The Mystery of the Rocky Mountain Locust

 

 

 

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Minnesota locusts of the 1870s” Source: http://www.mnopedia.org/multimedia/minnesota-locusts-1870s

In Wilder’s fourth book, “On the Banks of Plum Creek,” Laura describes in detail a large cloud that darkened the sky. The family assumed their crops would get much needed rain; however, it would not be rain that fell from the sky, but grasshoppers. Laura describes, “Plunk! Something hit Laura’s head and fell to the ground. She looked down and saw the largest grasshopper she had ever seen. The huge brown grasshoppers were hitting all around her, hitting her head and her face and her arms” (On the Banks of Plum Creek, 194). These grasshoppers, called Rocky Mountain Locusts, rained down on the Minnesota prairie and decimated the land. They would eat everything green in their sight, like leaves, plants, and Pa’s crops. Wilder mentioned that because of these locusts, Pa had to make the 100 mile walk back east to find work. The family was affected by the same grasshoppers the next year. According to the article, Locust, by Jeffrey Lockwood, these locusts would become mysteriously extinct in the 1870’s after a wetter climate came into affect.

Jeffrey Lockwood, a science and humanities professor, wanted to solve the years long mystery of the Rocky Mountain Locusts, calling it “the quintessential ecological mystery of the North American Continent.” Lockwood goes on to explain that this breed of locust was at its greatest abundance on the Great Plains, even rivaling the bison population. He believed the dry weather caused the locusts to come baring down on farmers, sending them into a financial mess.

At the time, the U.S. government decided they needed to do something about the locusts. Although they had given relief to some of the farmers affected, it was not enough. They named three men to the Entomological Commission: Charles Valentine Riley, Cyrus Thomas, and Alpheus Packard. It would be their job to gather information about the locusts, research them, and find a solution to the problem. The three men did not disappoint. They found a large sum of information regarding the locusts’ “ecology, behavior, anatomy, reproduction, and distribution of the locust, and suggested practical ways for the farmers to battle the insects” (Hopkins). The men were about to publish their findings; however, in the late 1870’s the locusts went extinct. The drought had disappeared and the locusts disappeared with it.

Since their extinction, many theories have been put out to explain why it happened. According to BioScience, one of the biggest theories was that the locusts were somehow connected to the bison. When bison started to disappear in the American West, so did the Rocky Mountain Locust. The two species coexisted on the Great Plains for centuries. Maybe bison somehow altered the grasslands to favor the survival of the locust. Another theory involved alfalfa, which grasshoppers considered tasty. In studies, it showed that alfalfa was damaging to the growth of the locust in its premature stages. Therefore, it was the culprit on why the locust went extinct. Lockwood, the author of Locust, offered a new explanation. He believes that, “cattle grazing and homesteaders’ cultivation of restricted region of the plains-the permanent breeding grounds of the insect- during a population recession of the locust in the 1880’s may have irreversibly disrupted locust reproduction.”

While we may never know the true cause of the Rocky Mountain Locust’s mysterious extinction, we have a better idea of what may have happened. Like Laura’s family, these insects affected thousands of farmers and changed the course of history.

Sources:

Hopkins, Theodore L. “Extinction of the Rocky Mountain Locusts.” BioScience, https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/55/1/80/248302. Accessed 30 May 2018.

Lockwood, Jeffrey. Locust, New York, Basic Books, 2004.

 

 

 

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Meet Our New Intern

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The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society welcomes Whitney as their summer intern. Whitney grew up in southern Illinois, but currently resides in middle Tennessee. Some of the projects she will  be working on include: maintaining the social media for the Society, helping with special events, giving tours, and learning about the inner workings of a museum. Whitney will spend 12 weeks here in De Smet, SD.

Whitney was first introduced to Laura’s story in fourth grade. Her class was learning about pioneers and her teacher decided to show the Little House on the Prairie movie. Whitney was fascinated with Laura and her life, that she went home and begged her mom to buy her the first season of the television series. Eventually, after buying all ten seasons and binge watching them, Whitney discovered the “Little House” book series. Then, she begged her parents to go to the bookstore so she could buy the books. During the next few years Whitney would research and read about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her life. She found Laura to be an inspiration. This woman had gone through so many hardships, but still managed to look on the bright side of things. One of Whitney’s favorite quotes of Wilder’s only proves how strong of a women she was:

“The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”  -Laura Ingalls Wilder

As Whitney got older she still had a love for Laura. She continued to read about her life. Two of her favorite books to read about Wilder are Pioneer Girl, Laura’s unpublished autobiography, and Caroline Fraser’s new book, Prairie Fires. Three years ago Whitney saw that the museum in De Smet offered a summer internship. Since then she has worked towards the goal of getting that internship. After two years of college, Whitney was able to apply for the internship. To her excitement she was offered the position and arrived in De Smet about three weeks later.

