Mormon Seagull Miracle

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In downtown Salt Lake City there is a monument called the Seagull Monument commemorating a miracle which spared some of the harvest for early Mormon pioneers. "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints commissioned Mahonri M. Young, a well-known LDS sculptor, to create a monument depicting the miracle of the seagulls. The monument contains four relief panels depicting the miracle as well as two bronze seagulls atop a granite column. It was completed, placed on Temple Square and dedicated on September 13, 1913 by Joseph F. Smith, then President of the Church. Seagulls remain protected in Utah to this day." [1] The California Seagull is the state bird of Utah.

Seagull Monument

The first Mormon pioneers reached the Salt Lake Valley in the summer of 1847. Immigrants totaled about 2,000 that year, with about 2400 arriving in 1848. Most immediately settled in the Salt Lake Valley, although settlements began to spring up elsewhere. The Saints were faced with planting and harvesting enough to feed their increasing numbers in a location they knew nothing about. Utah is considered semi-arid, with low humidity. It has four seasons, all of which can be either mild or harsh, depending on the year. In the virgin Salt Lake Valley, trees would only have grown along waterways. The Great Salt Lake is too saline to boost the fertility of the land. Melting snow from the mountains provided most of the available water, but irrigation was absolutely necessary for farming, and there was little time for large irrigation projects.

...Through the summer and fall of 1847, they planted 2,000 acres of winter wheat near the main settlement. A mild winter and thaw permitted plowing in early 1848, making it possible to plant more wheat and another 3,000 to 4,000 acres in corn and garden vegetables by spring.
As spring arrived, pioneer farmers reported with pride that their crops appeared to be doing very well. But April and May frosts leveled some of the crops, and late May brought another devastation-hordes of insects began to destroy the crops. These insects, later dubbed "Mormon crickets," were as large as a man's thumb. Not a true cricket but a member of the katydid family, the Mormon cricket has only small wings and cannot fly. Pioneer diarists reported the invaders in the fields as early as May 22. Some described them as numbering in the millions; John Steele wrote that they appeared by the "thousands of tons." For more than a month, the crickets devastated the fields, devouring the new corn, beans, wheat, pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, melons, and other crops. Farmers battled the crickets with a variety of defensive measures but had little success. [2]

The California Seagull had already taken up residence at the Great Salt Lake, but in early June of 1848, they arrived in great numbers over a period of about two weeks, devouring the crickets, drinking water from the lake, regurgitating, and coming back for more. [3] The Saints managed to save part of their crops and ward off starvation. They always viewed this event as a miracle and tell the story to this day.

George W. Bean wrote: “They would come by thousands and gobble up those great fat crickets that were as large as man’s thumb, until they would get about a pint, seemingly, then they would adjourn to the water ditch, take a drink and throw up all their crickets – rest themselves a little, then back to slaying the black ‘monsters’ again.” To those observing the experience, it appeared that the seagulls were throwing back up the entire crickets. In actuality, they would regurgitate only the crickets’ exo-skeleton which they could not digest. [4]