“Crows in the Corn,” Ensign, July 1982, 40–41
“Crows! Crows! There’s crows in the corn!” The two children standing guard in the cornfield burst into the house screaming in desperation. The family at dinner stopped mid-bite and raced out to do battle in the cornfield.
The year was 1877. Ross Ransom Rogers, with his wife, Cynthian, and their six children had been sent to Arizona as part of the colonizing effort of the Church. Together with ten other families they had wrested their little settlement from cacti, sagebrush, burning sun, sand, and iron-hard earth.
This was their second year of struggle. The cacti, mesquite, and sagebrush had been hacked away by hand ax, then the roots of the mesquite painstakingly dug up and stacked outside the kitchen for firewood.
The cholla cactus, unaffectionately nicknamed “jumping cactus,” was one of their worst hazards. A person merely brushed by, and the monster seemed to leap out and grab, leaving a venomous chunk of itself imbedded half an inch below the skin and secured by ugly chartreuse barbs. It was impossible to cut the plants down without being attacked. Sister Rogers produced flaxseed poultices, evil-smelling concoctions that were plastered on the afflicted area to draw out the poison and the sticker. Even so, her husband had developed a severe infection from an imbedded cholla spine which had left him with a stiff left leg. Cynthian called the surly cactus “a thorn in the side of the desert.”
But the reward of their labors, the corn crop, was the family’s mainstay. The first year’s crop had barely paid for itself and seen them through the winter. They badly needed a crop this year; without it, they would be destitute.
A flock of crows had already stripped the cornfield twice this year. And now a third time, led by a crafty old bird the family had named “Old Wily,” they once more zoomed in unerringly on the tiny green banners as the first shoots appeared, about five days after planting. No amount of apron flapping, shouting, barking dogs, or slingshot rocks deterred them—until at a signal caw from Old Wily, they rose as one undulating raven blanket and sailed noiselessly away. In their wake was a bare field of sunbaked earth.
The situation was desperate. Their third planting was now being digested by the airborne thieves. It was almost too late in the season to sow again—and there was only enough seed corn for one more planting. If it too went to feed the crows, they were ruined.
The next day was the Sabbath. The family fasted and prayed more earnestly than ever before. Monday morning they had prayer before breaking their fast; then they rose from their knees and started for the field to plant the remaining scant supply of seed corn.
But Sister Rogers detained them, having received a sudden inspiration. She sent the children to the barn to pull hairs from the horses’ tails, while she took scissors and large-eyed needles from her sewing box. Cutting three-inch lengths of horsehair, she gave it to the older children with instructions to thread the coarse hair through the kernels. Understanding her intent, they all brightened. When the planting began, every few feet they buried a seed strung with horsehair.
The corn sprouted, as usual, on the fifth day. On the next, the expected ominous black cloud soared in from the west. The family gathered at the edge of the field to watch.
Old Wily was the first victim. He had swallowed the seed kernel, but the hair was irretrievably stuck in his throat. Hanging from his bill on each side was about an inch of horsehair, and he was frantically clawing at it. He squawked, flapped, and began running awkwardly about. Then he flew in lopsided circles over the flock, screeching his brand of “help!” Several other crows circled about him, unable to offer anything but sympathy.
More birds became similarly afflicted and set up a hideous racket. Finally, still clawing at their throats and emitting raucous cries, the flock rose and flapped away. They never returned.
The family gathered once again in the kitchen. On their knees, they thanked their Father in Heaven for their corn crop, for his inspiration, and for their life in Arizona—which continues today through the hundreds of descendants of Ross and Cynthian Eldridge Rogers.