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Stories From the Storm

The western South Dakota blizzard killed tens of thousands of head of livestock and brought some ranchers to their knees.

The western South Dakota blizzard that killed tens of thousands of head of livestock was truly devastating. But numbers don’t tell the whole story. I was moved most by what ranchers wrote and said about what they found on the Plains when the blizzard broke.

They are alive: Jessica Bean, Summerset, S.D., wrote, “My parents found a drift that had covered who knows how many ewes and lambs. ‘You guys need to come here,’ my Mom said when she called, clearly distressed. “’We are digging out sheep. And they are alive…we need all the help we can get.’ Armed only with shovels my cousin, brother, my parents, my husband and I spent nine hours digging ewes and lambs out of that snowdrift. Some of these ewes we dug out were 6-feet under heavy wet snow. Their bodies had melted just enough of an air pocket around them as they lay there to keep them alive for the last two days…. Every single one we pulled out was a true blessing from God.” Read more at

Played out: The following is excerpted from the LA Times:

Rancher Steve Schell, who lost half his herd, said he can't bear the idea of finding more dead animals beneath the melting snow.

"I'm just so damned whipped," he said. "I'm played out."

The 52-year-old recalled the shock of seeing mountains of dead animals.

"I can't explain what it's like because, mister, you can't imagine it until you witness it with your own eyes," he said. "To see 15 or 20 cattle piled up — the fruits of all your hard labor — you just have no concept."

The sight, he said, broke his nerve.

"I just sat down and bawled," he said.

Bow your head and pray: Heather Hamilton-Maude, Scenic, S.D., wrote: “There is no describing what goes through your mind when you come upon a pile of partially exposed animals that froze, suffocated or died of hypothermia. The challenge of mentally bracing yourself as you climb down off your horse and wade through deep snow to resolutely dig until you expose an ear tag is difficult. So is the sickness deep inside you as you wait to discover if the animal is one of yours. Never mind the gut-wrenching, almost physical pain when you discover it is your own. Of course, the relief that comes with discovering the dead animal isn’t one of yours is so overwhelming that it rocks you back on your heels. But you’re instantly overrun by shame and guilt, because it means some other rancher will feel the first, even worse, type of pain when they hear the bad news…Sometimes you have to just bow your head and pray for strength.”

Read more in Beef.

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