Was a charter member of Hampden Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry. No more intelligent, helpful and sociable people can be found anywhere than were those grangers of the community. The years 1873 and 1874 were poor years for crops except on the Neosho bottoms where wheat was very good. The invasion of the grasshoppers in August, 1874, together with the great financial panic added to our discontent. When the hoppers came farmers hurried to put their nubbiny corn in shock, and the hoppers hurried to crawl into the shocks and eat the green blades and shucks. Other hoppers ate the green blades and shucks from the standing corn. The hoppers did not observe usual rules of travel; when a house or barn was in their path they climbed over. They ate all green and succulent vegetation except milk weed. They tried their teeth on hoe, pitch-fork, axe and shovel handles and left them rough as files or rasps. Muskmelons were their choicest food. When a ripe melon was covered several deep they tried to pull each other aside to get a place at the feast. In the spring of 1873. J. C. Taylor, now of Adrian, Bates county, became a member of our family. Esquire Taylor, Jim's father, was an early Bates county pioneer and died on the farm later owned by Fred Cobb who was here before the Civil War. Jim's mother died early in 1873. His stepfather was not good to him and Jim had no place to call home. We  met and stayed together. Jim had staked buffalo hides and fried buffalo steaks over a fire of buffalo chips, on the plains of central Kansas. He could break a bronc and milk a wild Texas cow and was the most helpful and dependable sixteen-year-old boy we have met in the West. We can't follow the grasshoppers without using Jim, so "more anon." The hoppers did not do much damage in Coffey county. The longdrouth with hot winds had made prairie grass too dry and tough to be palatable and most garden vegetation had perished. Early in January, 1875, we sold our surplus effects-except two large fat hogs, which Jacob Menzie, the big jolly Burlington butcher, would not buy at a fair price ; so we butchered them and put meat, lard and sausage in a box for future use. Before leaving Kansas we wish to commend the people of Coffey county, the rich soil, the beautiful Neosho river the Juanita of the West-:to all homeseekers.

On our journey to Bates county we saw piles of ice at most farm houses. The summer and fall of 1874 had been very dry and early winter very cold, with but little snow, and small branches and creeks were dry and larger ones frozen with ice a foot thick. Our first stop in Bates county was at the home of C. W\ Wolf east of Trading Post. Mr. Wolf was raised in Athens county, Ohio, and was and is yet the prince of good fellows. Don't know where Mrs. Wolf was raised but evidently in a Christian community where good housekeeping and entertaining sociability were the rule. As we neared our new home Jim frequently hopped out of the wagon for pieces of dry wood with the remark, "We'll need that pretty soon." After crossing the Miami Jim frequently said, "My, but ain't that dirt black. Guess it will raise corn if the hopper's don't eat it up." We finally got to the place we called home for seven years on what was later known as the Hartwell farm. Wagons unloaded, stove set up and fire started, we went to the Miami for a load of ice, and then to the woods for a load of seasoned, knotty double and twisted water oak tops at forty cents. Wire was not much used for fencing and farmers were saving of their timber. The soil about our home was black and in places when disturbed revealed many little white eggs, glistening in the sun like little drops of sleet. Our neighbors were kind and communicative but none of them could tell us where we could get work, or buy feed for our team. The hoppers were discussed from every angle. "When will they hatch? How long will they stay and will they destroy the corn, gardens, etc?"

John McConnell, from Illinois, who owned the Judge B. F. Thornton farm south of the Tripp school house, went to Illinois and returned with fifty bushels of corn, a part of which he divided among his neighbors. Mr. McConneh was a splendid citizen, intelligent, a good farmer, and sympathetic to the unfortunate. His son, Lemuel, has been an honored and influential citizen of Hume for more than forty years and he and his wife with the presence of many friends celebrated their golden wedding some time last year, so we were informed.

Capt. John W. Hannah got a lot of corn from somewhere which he divided among the farmers who were not able to buy corn for seed. Notes were given but never presented for payment. Some corn was brought to Butler from Cass county and sold at one dollar a bushel straight, or one and a quarter sorted for seed. We divided our land and Jim prepared twenty acres for corn and planted early, a rule he always followed as long as he was on a farm. After corn and potatoes were planted and gardens made farmers were in the condition of an army of soldiers who "lay on their arms" expecting an attack by the enemy-the hoppers-at any time. Finally after a spell of warm weather early in May the word went over the neighborhood, "The hoppers are hatching!" We went to our garden but could not see either onions or lettuce, but a lot of little wingless hoppers who had eaten the onions off below the surface. Jim returned from his cornfield and exclaimed, "The hoppers have eaten off every blade of corn and I am going to look for a job." Many farmers replanted their corn while others waited. East of Butler the corn was not badly damaged. Early in June the hoppers first hatched were almost full-grown and a few of the large-concerted signal like a wireless message, arose like a cloud as big as a county and drifted to the northwest. Gloom gave way to joy and an era of good feeling prevailed among the people. Men and boys who had not puckered their lips for months, whistled and sang as they followed the cultivators through the rank corn. Neighbors who had been estranged met, shook hands, and said, "Do come and see us." They put off the frown and put on the smile. The corn crop of 1875 broke all previous records. Theo. Shaw and Captain Hannah built large cribs in town and filled them with corn at sixteen to twenty-five cents per bushel to feed their big herd of steers on Mound branch. The season was just right for corn and rains came when needed. Many of the best showers came Saturday night or on Sunday allowing the farmers to work six days in the week. How about that box of meat and lard and sausage? We sold sixty dollars worth and by eating many meatless meals had enough for home use. We took two forty-pound hams to Butler to trade for flour and groceries. The merchants were suspicious. Mr. Rafter looked at us with an eye and countenance of a detective and inquired "Where did you get those hams?" We pointed to the pile of thin bacon on the counter and replied, "You know they were not made in Bates county, and we assure you they were not stolen." We sold them on the west side at thirteen cents a pound. The year 1875 will be remembered as the year of the big corn crop; also for the great immigration to Bates county and western Missouri.

And what became of Jim? He worked by the month for John H. Williams, Sherman Humphrey, and others for several years. He had a good time, dressed well and was respected and trusted by all who knew him. He finally met a fine girl. Miss Laura Rosamond, a sister to Frank, the painter, and they married. After about twenty years of hard work, economy and good management they sold their one hundred-acre farm, made a sale and with seven thousand dollars went to Adrian, and are respected and influential citizens of that little city. Their son. Jimmy, was assistant postmaster under our old friend Warren Parrish. Mattie, their daughter, married a good man and all are happy and contented.

We think it was Professor Wiley who twenty or twenty-five years ago ate a dinner of grasshoppers at Lawrence, Kansas and found them palatable.

 
History of Bates County Missouri by W.O. Atkeson 1918


 

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