Table of Contents
ACCLAIM FOR LOCUST
“Clearly, this entomologist has a flair for the dramatic. No surprise, then, that he opens ‘Locust’ with a cinematic account worthy of Cecil B. DeMille . . . While the case of the missing locust reads as a competently written whodunit, Lockwood increases his book’s worth by widening his perspective. . . . It is a scientist’s modus operandi to seek knowledge in the particular, but it is a writer’s mandate to make the particular universal: Lockwood succeeds on both accounts.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“If you enjoy scientific detection, this is a book for you.”
“There’s no dearth of eye-opening facts in this mostly fascinating . . . story of scientific sleuthing. . . . This is a compelling work of popular science and ecological conjecture, buttressed smartly by an observant cultural, political, agricultural and economic history of 19th-century frontier America.”
“In spite of the complexity of his subject, Lockwood relates his story with simplicity and humor. Readers with an interest in science and history—particularly that of the frontier—will enjoy this well-told entomological mystery.”
“Lockwood has produced an energetic, informative history of the Rocky Mountain locust.”
“I don’t remember how long it’s been since I concentrated so hard to finish a book that captured my imagination so much and left me enlightened. . . . His erudition, his passion, his insightful reasoning make this book delicious.”
Jackson Hole News
“In prose as bright as a song, entomologist Lockwood relates the brief but devastating 19th-century reign of the Rocky Mountain locust, his research into its mysterious disappearance, and its impact on American history and science.”
“Lockwood details a dramatic reversal in this bug’s life, from sun-obscuring, crop-destroying swarms that earned it congressional recognition in 1876 as ‘the single greatest impediment to the settlement of the country’ to virtual extinction in 1902.”
US News & World Report
“This beautifully written book tells three stories: That of the American agricultural frontier and locust plagues; the growth of economic entomology and our understanding of the locust; and the riddle of the sudden extinction of a massively abundant species.”
Conservation In Practice
“Washingtonians now in the throes of cicada mania might eagerly seize upon Jeffrey A. Lockwood’sLocust
. . . as a timely piece of popular science writing.”
The Washington Post Book World
“Lockwood deserves credit not only for his scientific acumen but for being a first-rate writer of natural history . . . he has brought the Rocky Mountain locust to life, thankfully only on the pages of this lucid and eminently entertaining book.”
“Locusts! The very name provokes a primeval shudder, bringing with it a terror of pestilence, famine and mass starvation that reverberates right back to the Old Testament, Moses and the sixth plague of Egypt. . . . But it happens, as an intriguing and often terrifying new book by American entomologist Jeffrey A. Lockwood relates.”
London Daily Mail
] is a horror story, history, mystery and ecological polemic, and it is fascinating. Jeffrey A. Lockwood is undoubtedly a first-rate entomologist. . . . He is unquestionably a first-rate writer. . . . Lockwood is a member of that unusual clan of scientists, mostly physicists, who grasp a much bigger picture than the one they are in search of at the experimental level. He ventures into the philosophic and the book is made better for it, not that he did not have a great story to start with.”
Southwest Book Views
“This tale of a unique case of extinction of an insect pest that threatened settlement of the Great Plains is written in an entertaining and often humorous style. It should be of wide interest not only to biologists but also to Western historians and the general reading public.”
THEODORE J. COHN, ROBERT E. P FA D T,
DAVID C. F. RENTZ
a modern entomological triumvirate exemplifying traditional scientific virtues —and comprising the finest scholars, gentlemen, and orthopterists that it has been my true pleasure and good fortune to have known
Nothing tends so much to the corruption of science than to suffer it to stagnate; these waters must be troubled, before they can exert their virtues.
FROM EDMUND BURKE,
ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL
This book represents my own synthetic efforts, but the support, work, and ideas of many people made the project possible. I would like to thank my friends and associates at the University of Wyoming who lent their energy and expertise to the making of this book. Scott Schell, Spencer Schell, and Doug Smith provided valuable research on a spectacular range of historical, political, and biological matters. Alexandre Latchininsky was an invaluable source of insights on the biology and ecology of locusts and the life of Sir Boris Uvarov. Untangling elements of taxonomic rules and their arcane exceptions was made possible through discussions with Scott Shaw. Tom Parish provided key meteorological information allowing me to make sense of “Albert’s Swarm.” Tom Foulke offered valuable insights as to methods for converting nineteenth-century locust damage estimates into modern terms.
