When Harriet Young had arrived in the Salt Lake Valley with the advance company, she had looked over the new gathering place with dismay. It appeared parched and barren and lonely. “Weak and weary as I am,” she had said, “I would rather go a thousand miles farther than remain in such a forsaken place as this.”1 Her husband, Lorenzo, felt the same. “My feelings were such as I cannot describe,” he noted in his journal. “Everything looked gloomy, and I felt heartsick.”2
Harriet and Lorenzo built a home near the temple block during the mild winter and moved out of the cramped fort. As soon as March arrived, they planted spring wheat, oats, corn, potatoes, beans, and peas to feed their family. A few weeks later, a severe frost struck the valley, damaging crops and threatening the success of the harvest. The frost lingered well into May, but by working together, the Youngs managed to salvage most of their crop.3
“We still keep up good courage, hoping for the best,” Lorenzo wrote in his journal. As was the case with everyone else in the valley, their provisions were running low and they needed a successful harvest to replenish their food supply.4
On May 27, 1848, however, swarms of wingless crickets descended on the valley from the mountains and swept across the Youngs’ yard at an alarming speed. The crickets were large and black, with armor-like shells and long antennae. They consumed the Youngs’ bean patch and peas in a matter of minutes. Harriet and Lorenzo tried to beat the crickets back with handfuls of brush, but there were too many.5
The insects soon spread far and wide, feeding ravenously on the Saints’ crops, leaving dry stalks where corn or wheat used to be. The Saints did everything they could think of to stop the crickets. They smashed them. They burned them. They tried hitting pots and pans together, hoping the noise would drive them away. They dug deep trenches and tried to drown them or block their paths. They prayed for help. Nothing seemed to work.6
As the destruction continued, President John Smith assessed the damage. The frost and crickets had wiped out whole fields of crops, and now more Saints were thinking seriously about leaving the valley. One of his counselors urged him to write to Brigham immediately. “Tell him not to bring the people here,” the counselor said, “for if he does, they will all starve to death.”
John was silent for a few moments, deep in thought. “The Lord led us here,” he said at last, “and He has not led us here to starve.”7
In early June, crickets were still devouring crops in the Salt Lake Valley. Many Saints fasted and prayed for deliverance, but others were beginning to wonder if they should quit their work, load up their wagons, and abandon the settlement. “I have stopped building my mill,” one man informed John Smith. “There will be no grain to grind.”
“We are not going to be broken up,” John said firmly. “Go ahead with your mill, and if you do so, you shall be blessed, and it shall be an endless source of joy and profit to you.”8
Yet Saints continued to talk about moving to California. San Francisco Bay took two months to reach by wagon, and for some, setting out on another long journey sounded better than slowly starving to death.9
John’s counselor Charles Rich sympathized with those who wanted to leave. If the crickets continued to feed on their crops, the Saints would have little left to eat. As it was, some Saints were barely surviving on roots, thistle stalks, and soups made from boiling old oxhides.
One Sabbath day, Charles called the Saints together for a meeting. The skies overhead were clear and blue, yet a solemn mood hung over the crowd. In nearby fields, the crickets clung tenaciously to stalks of wheat and corn, eating away the crops. Charles climbed atop an open wagon and raised his voice. “We do not want you to part with your wagons and teams,” he said, “for we might need them.”
As Charles spoke, the crowd heard a shrill noise coming from the sky. Looking up, they saw a small flock of seagulls from the Great Salt Lake flying over the valley. A few minutes later, a larger flock swooped down and lighted on the Saints’ fields and gardens. At first, the birds appeared to be consuming the rest of the crops, finishing the devastation begun by the frost and crickets. But as the Saints looked more closely, they saw that the gulls were feasting on the crickets, disgorging what they could not digest, and then returning to eat some more.10
“The seagulls have come in large flocks from the lake and sweep the crickets as they go,” John Smith reported to Brigham on June 9. “It seems the hand of the Lord is in our favor.”30 There were more crickets than the seagulls could eat, but the birds kept the insects under control. The Saints saw the seagulls as angels sent from God, and they thanked the Lord for answering their prayers in time to save their damaged fields and replant their crops.11
“The crickets are still quite numerous and busy eating,” John observed two weeks later, “but between the gulls, our efforts, and the growth of our crops, we shall raise much grain in spite of them.” The harvest would not be as large as they had hoped, but no one in the valley would starve. And the company John had sent to California in November had returned with almost two hundred head of cattle, various fruits, and some seed grains.
“We are gaining a fund of knowledge,” John was pleased to report, “and, as a large majority, feel encouraged and well satisfied.”12
- Whitney, History of Utah, 1:328; Whitney, “Pioneer Women of Utah,” 404–5.
- Lorenzo Dow Young, Diary, July 24, 1847.
- Lorenzo Dow Young, Diary, Oct. 21, 1847; Mar. 1 and 15, 1848; Apr. 3, 1848; May 19 and 27, 1848; Whitney, “Pioneer Women of Utah,” 406.
- Lorenzo Dow Young, Diary, May 19, 1848.
- Lorenzo Dow Young, Diary, May 27, 1848; Young, Memoirs of John R. Young, 64–65; Smith, Rise, Progress and Travels, 15; see also Hartley, “Mormons, Crickets, and Gulls,” 227–29.
- Lorenzo Dow Young, Diary, May 28–29, 1848; Rich, Autobiography and Journal, 2:48; Jesse N. Smith, Autobiography and Journal, 15–16; “Discourse,” Deseret News, Dec. 1, 1880, ; Hartley, “Mormons, Crickets, and Gulls,” 228–30; Young, Memoirs of John R. Young, 65.
- Thomas Callister to George A. Smith, Feb. 13, 1869, Historian’s Office, Correspondence Files, CHL; see also John Smith, Charles C. Rich, and John Young to Brigham Young and the Twelve Apostles, June 9, 1848, copy, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL.
- Thomas Callister to George A. Smith, Feb. 13, 1869, Historian’s Office, Correspondence Files, CHL; Steele, Journal, June 4, 1848.
- Thomas Callister to George A. Smith, Feb. 13, 1869, Historian’s Office, Correspondence Files, CHL; John Smith, Charles C. Rich, and John Young to Brigham Young and the Twelve Apostles, June 9, 1848, copy, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL; Steele, Journal, June 4, 1848; Stewart, California Trail, 135–41; Haight, Journal, June 4, 1848; Gates and Widtsoe, Life Story of Brigham Young, 117–18; Young, Memoirs of John R. Young, 64.
- Meeks, Journal, 17; Young, Memoirs of John R. Young, 64–65. Topic: Crickets and Seagulls
- John Smith, Charles C. Rich, and John Young to Brigham Young and the Twelve Apostles, June 9, 1848, copy, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL; see also Rich, Autobiography and Journal, 2:48. Final sentence of quotation edited for clarity; word “is” added.
- Haight, Journal, June 4, 1848; Spencer, Diary, July 2–3, 1848; Gates and Widtsoe, Life Story of Brigham Young, 117–18; Young, Memoirs of John R. Young, 64–66.
- John Smith, Charles C. Rich, and John Young to Brigham Young, June 21, 1848, in Historian’s Office, History of the Church, volume 18, July 20, 1848, 44–45; Rich, Autobiography and Journal, 2:48; Historical Department, Journal History of the Church, May 15, 1848; A. Lathrop to Brigham Young, May 18, 1848, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL.