It was 12 years since the Dakota War had ended, and 10 years since this area was re-opened to settlement. New London, Willmar and Kandiyohi were growing communities. Some of the original settlers had returned to their claims while new families had settled here and they all were working hard to raise more crops on their farms.
They were unaware of a dark cloud on their horizon and went about their business cheerfully —unaware of developments just south of the Minnesota River, where all the crops were wiped out.
In 1875, the wheat crop in Kandiyohi County had threshed out at 15-20 bushels per acre, and prospects of a bumper crop in 1876 made everyone anticipate bumper crops in 1877.
They weren’t paying attention when a huge black cloud covered the western sky from horizon to horizon. The Rocky Mountain locusts had arrived. They came by the millions and deposited millions of eggs to hatch in the future. They had already ravaged six western states and had turned toward the east where they covered an area of 900 square miles!
Eighteen miles wide and 50 miles long covers a lot of territory with grasshoppers, as they came to be called, and those hoppers ate every bit of edible hopper foods, which meant just about everything except buildings and livestock.
County farmers tried to stop the invasion but it was no use. There was food and the hoppers were going to eat it. The farmers’ attempts to stop them were fruitless. They made dozens of different tools and, while some of them did show promise, the hoppers were too numerous, and so hungry that they ate their way to victory.
Fields which had been eaten bare the previous year were replanted in the hope that the predators had moved on. There was no such luck. When the new crops were about four inches high the hoppers swarmed back and made short work of the new crops.
Only one group of people in the entire 900 square mile battlefield was successful —- they asked the priest and the congregation of the Catholic Church in Cold Spring to pray continually for relief from the hoppers. Relief came in the form of a huge flock of sea gulls that came and, in a few days had eaten all the hoppers in Cold Spring and the surrounding area. Then they flew away. There is a statue to the birds near a small shrine which was built in the north part of town. Every year some type of recognition of heavenly assistance is still held there.
Meanwhile, people were trying to help their neighbors. Those who had food, shared it, while others donated funds to make loans for bringing farms back into production. Minnesota’s Gov. Pillsbury made personal loans to many people, and governmental units delayed tax collections for several years.
This all helped restore agriculture as the major business in this area.
The grasshopper plague is only one part of the Minnesota story. Once again, Minnesotans had demonstrated “Minnesota Nice.”