Tag: Montana

Getting Ready for Winter + Free Book!

Hi everyone. I hope you’re having a great Wednesday! We’re having a beautiful fall here in Montana. Fall is my favorite season, and in northern Nevada, where I used to live, we didn’t get super long falls. It seemed to be hot, and then it was cold. Now there’s snow in the mountains and it looks like we’re getting closer to real winter.

Lots of Sand Hill Cranes.

The grain field next to my house has been cut and because of that, the Sand Hill Cranes, which come here to nest, are gathering in the stubble and feasting on grain and probably mice.

If you’ve never seen a Sand Hill Crane, they are fairly large birds, and they gather in this field by the thousands before their fall migration. I love watching them from my window.

We put the cattle on the winter pasture, along with my two old horses–brothers who are 23 and 24 years old. The pasture is connect to the “crane field” and the cattle come in everyday to drink and soak up the sun before heading back out to the pasture to graze. 

Note all the cranes in the background. 🙂

The winter wood came today before daybreak. Essentially its a load of logs. The guy unloads them and them my husband and stepdad will “buzz” them or cut them into rounds. We hope this stack will last at least two winters. The cats love, love, love the logs because they have lots of little places to hide and to hunt.

And lastly, as the holidays approach, I’m pleased to announce that my book The Christmas Secret is free for a limited amount of time. I hope you’ll check it out!

Amazon   

Barnes and Noble   

Kobo   

Google Play 

iTunes

The Great Die Up

Today I’d like to share information on The Great Cattle Die Up, an ironic take on the term ‘cattle round up’.

Cattle grazing on open range.

During the early 1880s, the summers on the plains of Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas had been wonderfully cool and winters had proven to be unusually mild, making it easy to feed livestock year around, thus lulling ranchers and beef speculators into a sense of false security. Cattle prices were high, and to increase profits, the ranges were overstocked and soon overgrazed. Beef prices started to fall and the summer of 1867 was unusually hot and dry, making it difficult to put up enough foriage to feed the stock in case the weather took a nasty turn…which it did.

It began to snow on November 13 and snowed every day for a month. The sparse food was hidden beneath the deep snow and the cattle, already in poor condition due to the summer drought, began to die. In January, the temperatures plummeted, perhaps as low as -63°F. A chinook came then, melting the top of the snow, then temperatures fell again, creating a hard crus on top of the deep snow. Stories tell of horses and cattle cut and bleeding from the knees down as they attempted to navigate the crusted snow. Cattle roamed into towns, bawling for food and eating shrubbery. Since little forage had been put up, ranchers had no choice but to watch their herds, their very livelihoods, starve and die.

By spring over 500,000 cattle—90% of the open range animals—had died. The carcasses covered the fields and clogged rivers and streams. The smell of rotting beef permeated the air.

Both small ranches and huge cattle companies declared bankruptcy. Thousands of cowboys were put out of work. Some ranchers tried to steal unbranded calves, leading to range wars. Ultimately, it was the end of open range in the area. Barb wire cut the range into smaller sections, changing the face of Montana ranching forever.

Teddy Roosevelt, prior to the Great Die Up had proclaimed cattle ranching “the pleasantest, healthiest and most exciting phase of American existence.” After the winter of 1887, he wrote to a friend, “Well, we have had a perfect smashup all through the cattle country of the northwest. The losses are crippling. For the first time I have been utterly unable to enjoy a visit to my ranch. I shall be glad to get home.”

Not a very happy story, but a true one that forever changed the face of ranching.

Prairie Cold

I’m no stranger to cold weather. I was born in northern Idaho and I was there for the record cold temperature of -42°F in 1968. My dad was in college and we lived in a house with no insulation to speak of. My bedroom window, frame and all, would occasionally fall into my room if the front door was shut too hard and the nail holding it in wasn’t adjusted just right. I remember my mom putting so many blankets on my bed during that cold snap that once I was under them, I could barely move. The horses started running because of the cold and broke through the fence into the wheat fields. They had to be caught. Good times.

Cows coming in to drink -20F. 

 

Then I moved to northern Nevada, which is also very cold in the winter. On my daughter’s sixth birthday, we woke up to temperatures of -34°F. The pipes were frozen, the truck wouldn’t start. We had a birthday celebration booked at the local McDonald’s. Fortunately, my friend’s truck did start and she was able to pick us up and take us to the party while my husband dealt with hairdryers, heat tapes and engine block heaters.

This fall I moved to Montana. I thought I was ready for the low temperatures—the record so far has been -24°F—but I’d forgotten just how face-burning cold this place can be when one has to go outside a lot. It felt different than the Nevada cold, which made no sense, since we also had numerous below zero days there. A kid at the Mac store in Bozeman cleared it all up for me.  He mentioned that the cold must be a change. I assured him that we had cold weather in Nevada and he quickly said, “That’s desert cold. This is prairie cold.”

He’s right. Prairie cold is colder—which got me wondering about how in the world did the early settlers on the prairie–and I’m thinking the wind-whipped prairies with no mountains in sight–stay warm in those little cabins and sod houses with no wood to stoke the fires? The answer is cattle and buffalo chips and hay twists. The chips are, of course, dried bovine dung. The hay twists are bundles of dry grass twisted together. Both of these fuels burn hot, creating a lot of ash. The fire needs tended full time. One excerpt I read talked about one family member leaving the cabin with a bucket of ashes every time another came in with a load of fuel.

The following excerpt illustrates the ongoing battle of staying warm and cooking with cattle chips.

“Here is the rundown of the operations that mother went through when making baking powder biscuits. … Stoke the stove, get out the flour sack, stoke the stove, wash your hands, mix the biscuit dough, stoke the stove, wash your hands, cut out the biscuits with the top of a baking powder can, stoke the stove, wash your hands, put the pan of biscuits in the oven, keep on stoking the stove until the biscuits are done (not forgetting to wash the hands before taking up the biscuits).”

— From Western Story: The Recollections of Charley O’Kieffe,

1884-1898. Lincoln: U of N Press, 1960.

I am in awe of the men, women and children who weathered the prairie winters back in the day in order to build a better life. I’d like to think I’m tough enough to have endured, as my great-grandmother did, but I’m also very glad I don’t have to find out for real.

What about you? Do you think you could have handled a prairie winter in a cabin or sod house?

Petticoats & Pistols © 2015