THE GULLS OF SALT LAKE





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.





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