We forget so much.
I worry greatly about where the country is and where it’s headed. To my way of thinking, much of the angst and hysteria of our times is the direct result of not just failing to heed history’s lessons but not bothering to know the American story in the first place. My interaction with young people gives me zero confidence that our schools are giving them a solid footing in history, let alone its long-forgotten cousin, civics.
This failure also leads us to indulge in the particular fallacy of each generation placing itself at the center of all human experience. We’ve never faced such woe and misery. We are so enlightened and advanced compared with our parents and grandparents. Hogwash.
It’s easy to forget is that not that many generations ago, life was much harder – hard work as a constant and hard luck never far off.
The good news, from my perspective, is that the readership of this newspaper has some appetite for history, Eastern Jackson County has endless rewarding stories to tell and remember, and the bosses often indulge me. So a few weeks ago I sat down with my good friend Gloria Smith, who knows her history. We talked about her great-grandfather, Frank Bush, a famed botanist of his day. A recent re-enactment event brought his story to life. It went well. Good story.
There’s more. Gloria has done extensive genealogy work, and that turns up all kinds of stuff.
Like the day the grasshoppers descended upon Independence.
“A lot of people, they just never heard of such a thing,” Gloria told me.
The 1870s were a time of brutal grasshopper swarms across much of the middle part of the country. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about them in “On the Banks of Plum Creek.”
In 1875, the experts say, Rocky Mountain locusts formed the largest locust swarm ever recorded – 110 miles wide and 1,800 miles long.
“It was the year 1875 that will long be remembered by the people of at least four states, as the grasshopper year. The scourge struck Western Missouri April, 1875, and commenced devastating some of the fairest portions of our noble commonwealth,” says “The History of Henry and St. Clair Counties, Missouri.”
The Independence Herald reported: “We have taken pains recently to interview many farmers upon the all-absorbing topic, grasshoppers, and from every quarter of the county we have the sad intelligence that they are destroying everything in the shape of vegetation. Our farmers, to say the least, are in a deplorable condition.”
Frank Bush was a teenager at the time. His mother, Henrietta Tindall, wrote a letter -- people used to do that -- to her sister on May 25 of that year. Everything green was gone, “not a life on a bush or tree, not a vegetable to bee (sic) seen.” Their nice garden had become “nothing but the bare ground.”
“When they come it sounds just like a heavy hail storm,” she writes. “... I have to keep the doors and windows closed and if you step in the yard you can hardly see where you are going; you will be covered all over.”
“The City kept men all around the Square scooping them up. Day before yesterday they hauled thirty five barrels.”
This is history as lived and survived. These experiences shape communities. Our memories are the best way to cope to today’s messes.
Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter: @FoxEJC