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Samuel Aughey

Eight times between 1857 and 1875 some parts of Nebraska were visited by grasshoppers. The greatest grasshopper raid came on July 20, 21, and 22, 1874, with crops almost totally destroyed in some areas. The following spring of 1875 was cold and rainy, which froze the young brood. For the next two or three years there were some grasshoppers and the fear of more along the frontier. In response to inquiries from around the state about the possibility of another grasshopper infestation in 1877, the Daily State Journal of Lincoln on May 30, 1877, published an open letter from Samuel Aughey to Nebraska farmers. Aughey, then professor of natural sciences at the University of Nebraska, reviewed methods of battling the insects and assured his readers that there was cause for optimism.

Aughey began by pointing out the role played by natural predators such as birds and by parasites, which reduced substantially the number of locusts. Aughey believed the surviving grasshoppers could be controlled by determined human effort. "The opinions of my correspondents from various portions of the State differ a great deal as to the best methods of destroying the young 'hoppers, but all agreeing that it can and is being done, . . . Few seem to have much confidence in crushing, except during the first week or ten days after hatching, when the young locusts cluster, and it can be done with an old broom or a light paddle.

"Some report having destroyed a large part of the locusts that had gathered near their farms by piling rows of straw, old hay and weeds around their fields and burning them after they had hatched out and begun to cluster and move in this direction. Many rely successfully on ditching, to keep off the locusts that come in from the prairie, or the farms of careless neighbors. . . .

"The catching of locusts with nets seems at this time to be the most popular method of dealing with them. Many forms of nets are used and proposed. . . . The use of crude kerosene is one of the most effectual agents that can be employed for the destruction of locusts. It can be used in any way that will bring the fumes into contact with the young locusts. . . . A few are using coal tar instead of kerosene. With crude coal oil a gallon ought to clean out or go over ten acres of ground."

Aughey concluded, "Fortunately, it is now only a question as to which of all the methods proposed is the best, since the conviction is becoming more and more general that if the destruction of the locusts is commenced early in the season, no farmer needs to lose his crops from them."

(March 2006)

 

 

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