Pharaoh Had It Easy

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True, the disappearance of the grasshoppers during the seventies may have been in some part due to the efforts of the settlers who had become organized, equipped, and inspired by their political leaders to fight back. Ex-Governor Robert W. Furnas of Nebraska set the tone in words meant for prospective immigrants: “While in the West we have room for millions more people, and are glad to have them come, and with us occupy and utilize the broad fertile acres God has bequeathed to the Far West, those who have not ‘sand and grit’ enough to clean out a crop of young locusts are not the men wanted!” Days of prayer were freely proclaimed as the farmers girded themselves for the massive insect assaults.

Public leadership was not confined to the rostrum. With the formation of relief societies to aid the destitute, various state legislatures authorized bounty payments and emergency allotments of new seed and even ordered the conscription of manpower to join in the antigrasshopper crusades. In Kansas all able-bodied males from twelve to sixty-five were subject to the call of the road overseer; in Minnesota the levy applied to all men from twenty-one to sixty, “except paupers, idiots and lunatics.”

Entomologists refuse to agree that spretus is extinct. Modern experts feel certain that a time may come, when conditions are ripe, when new swarms will range again over the fields they once denuded.

Should this occur, however, the grasshoppers will face weapons considerably more potent than the Suction Machine. In the face of lesser outbreaks that have materialized from time to time in the United States, and together with foreign-aid programs in Asia and Africa, insecticides have been developed that should make another plague out of the question. No longer experimenting with cumbersome bait, like bran impregnated with Paris green, the locust-fighters are now prepared to spread highly concentrated synthetic contact poisons from low-flying aircraft, which will not only kill any locusts present but destroy through residual effect those that may follow.

Melanoplus spretus, if he still exists in some remote sanctuary, will be well advised to stay out from under foot.