The miracle of the seagulls and the “States Goods Prophecy”
Now came a series of trials differing from anything the Saints had yet experienced. Indeed, it seemed as if they were fated to literally “endure all things,” and like the Master they served, the great Captain of salvation, be “made perfect through suffering.” Hitherto they had been warred against by the powers of evil and their fellow men. Now their opponents were the blind forces of nature, and creatures of another class.
The year 1848 was the year of the cricket plague. Myriads of these destructive pests, an army of famine and despair, rolled in black legions down the mountain sides and attacked the growing fields of grain. The tender crops fell an easy prey to their fierce voracity. They literally swept everything before them. Starvation with all its terrors seemed staring the poor settlers in the face.
They were saved by a miracle. In the midst of the work of destruction, when it seemed as if nothing could stay the devastation, great flocks of gulls suddenly appeared filling the air with their white wings and plaintive cries, and settled down upon the half ruined fields. At first it seemed as though they came but to destroy what the crickets had left. But their true purpose was soon apparent. They came to prey upon the destroyers. All day long they gorged themselves, and, when full, disgorged and feasted again; the white gulls upon the black crickets, like hosts of heaven and hell contending, until the pests were vanquished and the people were saved. The heaven-sent birds then returned to the lake islands whence they came, leaving the grateful people to shed tears of joy at the wonderful deliverance wrought out for them.
Still there was a season of scarcity. The surplus of the first harvests in the Valley had barely been sufficient to meet the wants of the emigration, which had commenced pouring in from the frontiers and from Europe. And now that the crickets had played such havoc with the crops, there was danger, in spite of the interposition of the gulls, of some suffering from hunger. This was only averted by the exercise of the highest wisdom and the broadest charity, and the partial observance of the principle of the United Order, which the Saints had before sought to introduce, and still have it in their mission to establish. The people were put upon rations, all sharing the same, like members of one great family. Many, however, in order to swell their scanty store, went out and dug roots with the Indians, or cooked and ate the hides of animals with which they had covered the roofs of their houses.
It was during this time of famine, when the half starved, half-clad settlers scarcely knew where to look for the next crust of bread or for rags to hide their nakedness—for clothing had become almost as scarce with them as bread-stuffs—that Heber C. Kimball, filled with the spirit of prophecy, in a public meeting declared to the astonished congregation that, within a short time, “States goods” would be sold in the streets of Great Salt Lake City cheaper than in New York and that the people should be abundantly supplied with food and clothing.
“I don’t believe a word of it,” said Charles C. Rich; and he but voiced the sentiment of nine-tenths of those who had heard the astounding declaration.
Heber himself was startled at his own words, as soon as the Spirit’s force had abated and the “natural man” had reasserted itself. On resuming his seat, he remarked to the brethren that he was afraid he “had missed it this time.” But they were not his own words, and He who had inspired them knew how to fulfill.
The occasion for the fulfillment of this remarkable prediction was the unexpected advent of the gold-hunters, on their way to California. The discovery of gold in that land had set on fire, as it were, the civilized world, and hundreds of richly laden trains now began pouring across the continent on their way to the new El Dorado. Salt Lake Valley became the resting place, or “half-way house” of the nation, and before the Saints had had time to recover from their surprise at Heber’s temerity in making such a prophecy, the still more wonderful fulfillment was brought to their very doors. The gold-hunters were actuated by but one desire, to reach the Pacific Coast, the thirst for mammon having absorbed for the time all other sentiments and desires. Impatient at their slow progress, in order to lighten their loads, they threw away or “sold for a song” the valuable merchandise with which they had stored their wagons to cross the Plains. Their choice, blooded, though now jaded stock, they eagerly exchanged for the fresh mules and horses of the pioneers, and bartered off, at almost any sacrifice, dry goods, groceries, provisions, tools, clothing, etc., for the most primitive outfits, with barely enough provisions to enable them to reach their journey’s end. Thus, as the Prophet Heber had predicted, “States goods” were actually sold in the streets of Great Salt Lake City cheaper than they could have been purchased in the City of New York.
Referring to this incident, in a sermon, a few years later, Heber says:
“The Spirit of prophecy foresees future events. God does not bring to pass a thing because you say it shall be so, but because He designed it should be so, and it is the future purposes of the Almighty that the Prophet foresees. That is the way I prophesy, but I have predicted things I did not foresee, and did not believe anybody else did, but I have said it, and it came to pass even more abundantly than I predicted; and that was with regard to the future situation of the people who first came into this valley. Nearly every man was dressed in skins, and we were all poor, destitute, and distressed, yet we all felt well. I said, ‘it will be but a little while, brethren, before you shall have food and raiment in abundance, and shall buy it cheaper than it can be bought in the cities of the United States.’ I did not know there were any Gentiles coming here, I never thought of such a thing; but after I spoke it I thought I must be mistaken this time. Brother Rich remarked at the time, ‘I do not believe a word of it.’ And neither did I; but, to the astonishment and joy of the Saints, it came to pass just as I had spoken it, only more abundantly. The Lord led me right, but I did not know it.
“I have heard Joseph say many times, that he was much tempted about the revelations the Lord gave through him—it seemed to be so impossible for them to be fulfilled. I do not profess to be a Prophet; but I know that every man and woman can be, if they live for it.”
Though Heber did not “profess to be a Prophet,” he was one nevertheless, and manifested the gift of prophecy, as is generally admitted, to a greater extent than any other man in the Church, excepting the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Brigham was in the habit of saying: “Heber is my Prophet.” In a conversation with Col. Thomas L. Kane on the occasion of the visit of the latter to the Territory at the time of the settlement of the “Utah War” troubles, President Young said: “Brother Kimball said in Nauvoo, ‘If we have to leave our houses we will go to the mountains, and in a few years we will have a better city than we have here.’ This is fulfilled. He also said, ‘we shall have gold, and coin twenty-dollar gold pieces.’ We came here, founded a city, and coined the first twenty-dollar gold pieces in the United States. Seeing the brethren poorly clad, soon after we came here, he said, ‘it will not be three years before we can buy clothing cheaper in Salt Lake Valley than in the States.’ Before the time was out, the gold-diggers brought loads of clothing, and sold them in our city at a wanton price.”
The Life of Heber C. Kimball by Orson F. Whitney, p. 388-391