In June of 1876 swarms of Rocky Mountain locusts, which had hatched on the arid eastern slopes of the Rockies swept across two-thirds of Kandiyohi County, destroying all crops, grass and foliage. Later, some damage later extended into the remaining third of the county.
Many devices were tried in attempts to destroy the pests. Paul Willmar, who had several hundred acres of grain, enlisted scores of men to dig ditches around his fields to trap the locusts so they could be destroyed by burying them. Another device called the “hopper-dozer” was developed to trap the insects.
“It was made from strips of sheet iron. The bottom, or flat part lying on the ground, was about four feet wide and was usually from ten to twenty feet long. To the back of this was riveted another strip of the same material about a foot in height. At each end was a piece four or six inches in height. This formed a scoop shaped somewhat like a housewife’s dust pan. The front edge was turned up an inch or two at an angle of forty five degrees so it would pass easily over lumps and stones. From end to end was a strong wire, by which the machine was drawn, sometimes by a horse, but more commonly by one or two men. The wire was usually slack enough so that in the forward motion it would precede the scoop by a foot or two, stir up the hoppers and cause them to jump into it. The bottom and the back of the hopper-dozer were covered with tar, in which the insects were caught, sometimes in layers half an inch or an inch in thickness. When the operator came to the end of the field, or got his scoop full, he would scrape off his gathered treasure and burn all in a heap”
By July of 1877, the hoppers had migrated out of the county, but seed grain for the coming year had become a problem. Farmers, who had recently arrived in the county, had few resources and, with the loss of their crops, were destitute. The State of Minnesota appropriated $29,000.00 for relief of Kandiyohi County farmers. This was insufficient, so the County Commissioners issued bonds for $18,000.00. From this money the County Auditor made seed grain loans to impoverished farmers.
This marker is located on what was once a part of the Willmar farm. The land was originally obtained by James J. Hill for Mr. Leon Willmar, a Belgian who was the London, England representative of Hill’s European railroad bond holders. Willmar’s son, Paul, was a soldier of fortune in the army of Emperor Maxmilian, of Mexico. This farm was purchased to get him back into the United States. He moved here and operated the farm actively for several years, before it was sold. After passing through a number of transactions a portion of the land became the Willmar State Hospital.
Where: This marker is located 2 miles north of Willmar on Highway No. 71-23, then ¼ mile west on the 26th Ave. NE
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