What book of Laura’s is your favorite and why?

I would have to say my favorite book is These Happy Golden Years. I thought it was interesting to see how Laura grew up and started seeing things differently. She was only fifteen when she started teaching and moved away from her family for the first time. It was a big adjustment for her at such a young age. I’m a sucker for romance novels so I loved reading about Laura and Almanzo’s simple and sweet love story. Laura was completely naive when it came to Almanzo’s intentions, but luckily she saw them in time and the two got married. I liked how the book ended on a happy note and came full circle. I started watching the TV series and reading the books at a young age and was able to grow up with her.

What is your favorite historical building at the Museum?

I really like the First School of De Smet. The building had been turned into a residential home. When the Society was able to purchase it we found that it still held a lot of historical value. Behind the layers of wallpaper we found the original blackboards. I have always loved history so original blackboards and floors are very interesting to me. The school holds a lot of history about Laura and the people who have lived there so I really enjoy sharing with my tour groups.

What book about Laura’s life and legacy is your favorite?

I recently read, Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser and really enjoyed it. It is by far the most in depth biography I have read about Laura and her daughter Rose. I am always wanting to learn more about Laura and her life and this book was filled with details that I didn’t know about beforehand. It went into a lot of detail about the relationship between mother and daughter and how it wasn’t always smooth sailing. I would recommend this book to any Laura fan. It is a book you will want to read more than once.

Maria Tallchief- Pioneer for Native American Women in Ballet

One night in 1949, a 24-year-old woman named Maria was poised backstage, awaiting her cue. Her costume was elaborate and dramatic, which suited the passionate dancer well. Every muscle in her body felt coiled in anticipation. It was opening night, the night that would decide whether this show would make or break her career. But as the opening stirrings of Stravinsky’s Firebird sounded through the theater, Maria discovered she was not nervous. She was ready.

Maria was born Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief on January 24, 1925, on a small town in Oklahoma’s Osage Native American Reservation. Born to an Osage father and a Scottish/Irish mother, both Elizabeth Marie and her sister Marjorie showed early talent in ballet. When the family moved from Oklahoma to Los Angeles, CA, Elizabeth continued her dancing studies. During this time she chose the stage name Maria Tallchief, resisting pressure from peers who thought her “Indian” last name would be a hindrance in the dancing world. 

maria-tallchiefMaria’s first position in a ballet company came after the outbreak of World War II, when she joined a leading New York-based touring company called the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Maria quickly gained attention among ballet critics for her precise technique, her passion, and her frenetic energy. She threw everything into her performances with incredible energy and athleticism, striving to make each performance her best. She danced with several prominent ballet companies in America, catching the attention of famed choreographer George Balanchine. In addition, she became the first American to dance with the Paris Opera Ballet. In 1947, she became America’s first prima ballerina, dancing with the New York City Ballet. She worked closely with Balanchine, and he created several roles for her that would go on to become iconic representations of American ballet. These included Orpheus, Caracole, and Firebird.

Despite her growing fame in the glamorous dancing worlds of New York and Paris, Maria remained proud of her Osage Native American heritage. She resisted any attempts to stereotype her or other Native Americans, and wanted to be judged solely on the basis of her talent.  “Above all, I wanted to be appreciated as a prima ballerina who happened to be a Native American, never as someone who was an American Indian ballerina.” Through her efforts, Maria Tallchief’s name became synonymous with American ballet during the mid-twentieth century.

12ac6d59db8a65eb62e9a12aae6e5990Maria continued to dance with the New York City Ballet until her retirement from the stage in 1965. Soon after she moved to Chicago, where she created a lasting impression on the Chicago ballet scene through her teaching. She founded a ballet school known as the Lyric Opera in 1974, and in 1981 she began a six-year run as the artistic director of the Chicago City Ballet. In 1996, Maria became one of five American artists to receive a Kennedy Center Honor, and later that year she was inducted into the National Woman’s Hall of Fame. Maria’s startling energy and passion for dance helped to shape modern American ballet, and her pride in her Osage heritage made her a true pioneer.

