“Crickets and Seagulls,” Church History Topics
“Crickets and Seagulls”
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 1848.1
During the summer, the situation grew increasingly dire. Farmers watched as the crickets devoured acres of grain and vegetables.2 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.3
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.4 Although the cricket infestation lingered for another few weeks, the gulls had consumed enough to mitigate the damage.
The crickets were only one of several problems the pioneers settling the Salt Lake Valley faced as they struggled to produce a crop that summer. Many of the earliest sources about that year suggest that farmers and Church leaders were as worried about the late frosts and lack of irrigation as they were about the crickets, perhaps because crickets attacked only specific crops, not all the agriculture.
The Saints’ encounter with crickets and gulls in 1848 turned out to be only the first of many such experiences. Crickets returned during harvest seasons in other years, and in some areas of Utah, in greater numbers than in 1848. In almost every instance, gulls came to feast on the swarms again.5
Despite the repeated occurrences, the 1848 escape from the infestation of crickets lived large in pioneer memory. The Saints saw the protecting hand of the Lord in the arrival of the birds. The “Miracle of the Gulls” inspired early Utahns to reverence the bird, and almost immediately they enforced policies and laws to punish anyone who harassed or killed gulls. The contribution of the gulls is commemorated today by a statue on Salt Lake City’s Temple Square.
Related Topics: Salt Lake Valley, Pioneer Economy