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PAM - Is the seagulls eating the crickets story more myth than truth?
JOEL - Here is how BH Roberts explained the situation shortly after the saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley:
"The pioneers when entering the valley, it will be remembered, noted that in the foothills there were great numbers of large, black crickets, which then excited but a passing remark. Now, however, in this month of May, , they came swarming from the foothills literally by millions, and descended upon the new-made fields of grain. They devoured all before them as they came to it. Their appetite never abated. Then the miraculous happened. I say it deliberately, the miraculous happened, as men commonly view the miraculous. There was heard the shrill, half-scream, half-plaintive cry of some seagulls hovering over the wheat fields. Presently they alight and begin devouring the crickets. Others come—thousands of them—from over the lake. The upper feathers of the gull's wings are tinted with a delicate grey, and some of the flight feathers, primaries, to be exact, are marked with black, but the prevailing color is white; and as they came upon the new
wheat fields, stretched upward and then gracefully folded their wings and began devouring the devourers, to the cricket-vexed colonists they seemed like white-winged angels of deliverance—these gulls. They were tireless in their destructive—nay, their saving work. It was noted that when they were glutted with crickets they would go to the streams, drink, vomit, and return again to the slaughter. And so it continued, day after day, until the plague was stayed, and the crops of the pioneers saved."
(H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1930), 331-33)
It sort of depends on your point of view as to how miraculous the event really was. The fact is, according to ornithologists, crickets had probably been coming out of the hills for years before that, eating the native grass and providing food for the seagulls and continued to do so for years after the 1848 event according to other accounts. And it is not unusual for seagulls to eat such insects, keep what nourishment they can get from them, and then spit out what they cannot digest. However, the early settlers had started planting crops in 1847; something the crickets had not seen before. This was the catylyst that brought them in such large numbers to this new source of food. And it must have indeed seemed like a miracle to the early saints who had never seen such a sight of thousands of gulls devouring so many crickets helping to save their crops as an answer to their prayers.
Many pioneer journals recount frosts, drought, and swarms of insects, but no gulls. Others do mention the gulls. So the gull intervention may have only occured in isolated places. Was this a miracle in answer to prayers? Here is what Orson Pratt said about it in his personal journal, him being an eye witness to the events:
"There are those who will say that this was one of the natural courses of events, that there was no miracle in it. Let that be as it may, we esteemed it as a blessing from the hand of God; miracle or no miracle, we believe that God had a hand in it, and it does not matter particularly whether strangers believe or not."
(Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886), 21: 277 - 278)
So contrary to what Church critics say it was not just folklore; it did happen. The Latter-day Saints at that time, with faith in a God whose hand is in history and who often acts through "natural" events, believed that their crops had been saved in part by God's intervention.