Assumption Chapel, on a bluff above Cold Spring, Minnesota.
I am currently reading “Partners in Prayer” by John Maxwell. In it, he describes a very interesting event in Minnesota history that I was not aware of.
From 1873 to 1876, hordes of grasshoppers (They were actually Rocky Mountain Locusts but everyone called them grasshoppers at the time) descended on Minnesota crops and caused major agricultural and economic devastation. As the growing season of 1877 approached, State entomologists studying the situation found billions and billions of grasshopper eggs were just waiting to hatch. Over 50,000 of the state’s 80,000 square miles were affected. The entomologists warned that the previous four years of infestations would be considered minor once the new hoppers hatched.
This was taking place less than 20 years after Minnesota had become a State. Most farmers were truly still pioneers, living in log cabins or rough plank houses. They were by no means wealthy. There were no pesticides, no insecticides and no effective way to control the bugs that often stripped whole fields bare overnight. The most effective method of controlling the pests was the “hopperdozer”—a sheet of metal coated with coal tar dragged through the field like a large piece of fly paper. Even though certain counties paid bounties per bushel of dead hoppers, nothing could control the ravaging plague.
In 1877, the Governor of Minnesota was John S. Pillsbury. There were no farm programs or crop insurance at the time to help farmers recover from their losses. Most were deeply in debt from the previous four years of grasshopper plague.
Governor Pillsbury proclaimed April 26, 1877 as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer and urged every man, woman, and child to ask God to prevent the impending scourge
Pillsbury even donated $10,000 out of his own pocket to build a chapel. (That’s over $222,000 in today’s dollars.)
Even though we think of society being much more godly 137 years ago, history records that Governor Pillsbury’s plan and his generosity were mocked by some. They called the idea “Pillsbury’s Best”—a spoof on the motto of his family’s baking flour. The Liberal League of Minneapolis issued a statement: "We hold that the belief in the power of prayer is palpably untrue, its influence pernicious, and in this day, a marked discredit to the intelligence of Minnesotans..." Then they finished off their comments with the statement "From the beginning down to this day, outside of so-called Sacred History, there is not one well-authorized instance of such prayer having been answered, not one."
Reporters from all over or young nation descended on Minnesota to report the latest in the controversial idea of praying for deliverance.
Nonetheless, on April 26, 1877 all schools, shops, stores, and offices in Minnesota were closed. An article in the Nov. 9, 1975 Milwaukee Journal recounts the day by saying, “Saloons and theaters seemed strangely silent. Streets were deserted except for the steady streams of churchgoers moving slowly and silently to and from their places of worship.”
April 26, 1877, was also unusual in that it was a warm, sunny, spring day. In fact, it was unseasonably warm—perfect for grasshopper eggs to hatch and the little larvae to come wiggling to life.
Then, late that night, another unusual thing happened. A cold rain began to fall. The wind shifted from south to north. Rain changed to freezing rain, to sleet, and then to snow. The snow and freezing temperatures continued for two full days and then, on the third day (a Sunday) a full-fledged blizzard swept down out of Canada and hit the state.
When the storm cleared and the sun came out again, the same entomologists who had predicted an impending disaster found that billions of little grasshoppers had been frozen to death shortly after hatching.
Farmers harvested a record crop of wheat, corn, and small grain that year. Entomologists scouring the fields that autumn failed to find even one new grasshopper egg in the entire state.
There is no recorded response to these events by the Liberal League.
The chapel Gov. Pillsbury helped build was destroyed by a tornado some years ago, but residents of Cold Spring rebuilt a beautiful granite chapel in its place. A stone carving featuring grasshoppers, originally made for the altar shortly after the miracle, now rests above the entrance.
There has been no serious grasshopper infestation in Minnesota since 1876.
And the LORD turned the wind into a very strong west wind, which lifted the locusts and drove them into the Red Sea. Not a single locust was left in all the country of Egypt. (Exodus 10:19 ESV)