By Lynn Arave
PERHAPS the most famous miracles in Mormon Pioneer history occurred in June-July of 1848 when the first crops in the Salt Lake Valley were threatened by a plague of insects, what would later be called “Mormon crickets.”
Starting in May, the crickets started eating the wheat, corn, beans, pumpkins, cucumbers, squash, melons and other crops – and continued to do so for a month.
After many prayers by the pioneers, a white cloud of seagulls flew in during early June and started devouring the crickets.
However, this was not a one-day event. The birds came daily for about three weeks, eating insects, drinking water and then regurgitating before eating more of the insects. The remainder of the pioneer crops were saved.
This timely appearance of gulls was described in a letter of June 9 to Brigham Young, who was back East at the time: "The sea gulls have come in large flocks from the lake and sweep the crickets as they go; it seems the hand of the Lord is in our favor."
(However, for some pioneer settlers, it apparently required months of time afterward for this to be heralded as a miracle.)
The Seagull Monument on Salt Lake’s Temple Square commemorates that event.
Seagull Monument on Salt Lake's Temple Square.
However, the early Layton-Kaysville area apparently benefited from what may also be a similar miraculous event.
Grasshoppers, rather than the more famous Mormon crickets, caused the majority of the insect damage in pioneer Utah. (Crickets were hardly a nuisance in Utah after 1850.)
During the summer of 1854, grasshoppers threatened to destroy all the crops of settlers in the Layton-Kaysville area.
This insect horde rose one morning like a low, dark cloud. However, huge wind gusts soon came from the eastern canyons and carried the grasshoppers out over the Great Salt Lake.
Millions of dead insects later washed up on the shores of the lake and most of the settlers’ crops were spared.
While gusting canyon winds occasionally occur in winter, early spring or late fall, they are very, very unlikely to happen in the summer, according to northern Utah weather records.
In fact, historically, this is the lone recorded canyon wind gusting event in the summer months for Davis County. From mid-May to early October, these winds have otherwise never blown.
Some marshes around the Great Salt Lake.
The same windy “miracle” also repeated at least twice, though in Salt Lake County.
A year later, in 1855, in the western area of Salt Lake County, swarms of grasshoppers also threatened settlers’ crops. Once again, a providential wind came along and blew the insects into the Great Salt Lake.
The same thing happened again during 1868 in Salt Lake.
After noticing the quantities of dead insects in the lake in 1868, Benjamin LeBaron wrote, "I consider this later deliverance from the grasshoppers just as great and miraculous as the former 1848 rescue from the ravages of the black crickets."
The years 1854-56, 1867-72, and 1876-79 are believed to have been the worst years of grasshopper infestations in Northern Utah during the pioneer era.
SOURCES: Encyclopedia of Mormonism; “Utah’s Weather and Climate,” by Dan Pope and Clayton Brough; http://historytogo.utah.gov and “Davis County Land of Peace, Beauty and a Quality of Life,” by the Davis School District, 1994.
(-Written by Lynn Arave and originally posted on the Layton City Web site, on March 27, 2014.)
-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org