Grasshopper Plagues and Destitute Farmers

The grasshopper plagues of 1875 left enormous destitution on the farmers. Many communities were very panic-stricken, for their crops and ways of life were in danger. The estimate of the amount of damage to crops and land exceeded $15,000,000.00 in Missouri. Farmers' livestock were dying every day because of the lack of grain and feed crops, therefore the settlers were starving also, maintaining their lives merely with bread and water. These are a few actual accounts of the destitution of the settlers in Missouri:

The following from St. Clair County describes the situation at it worst. "We have seen within the past week families which had not a meal of victuals in their house; families that had nothing to eat save what their neighbors gave them, and what game could be caught in a trap, since last fall. In one case a family of six died within six days of each other from the want of food to keep body and soul together. But it is but justice to say that the neighbors and citizens were unaware of the facts of the case and were not, therefore, responsible for the terrible death which overtook these poor pilgrims on their journey to the better land. This is, we believe, the first case of the kind which has transpired in this county; but, from present indications, the future four months will make many graves, marked with a simple piece of wood with the inscription "Starved to death," painted on it."

Abraham Helms explained, "It would be useless for me to attempt to describe the ravages of the grasshoppers. You can form some idea of their voracity from the fact that they have eaten lint and decayed wood from the fences, and unpainted houses are gnawed all over, and they are now consuming the last year's corn stalks. There is an uneasy, if not desperate feeling in many localities, and those having provisions are secreting (hiding) them. A few nights since a body of armed men, who said they were from Bates county, took all the flour from the Kingsville mill."

The committee appointed at Altona, Missouri wrote, "We must have aid, or many will be compelled to abandon their crops. We have not seed to plant with, or the money to buy. The condition of our country is truly alarming. People have become discouraged; many are talking of leaving their homes; some are living on bread and water. Unless we get assistance from some quarter, many are bound to suffer."

The Globe-Democrat Correspondence from Strassburg, Cass County, stated on June 16, 1875 that," I do not exaggerate, but state the simple truth when I say that I have time and again over the most of this (Polk) township, and I do not believe there is one sprig of timothy, clover, wheat or corn left standing an inch above the ground in the township; that not a bundle of oats will be cut; not a pound of hay or grass of any kind will be saved this season; vegetables of every kind have been totally destroyed, and all the fields, without a single exception, so far as I have been able to learn, are as bare of vegetation, even weeds, as newly ploughed ground - notwithstanding the fact that some farms have been planted as often as twice and three times this season, and the wild grass and weeds on the outlands in both prairie and timber, have either been entirely devoured or cut down so close to the ground that cattle have been and still are starving to death by the hundreds. The owners having paid out all their money, sold everything they could get along without, and mortgaged their farms to get money to carry their stock through the winter and plant their crops, now are left with nothing to eat, their stock have starved to death, and they have no money, and no means of raising any by loan or mortgage, to buy food or to get away from here to more favored sections of the country."

Another account in Liberty, May 28, 1875, explained,"The grasshoppers in Clay county are doing great damage to the garden and present growing crops. In Liberty, the citizens fought bravely in hopes of keeping them out of their gardens. This week they surrendered. Mr. Hopper has the field. In the county they have ruined several crops, but some still not damaged. Everything green seems to be their preferred dish. The feed for work stock is entirely exhausted, and the last hope the farmers had to put in their second crop was for their stock to subsist on grass, which last hope is disappearing fast. Several are driving their stock north to graze. Report says our neighbors are objecting, saying they must have what grass is left for themselves. The hoppers are also doing great damage to the fruit in many places. But our farmers have the Jackson kind of nerve and are determined to pick their flint and try again."

In Kearney, May 28,1875, it was stated,"The prospect at present is rather gloomy. The gardens are nearly all destroyed. Oats, clover, and in fact all small grain have suffered considerably from the ravages of the grasshopper, and from a number of farmers we hear that their corn is going too. The recent heavy rains have livened up everything wonderfully, and there is still a prospect for an abundant corn crop, if the pests do not injure it any more than they have done. The citizens of this (Kearney) township will hold a mass meeting next Tuesday, the 1st, to consider the best means of meeting the coming emergency and to mutually aid and assist each other."

It was recorded that severe destitution and starvation did occur because of the constant nuisance of the grasshoppers. Many deaths occurred from this catastrophe whether it be settlers or their livestock. Many lost the ambition to farm after the severity of the hard times that laid behind them. The grasshopper plagues were definitely one of the hardest experiences that settlers in Missouri have ever experienced.

Visit these pages to learn more about the Grasshopper Plagues: 

Rocky Mountain Locust Natural History
Grasshopper Gathering Equipment
Actual Missouri Accounts
Grasshoppers and a Sense of Humor
Destitute Settlers
Were they all bad?
Grasshoppers and Trains
Do we still have Grasshopper Plagues?
Missouri Legislation
What can we learn from the Grasshopper Plagues?
Damage Estimates and Restitution
Grasshopper Plague links

This page was designed and is maintained by Douglas Pascoe and Lyndon N. Irwin.