Today we are in the midst of record freezing temperatures across the country. This is not the first time for such lows nor is it the worst. Before stepping back in time to this day in 1887, click the link below for a quick peek at records broken, and not broken, from January 6 - 7, 2014.
Deep Freeze Recap: Coldest Temperatures of the Century for Some
Embrace the Past...
Among the worst days of the "worst winter in the West" lies January 9, 1887. Every hour for 16 hours an inch of snow fell across the Western plains. Ranchers in northern ranges of Montana, Wyoming, and The Dakotas had seen hard winters but this winter was plagued with deception, that being reliance on past winters being mild and this winter following the same pattern. As a result, the need to store winter feed for the livestock was not looked upon as a necessity. The onslaught of record-breaking snowfalls forced starving, weakened cattle to expend vital energy trekking through heavy snow in search for food, even scant forage.
With the summer of 1886 being unusually hot and dry, the cattle ranges of autumn were almost barren of grass upon which the cattle could graze. Record temperatures of 63 degrees below zero hit the ranges depositing a hard shell of ice over everything. It was virtually impossible for the cattle to break through the ice and reach the meager grass below.
With no winter hay stored to feed the animals, many ranchers had to sit by idly and watch their herds slowly die. "Starving cattle staggered through village streets," one historian recalls, "and collapsed and died in dooryards." In Montana, 5,000 head of cattle invaded the outskirts of Great Falls, eating the saplings the townspeople had planted that spring and "bawling for food."
Spring finally came, which should have been a welcomed sight after the bitterest of bitter winters. The welcome, however, was not pleasant. Underneath all that snow were sights that turned heads and stomachs in all directions. Massive herds dotted the land as far as the eye could see. Only these herds were not standing on all fours. What remained consisted of rotting carcasses, so many they clogged creek and river courses making it difficult to even find potable water.
The number of cattle estimated to have died during this winter period reached millions. The "Great Die Up," as it came to be called, became a darkly humorous reference to the celebrated "Round Up." Montana ranchers alone lost an estimated 362,000 head of cattle, more than half the territory's herd. The results of this harsh winter sent hundreds of ranchers into bankruptcy bringing an abrupt end to the era of the open range.
Thus, the transformation of the American West had begun, the modern West was born. And so it is what it is today...