The Gulls of Salt Lake by Sara Cone Bryant
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
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.