February 22, 2017
This is “Our Past Is Present” from the Geary County Historical Society.
Many Kansans may be surprised to know that when the state was first settled there was not a sparrow within 1,000 miles. This fact was recorded in the archives at the Historical Society in Topeka. When settlers first came to Kansas there were only a few insects. After the soil was cultivated by settlers, the insects appeared like the plagues of Egypt. With no birds to feed upon the invading swarms of bugs and flies, beetles and other insects, the settlers lost many of their crops.
About the time the grasshopper plague had devastated the fields in 1874 and left a barren waste where once there were the hopes and aspirations of the new settlers, an idea came to some of the pioneers. Since there were no birds, why not bring some to the area?
So, in 1874, Fred W. Giles, O.W. Jewell and others, ordered a shipment of English sparrows from New York. They received 35 sparrows, but 4 were dead. The 31 left were in poor condition according to the Giles account. However, “They were received with the kindest attention.” The birds were restrained from freedom for a while. In fear of losing all of the birds and when all but five died, the remaining birds were turned loose to take their chance with life or death in nature. That fall Giles counted twelve birds where there had been but five and the following autumn a census listed the sparrow population at sixty. The third year the number had increased to three hundred and after that they multiplied so rapidly that within a very few years the cities were literally alive with sparrows and people began killing them off in large numbers. However, in just a few short years, Mr. Giles proudly reported that the insect annoyance was entirely abated.
Sometimes when we try to solve one problem, another appears to challenge us.