I must also extend my sincere gratitude to a wide range of colleagues from other institutions. Peter Adler of Clemson University generously tracked down information on M. P. Somes. The Nebraska State Historical Society’s Ann Billsbach and the Lincoln (Nebraska) City Libraries’ Robert Boyce provided original source material regarding the life of Samuel Aughey, which augmented the biography written by the University of Nebraska State Museum’s Margaret R. Bollick. Bill Chapco of the University of Regina shared valuable information on the molecular biology of grasshoppers and locusts. Key historical insights on insect biochemistry were provided by Dave Carlson of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. Ted Cohn, adjunct
curator at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology, offered important insights into the history of acridology and the nature of the Rocky Mountain locust. Clarence Collison and Barbara Perrigin of Mississippi State University were kind enough to provide historical information on early entomologists. The National Park Service’s historian, Bill Gwaltney, managed to provide details of nineteenth-century characters that were well beyond my research capabilities. Mike Ivie of the Montana State University shared his unique ideas concerning the relationship between the Rocky Mountain locust and the Eskimo curlew. Ian McRae (University of Minnesota) and John Luhman (Minnesota Department of Agriculture) aided my efforts to uncover the course of M. P. Somes’s life. Jon Muller of Southern Illinois University provided particularly intriguing details on the life of Cyrus Thomas. Key taxonomic and biologic insights were generously offered by Dan Otte of the Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences. Bob Randell of the University of Saskatchewan provided unique insights on Ashley Gurney and other acridological luminaries. Hillary L. Robison (University of Nevada at Reno) generously shared insect remains collected with Jonathan Ratner from Knife Point Glacier. Colorado State University entomologists Jason Schmidt and Boris Kondratieff took time to track down details of early work on grasshoppers at their institution. Carol Sheppard (Washington State University) and Richard Weinzierl (University of Illinois) allowed use of their research findings concerning the Walsh-Klippart debate. Beth Simmons of Metro State College generously shared her research on early expeditions to Rocky Mountain glaciers and early grasshopper infestations in Colorado. Kim Smith of the University of Arkansas provided expertise on ornithology. Charles Warwick and Dwight Divine of the Illinois Natural History Survey provided novel perspectives on the work of Cyrus Thomas.
I should also thank those people who provided some of the impetus and encouragement for me to turn my work with the Rocky Mountain locust into a book-length project. Jay McPherson of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale originally provoked me into writing an article for
on the story and meaning of the locust’s demise. This work was adapted for the readers of
High Country News—
and the essay received the 2002 John Burroughs Award. From there, Rob Robertson—a literary agent with a gift for authentic collaboration and a profound knowledge of the publishing world—convinced me that there was a book lurking within these shorter pieces. My editor, Amanda Cook, was remarkably creative, attentive, and helpful. Together, Rob and Amanda countered every horror story that authors tell about agents and editors, and I cannot exaggerate my sincere gratitude for their assistance and support. Of course, the project would not have been possible without my department head, Tom Thurow, allowing me the freedom to pursue this dream. And last but not least, I thank my family—Nan, Erin, and Ethan—for valuing my work, reading my early draft, and understanding why this project was important to me. I apologize to anyone whose contribution to this project I may have overlooked.
Finally, I must also thank readers and disciplinary experts in advance for their willingness to pardon my occasional oversights and overreaches. Any project that hopes to integrate science and natural history with elements of politics, sociology, history, and religion is destined to simplify certain aspects of the story and perhaps even introduce blatant, if hopefully forgivable, errors.
JULY 1875, DODGE COUNTY, NEBRASKA
It could have been a dust storm rolling in from the west—except the July breeze wasn’t enough to rustle the cornstalks, let alone lift a yellow-brown cloud of soil. In all likelihood, Abram McNeal, like the other settlers in eastern Nebraska, could not fathom what he was seeing on that fateful day. He pulled on the reins of the plough horse, bringing the rig to a stop. The smell of fresh-cut grass perfumed the summer air. Setting the reins over his thigh, he pushed back the brim of his tattered hat and wiped the sweat from his eyes. He could just make out the tops of the cottonwoods along Maple Creek, where John and Arthur Bloomer had staked the first claims in the county just eighteen years before. Not far beyond that, the eerie cloud drew closer, glints of sunlight flickering along its edges. The horse nickered and shook her mane. Abram might not have understood what was coming, but he knew that he had to get back to the homestead.