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The English sparrow is one of the most common birds in Nebraska and in the United States. Originally found in England and northern Europe, the sparrow was brought to this country in 1851. Today sparrows are generally considered pests, but in the mid-1870s they were sought as a remedy for the hordes of grasshoppers which frequently visited Nebraska and other states during those years. Several letters among the papers of Governor Silas Garber in the collections of the Nebraska State Historical Society provide information regarding the introduction of the English sparrow into this state.

William Stolley, prominent Hall County farmer and early settler of Grand Island, advocated the sparrow as a solution to the grasshopper problem. Stolley wrote Governor Garber on November 18, 1876, to suggest a "remedy, which I am confident will do much towards checking the pest (grasshoppers), if properly carried out. It is a well established fact that the so-called English Sparrow is one of the greatest destroyers of insects known . . . . Would it not be well therefore to introduce the English Sparrow in sufficient numbers in the several states subject to the grasshopper plague, to insure soon the increase of these birds in great numbers, and thus to provide for a standing army of little soldiers who will do their work most effectually?" Stolley was speaking from experience, as he had brought ten sparrows to Hall County the previous year.

Apparently the governor was receptive to the proposals of Stolley and others, for he requested information regarding sparrows from the New York Department of Public Parks. Department officials replied that the sparrows in New York had not yet become so numerous as to exceed their usefulness, but doubted that the bird would prove of value as a grasshopper remedy in Nebraska. Nevertheless, the department offered to supply fifty or one hundred sparrows for experimental purposes, noting that the birds were then selling for seventy-five cents a pair in New York. Governor Garber responded favorably to the offer, and one hundred sparrows were duly shipped from New York on June 1, 1877. Whether these particular birds survived is not known, but the species as a whole has obviously thrived in Nebraska. However, the sparrow proved unnecessary as a solution to the grasshopper problem, because the worst of the invasions were over by 1877.

(February 2002)



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