Whatever Happened to Silver Lake?

Today many visitors come to De Smet, South Dakota, hoping to see the Silver Lake that Laura Ingalls Wilder described in her fifth children’s book, By the Shores of Silver Lake.

“The lake shore went lower and lower toward the Big Slough, until really there was no shore. The lake melted into the slough, making small ponds surrounded by the harsh, rank slough grass that stood five and six feet tall. Little ponds glimmered between the grasses and on the water the wild birds were thick” (By the Shores of Silver Lake, 77).

Wilder made Silver Lake sound like a wonderful place to be! Any Little House fan knows their trip to De Smet would not be complete without seeing Silver Lake. Unfortunately, Silver Lake no longer exists today or at least not the Silver Lake that Laura knew and loved.

In the early 1920’s Silver Lake was drained with the hopes of turning the land into farm land. The De Smet News described the plan in 1923. The News stated they intended to “turn the wet marsh into hay and pasture land” and in addition, to ensure that the nearby roadways were able to be driven if the lake was flooded (“Extensive Ditching”). The last picture we have of Silver Lake before it was drained is from 1914 and on the back of the picture it stated that Silver Lake was drained into Lake Henry in order to keep the water from washing over the railroad tracks (LORE 27,2).

Between the 1930’s – 1980’s the lake never recollected water (Pioneer Girl 159). However, starting in the mid-1980’s Silver Lake’s bed started to fill with water after large rainfalls. In June of 1984, Silver Lake was filled once again. That year in the month of June alone De Smet received 11.92 inches of rain.  By the end of October that year De Smet had received 34.47 inches of rain which is over 10 inches above the annual average (LORE 10,2).  Again, in the spring of 1986 Silver Lake flooded again due to the amount of snow from the winter. With that amount of snow it even created a problem for planting crops (LORE 12,1). Ever since 1986, Silver Lake and the Big Slough have never been dry enough to use as farm land. Today, the land is a thriving wetlands area. Visitors can see the Silver Lake Vista off of Highway 14 as they come east into De Smet. At that pull-off what you are actually looking at is the Big Slough and then behind it is where Silver Lake was located.

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Silver Lake as seen today.

Book Recommendation- Caroline, Charlotte, Martha, and Rose Years

Authors: Multiple Authors

For readers that want to stay in a world connected to Laura, there are four different series they should check out. Each one describes the childhood of a woman in Laura’s life: her mother, Caroline, grandmother Charlotte, great-grandmother Martha, and daughter Rose. Drawing on historical knowledge and letters between the Quiner women, the authors have brought the very different worlds and time periods of these women to life. These books are now out of print, but with a little sleuthing you can find them on sites like Amazon or Thriftbooks. If you can find them, it is definitely worth it for a glimpse into the lives of the pioneer women in Laura’s family.

Pioneer Cooking: Vinegar Pie

Laura Ingalls Wilder mentions that both the Ingalls and Wilder families baking Vinegar Pie in both the Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy, even though she does not go into detail in either account. This recipe was sometimes called, “poor man’s pie” and was used as a substitute for lemon pie in places where they did not have lemons. Vinegar pie was popular at the time because most people had the ingredients on hand. 

“[Ma] baked vinegar pies and dried-apple pies, and filled a big jar with cookies, and she let Laura and Mary lick the cake spoon.” (LHBW 62-63)

“When [Almanzo] began to eat pie, he wished he had eaten nothing else. He ate a piece of pumpkin pie and a piece of custard pie, and he ate almost a piece of vinegar pie. He tried a piece of mince pie, but could not finish it.” (Farmer Boy 262)

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If you recall from our first attempt at pioneer cooking we made lettuce leaves with vinegar and sugar and we were pleasantly surprised by how good it tasted, so I was very excited to try this recipe.

