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Contents > Author > Sara Cone Bryant > The Gulls of Salt Lake 1873- Unknown
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Sara Cone Bryant
The Gulls of Salt Lake
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The story I am going to tell you is about
something that really happened, many
years ago, when most of the mothers and
fathers of the children here were not born,
themselves. At that time, nearly all the
people in the United States lived between
the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi
River. Beyond were plains, reaching to the
foot of the mighty Rocky Mountains, where
Indians and wild beasts roamed. The only
white men there were a few hunters and
trappers.

One year a brave little company of people
traveled across the plains in big covered
wagons with many horses, and finally
succeeded in climbing to the top of the
great Rockies and down again into a valley
in the very midst of the mountains. It
was a valley of brown, bare, desert soil,
in a climate where almost no rain falls;
but the snows on the mountain-tops sent
down little streams of pure water, the winds
were gentle, and lying like a blue jewel at
the foot of the western hills was a marvelous
lake of salt water,--an inland sea.
So the pioneers settled there and built them
huts and cabins for the first winter.

It had taken them many months to make
the terrible journey; many had died of
weariness and illness on the way; many
died of hardship during the winter; and the
provisions they had brought in their wagons
were so nearly gone that, by spring, they
were living partly on roots, dug from the
ground. All their lives now depended on
the crops of grain and vegetables which
they could raise in the valley. They made
the barren land good by spreading water
from the little streams over it,--what we
call "irrigating;" and they planted enough
corn and grain and vegetables for all the
people. Every one helped, and every one
watched for the sprouting, with hopes, and
prayers, and careful eyes.

In good time the seeds sprouted, and
the dry, brown earth was covered with a
carpet of tender, green, growing things.
No farmer's garden at home in the East
could have looked better than the great
garden of the desert valley. And from day
to day the little shoots grew and flourished
till they were all well above the ground.

Then a terrible thing happened. One
day the men who were watering the crops
saw a great number of crickets swarming
over the ground at the edge of the gardens
nearest the mountains. They were hopping
from the barren places into the young,
green crops, and as they settled down they
ate the tiny shoots and leaves to the ground.
More came, and more, and ever more, and
as they came they spread out till they
covered a big corner of the grain field. And
still more and more, till it was like an
army of black, hopping, crawling crickets,
streaming down the side of the mountain
to kill the crops.

The men tried to kill the crickets by
beating the ground, but the numbers were
so great that it was like beating at the sea.
Then they ran and told the terrible news,
and all the village came to help. They
started fires; they dug trenches and filled
them with water; they ran wildly about in
the fields, killing what they could. But
while they fought in one place new armies
of crickets marched down the mountain-
sides and attacked the fields in other places.
And at last the people fell on their knees
and wept and cried in despair, for they saw
starvation and death in the fields.

A few knelt to pray. Others gathered
round and joined them, weeping. More
left their useless struggles and knelt
beside their neighbors. At last nearly all the
people were kneeling on the desolate fields
praying for deliverance from the plague of
crickets.

Suddenly, from far off in the air toward
the great salt lake, there was the sound
of flapping wings. It grew louder. Some
of the people looked up, startled. They
saw, like a white cloud rising from the lake,
a flock of sea gulls flying toward them.
Snow-white in the sun, with great wings
beating and soaring, in hundreds and
hundreds, they rose and circled and came on.

"The gulls! the gulls!" was the cry.
"What does it mean?"

The gulls flew overhead, with a shrill
chorus of whimpering cries, and then, in
a marvelous white cloud of spread wings
and hovering breasts, they settled down
over the seeded ground.

"Oh! woe! woe!" cried the people.
"The gulls are eating what the crickets
have left! they will strip root and branch!"

But all at once, some one called out,--

"No, no! See! they are eating the
crickets! They are eating only the crickets!"

It was true. The gulls devoured the
crickets in dozens, in hundreds, in swarms.
They ate until they were gorged, and then
they flew heavily back to the lake, only to
come again with new appetite. And when
at last they finished, they had stripped the
fields of the cricket army; and the people
were saved.

To this day, in the beautiful city of Salt
Lake, which grew out of that pioneer village,
the little children are taught to love
the sea gulls. And when they learn drawing
and weaving in the schools, their first
design is often a picture of a cricket and a
gull.

 

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