Monday, August 2, 2010

Grasshopper Pie?

Pioneer women’s letters and reminiscences and diaries contain references to homesickness and loneliness, prairie fires and drought. My first heroine, Jesse King (of Walks the Fire), had to bury a child along the Oregon Trail. Karyn Ritter (of Karyn’s Memory Box) and Ruth Dow (of Sixteen Brides) got caught in a prairie fire. And if there’s ever a sequel to Sixteen Brides, Ruth et al. will have to deal with grasshoppers. Several waves of Rocky Mountain Locusts (aka grasshoppers) destroyed a lot of hope by consuming crops and everything else in their wake in the 1870s. Nebraskans remembered:

"My mother, brother and I came from Westfield Mass. to Kearney. . . Then when everything was bright and green came the cloud which meant grass hoppers. We had wooden side walks, as we walked through the three or four inches of grasshoppers on the walks it sounded like we were shuffling through paper. They ate the onions out of the ground to the husk, and every green thing there was. Many houses were unpainted and looked gray and was weather beaten, but after the grass hoppers ate the outside fuzz they looked like new lumber."

“Mrs. Myers tried to save the garden by placing carpets and quilts over the plants but it was useless as they ate every bit of the garden. . .”

“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. . . The grasshopper brigades also ate all the leaves on my little trees, leaving them as bare as in winter.”
Another woman described trying to save her garden, giving up, and heading for the house. By the time she arrived, the grasshoppers had eaten the STRIPES out of her dress! Now, I’m not particularly afraid of bugs (we won’t talk about arachnids,) but I would not like to have to beat grasshoppers off my dress on my way in from a futile attempt to save my garden! (Must have been vegetable dye creating those stripes, eh?)

“Hoppers” ruined many a settler in their day. The devastation left in their wake resulted in both a mass exodus from homesteads and a mass aid effort in the East. The grasshopper problem left a very real danger of starvation in its wake. Folks in the East responded by sending everything from clothing to food to seed for replanting. Some relief barrels contained some fairly interesting (and not particularly practical) items. More on that in another post. For today, I’m thankful that the worst garden disaster I’ve faced this year was trying to keep my tomatoes watered.


  1. Hi Stephanie -

    So, Americans were into big relief efforts even in the 1800's. I don't know why I pictured that as a 20th century activity. Perhaps the difficulties of travel and transporting goods gave me that impression.

    I've had a small taste of battling critters and bugs for the produce in my veggie garden. The resident woodchuck decided my tomatoes looked particularly tasty. Now it's an ongoing race who gets the ripe tomatoes.

    Susan :)

  2. Indeed, the western part of the U.S. benefitted from many organized relief efforts. Ladies Aid societies and Ladies Auxiliaries attached to churches were often at the forefront of these efforts. Americans have always been a generous people. I'll have to look for some of my notes on the subject and post in the future on the topic. Thanks for your faithfulness to the blog, Susan. You're a great encouragement.