This recipe can be found on page 197 of The Little House Cookbook. For this recipe you will need pie paste, butter, eggs, white sugar, brown sugar, white flour, water, nutmeg, and of course vinegar. The recipe calls for homemade pie paste, which there is a recipe for in the cookbook. However, if you are not feeling adventurous you can get pie crust from the store like we did.

mixing

Once the pie is baked set it out to cool. This will take a long time, at least an hour and a half. After 40 minutes of cooling, Molly and I decided to wait until the next morning to eat it, as it was going on 9:00 at night.

The next morning we brought it to work for everyone to try, and we were surprised. The vinegar taste was fairly strong, but we discovered that it depended on the bite as to how much vinegar was in it. Over all the pie was good, but you may not want to eat too big of a piece. I would say it is somewhat similar to lemon pie.

I would recommend making this pie just to try it out, it is easy to make and gives you a good idea as to what the pioneers made.

 

 

The Mystery of Baby Boys

Over the years the Society has been asked why some of the Ingalls-Wilder women were unable to have baby boys. There was a trend in the family that all three generations had brothers or sons that were short-lived. Caroline Ingalls, Laura’s mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Rose Wilder Lane, Laura’s daughter, all had baby boys who passed away shortly after their birth.

Charles Frederick “Freddie” Ingalls:

Charles Frederick was born on November 1, 1875, in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, which technically made him Charles and Caroline Ingalls fourth child. Laura never mentioned Baby Freddie in her “Little House” books because she did not feel that it belonged with the image she was trying to create (Pioneer Girl iv). The whole family was extremely proud of Freddie and happy to have a boy. Mary and Laura would rush home from school just to see and spend more time with him (Pioneer Girl xvi). Unfortunately, we do not have a lot of information as to the cause of Freddie’s death. It has been noted that Freddie was a sickly baby, however; other versions of Pioneer Girl do not give any insight as to how Freddie died. We do know that he died in South Troy, Minnesota, on Peter Ingalls’ farm, but the grave location is unknown (Anderson LORE 2,2).

Son of A. J. Wilder:

Laura’s infant son, who was never named, is mentioned in Laura’s books unlike Freddie. Remember, Laura’s last book, The First Four Years was published many years after her death in 1971. The book talks about the Wilder’s hardships in De Smet, South Dakota, after Laura and Almanzo married in 1885. We have no way of knowing if Laura intended to leave in the story of her son’s death or even publish this book as their son’s death was just one of the many tragedies they suffered.

In The First Four Years:

In the afternoon Manly sent Peter to bring Laura’s Ma, and at four o’clock he sent Peter again to town, this time on his running pony for the doctor. But their son was born before the doctor could get there. (125)

She also mentioned that it was on the fifth of August that her infant son was born. Today we know from the De Smet Leader that the baby was born on Thursday July 11, 1889. It was published in the paper on July 13, 1889 saying, “Dr. Hunter reports the arrival of a 10-pound boy at A.J. Wilder’s on Wednesday night.” From the paper, we were also able to figure out the day Laura’s infant son died. On August 10, 1889, the De Smet Leader published, “Mr. and Mrs. A.J. Wilder’s little child died Wednesday evening.” From this quote, we know that the day their son died was August 7, 1889, living one day short of four weeks.

Laura mentioned her son’s death just a few pages later, “Laura was doing her work again one day three weeks later when the baby was taken with spasms, and he died so quickly that the doctor was too late” (First Four Years 127). That is the only insight was have as to how Laura’s son died. How accurate is her account? We do not know for sure but it is all we have today. Considering that according to Laura, the doctor did not make it before her son passed, it would be hard to have any documentation as to what he died of. Today he is buried in the De Smet Cemetery with the rest of Ingalls family.2017-08-07 (3)

Infant Lane:

Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane marked a third generation of baby boys not surviving. Even though Rose’s boy was born the latest, there is probably the least amount of information about him. Rose’s son was born premature and stillborn in Salt Lake City, Utah, at Holy Cross Hospital. From his death certificate we have been able to figure out that her son was born on November 23, 1909 (click here to see a copy of the death certificate). It was noted that they buried him the following day, November 24, which then points to a gravestone in the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Utah, marked Infant Lane who was buried November 24, 1909. Beyond this information, we do not know anything more about Rose’s infant boy.

Since he was Rose’s only child, the direct line of Charles and Caroline Ingalls ended when Rose died, making it impossible to figure out if the Ingalls may have had a genetic disease that ran in boys or if it was just a coincidence.