Go West Young Man. Jiminy Cricket, No Thanks!

Maybe you saw a video on the news of the recent grasshopper invasion of Las Vegas (see below). Back in the 1960s, I had the fortune, good or otherwise, of experiencing such a thing in person. I can’t remember if it was grasshoppers or crickets but, as I learned later, such infestations are not uncommon in America’s West.

I was coming back to Ohio from California and had stopped for the night in a cheap motel in either Texas or Oklahoma. The entrance to my room had an actual screen door on it and when I had packed and was ready to leave I opened the main door and the screen door was alive with crawling insects. I literally held my breath long enough to run for the car and in doing so several hundred made it into the passenger compartment with me.

Several miles down the road I drove out of them and came to a stop, opened all the doors and windows, and began to shoo flying insects.

In college, I had read about the famous 1848 cricket invasion of the Great Salt Lake region of Utah and how the Mormons claim that they were saved when God sent a giant flock of seagulls to consume the crickets and save their crops. They have since immortalized the event by erecting a statue of gulls in Salt Lake City. What I didn’t know was that such insect infestations aren’t rare in the West and seem to occur ten-year cycles.

Doing research on the LDS migration to Utah I came across stories of grasshopper and cricket hordes, such as what I’d witnessed, in many places. One story told of how railway engines would lose traction because of the slickness of crushed insects beneath their drive wheels. I even came across a number of patents for machines that could kill the insects. One was of a large machine that had two very large swatters that beat the ground, killing creatures, as it was drawn across a field by a team of horses. At one time I had a patent drawing of this machine but apparently, it’s lost to history.

So here it is, for all you young men encouraged by Greely to go West. It’s not just tornados, flash floods, prairie and forest fires, drought, mudslides, grizzly bears, blizzards, rattlesnakes, double-digit temperatures, and other things to contend with. The dangers also include swarms of creepy crawly bugs.


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