Some of you might wonder why someone brought up in Western culture actually eats bugs. I'll be transferring another article on that topic soon, but the below article documented an event that took place quite near where I live over a hundred years ago, so my interest, particularly in this area, isn't without precedent! This is a story or how a guy took hardship and turned it into a fun event. Enjoy!
Who Recalls Locust Feast?
From "The Bulletin" Johnson County Historical Society, Inc., Sep, 1979 (Vol. XV, No. 2)
If you think this year's onslaught of grasshoppers has been bad, think back to what it was like in 1875 when young boys were gathering buckets of locusts for a very unusual –but true—banquet.
The subject of Warrensburg's "grasshopper feast" came up again earlier this year with a reprint of a 1909 reminiscence by "The Country Cousin" in the Warrensburg Star Journal, January 31.
The unnamed writer was a member of the city council, and he told of a dinner at the normal school that had him feel as though the 'hoppers were yet stalking through his stomach.
The fall of 1975 [sic] brought swarms of Rocky Mountain or "Indian" grasshoppers (so named because of their copper color and bright red legs) to Western Missouri. The locusts laid eggs in the sandy, loose soil, and the following year, then hatched out in plague proportions.
"Country Cousin" reported that they moved forward "like an avalanche," up from the bootoms [sic] around Post Oak. There were so many of the 'hoppers that trains were being stalled because of wheels slipping on the rails. A Warrensburg banker, A.W. Ridings, offered a reward and paid fifty cents for every bushel of grasshoppers brought to his bank at Holden and East Pine Streets. So many were brought in, however, he was forced to retract the offer.
The feast? That was the idea of Charles V. Riley, the first state entomologist in Missouri and later an entomologist with the U.S. Department of agriculture. Riley claimed that the grasshoppers could be safely eaten. Accounts differ, but "Country Cousin" said that all of the teachers in the normal school attended the banquet, with the cooking being supervised by a German clerk named Weidermeyer, who was also an excellent chef.
"First came grasshopper soup, then grasshopper pancakes served with butter and syrup; the scrambled eggs well mixed with grasshoppers; then followed pudding, spiked with the festive hopper, and finally came a pie around the edge of which the redlegged grasshoppers were set around in a circle looking outward, very artistically arranged," he recalled.
Riley's account of the banquet was included in a report to the governor. In addition, details were in a paper he read before the American Association of the Advancement of Science.
The article raises some questions. First, who was "Country Cousin"? Any Ideas? Second, does anyone remember first or second-hand stories from persolns [sic] that attended the banquet or were otherwise involved? If so, write The Bulletin in care of the Heritage Library in Warrensburg.
I'd like to recreate an insect feast here in Warrensburg, Missouri, some time. Please, if anyone thinks it sounds like fun, and specially would like to help, let me know! We probably would have to expand on grasshoppers, as we can't really schedule another plague.
And I'd like to give the Johnson County Historical Society special thanks for giving me the go-ahead to re-post this article! Go to Facebook and friend them!