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THE GULLS OF SALT LAKE

from Stories To Tell Children





The story I am going to tell you is about something that really
happened, many years ago.

A brave little company of pioneers from the Atlantic coast crossed the
Mississippi River and journeyed across the plains of Central North
America 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 snow 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 marvellous lake of salt water,--an inland sea. So the pioneers settled
there and built themselves 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 fertile 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 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 them down, 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 neighbours. 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 marvellous white cloud of outspread wings and hovering
breasts, they settled down over the cultivated 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, someone 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 army of crickets; 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.





Next: THE NIGHTINGALE

Previous: THE LITTLE JACKAL AND THE CAMEL



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