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The Grasshopper Famine

Deliverance from the savages of the cricket wrought by the seagulls in the spring of 1847, was a most merciful providence in behalf of the early pioneers of Utah. They were saved from starvation by this miraculous interference, the birds feasting from morning until night on the black demons. The scant crops were saved. The Gulls in consequence are a sacred bird among the Latter-Day-Saints, and the Sego Lily, upon the roots of which the people subsided in those trying days is honored as a chosen flower of Utah. The children of the pioneers hold in loving reverence the Seagull and the Sego Lily.

But a few years later there were other plagues that drove the people to the brink of starvation. The crops of 1854 and 1855 failed owing principally to the ravages of the grasshopper, though drought added its share to the disaster. Then came the unusually severe winter of 1855-56, where from cold and starvation cattle and sheep died by the thousands. The people suffered severely from these combined calamities and were once again driven to the roots for substance. However an additional medium not so generally advertized was providentially provided. An agency unsung by the poet and unchronicled in the annuals of the historian, notwithstanding it deserves mention by both. It was the Millet and the trout of Utah Lake that played this important part in furnishing the famishing people with food. White fish is not perhaps as poetic a subject as seagulls and Sego Lily coupled with the recollection of the conditions, the terms grasshopper, "Mulled and the Trout" is perhaps as rhythmical and surely as historically important as the Cricket, Seagulls and Sego Lily.'

But in the fish and famine one day recently a number of men were discussing the early cricket plagues and the relief brought by the Seagulls when Honorable John Henry smith called attention to the substantial help that the fish of Utah Lake provided in supplying food for the famishing during the hard times of 1855-56. He maintained that they were quite as worth of historical record as the gulls and the lilies. When pressed for particulars he referred to the veteran fisherman Peter Madsen. The latter was appealed to and it is to him and his sons George A Madsen and D.H. Madsen who have succeeded to his whole sale fishing business that the Era is indebted for the interesting narrative on the subject. Peter Madsen, by the way is a sturdy remarkable character born in Veile Denmark April 6, 1824. He joined the church June 12, 1853 being baptized by Elder Rasmues Nielson. He served his country in the Prussian War of 1847-1848 and four years later became a pioneer of Western America. In 1870-72 he went as a missionary to his native land, and in 1886 he filled a mission to the Hawaiian Islands. Edward H. Anderson (This article was taken from The Improvement Era of 1911, the year before Peter Madsen Senior died.)


The Mullet and the Trout

(Following article taken from the 1911, The Improvement Era )

written by Peter Madsen Senior

In response to the request from the Era to state my experience during the grasshopper plague in the early days of Utah, I gladly furnish the following, all for which I remember as the most trying experience of my life.

I arrived in Salt Lake City on Oct 4, 1854 and came to Prove the same year where I have since made my home. It was in the year of 1855 as I remember when the grasshoppers first made their decent upon the small fields of the pioneers. The crops had been planted in rich soil along the Provo River and gave promise to fair harvest, equal to the demands of the small population and the incoming immigrants-who should be too late to plant crops during that summer. We felt as that all would be well with us. So thick did they decent that they fairly darkened the sun. They destroyed most of the crops as they made their way toward the shores of the lake which they attempted to cross and were drowned by the wagon lad-many being eaten by the fish and great walls of them floated along the shores of the lake.

It was a little later than this that the people came to the lake. From Sevier on the South to Salt Lake on the North. They came with wagons and barrels, and salt prepared to take fish home with them fro food during the winter. Their crops were destroyed, and they brought with them two short pieces of seine, which I secured from them and joined it to the end of the short seine I had knit during my first winter in Utah, and thereby made a fairly good net. They all camped along the river near where it emptied into the lake, and we made preparations to supply them with mullet and trout, which were quite plentiful at that time.

Having been accustomed to fishing in Denmark when a small boy. I was prepared for this important duty of furnishing food fro a starving people. I will always remember the scent along the bank of the river after the first days catch and been distributed. The campers were in little groups around the camp fires where they were broiling fish on the hot coals and eating them with relish that only those who have been through experiences of these kinds can appreciate.

The Bishop of Provo sent men to help and all day and all night the fishing went on. The saints came and remained on the river until they had enough fish salted to last them during the coming winter, then left for their homes to give room for others equally in need. For weeks the work went on. Nobody ask who did the work or who received the fish. We were comparatively equal in those days, and all we asked was enough to eat until we could raise crop enough to supply us with food. I have always regarded this as one of my greatest opportunities for doing good, and often of late years I have been visited by those with whom I shared the necessities of life during those trying days.

Since that time I have been interested in the fish of Utah Lake, and many times have given loads of them from my nets to those who were in need. I am now in my 86th year of my life and am still interested in the protection of Utah's fish, for I feel that they played an important part in saving the people from starvation in the early days and am sure they will continue to grow into an important resource in the development of our great state.

Peter Madsen
Provo, Utah

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