Mormon pioneers’ first harvest was saved by seagulls

Probably true but exaggerated

seagulls and cricketsWe all know the story that has become known as “The Miracle of the Gulls”. After crossing the plains, Mormon pioneers are finally trying to settle the Great Salt Lake Valley. They built homes and started to harvest the land. Then in 1848 came the crickets. These swarm of crickets threatened to wipe out all of their crops. Then the prayers of the pioneers were heard and flocks and flocks of seagulls showed up, ate the crickets, and saved the harvest.

Although it is most likely true that seagulls ate crickets in 1848 and probably helped to save some crops, it is also most likely true that this event has been exaggerated through the years. First, ornithologists don’t regard the arrival of seagulls as particularly unusual because the seagulls around the Great Salt Lake often eat insects in the adjacent valleys. Also, some historians don’t believe that the gulls were as widespread or as effective against the insects as is often supposed. May pioneer journals recount the frosts and the insects, but no seagulls.

Chapter 8 of “New Mormon History” is titled: “Mormons, Crickets, and Gulls: a New Look at an Old Story” by William G. Hartley.

In this heavily referenced essay, Hartley (a BYU professor of history and church history) makes the following points:

1) The gulls were not strangers to the valley. They are natural enemies to various insects including crickets.

2) Gulls habitually regurgitate the indigestible parts of insects they have swallowed.

3) Gulls did not arrive until after severe cricket damage had already occurred in 1848.

4) In 1848, Mormon crops were seriously damaged by three enemies–frost, crickets, and drought. The Gulls dealt with only one problem and too late at that.

5) The “miraculousness” of the event was not clearly recognized by contemporaries (including newspapers, diaries, and official church correspondence).

6) Since 1848, gulls frequently have been on the wing to feast on crickets and other insects, making the 1848 encounter hardly unique.

Like other popular accounts of important and unusual historical events, over the years the details of the cricket war of 1848 have been oversimplified, improved upon, and been given somewhat legendary characteristics.

7) Like other popular accounts of important and unusual historical events, over the years the details of the 1848 crickets and gulls have been oversimplified, improved upon, and been given somewhat legendary characteristics.

The miracle of the seagulls
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