Worst Winter Ever, and that’s saying something in Montana
It could snow at any time. Actually, that statement is true any time of the year around here, but especially now. All week I've been hearing it may snow this weekend, but for the life of me, I couldn't find a forecast for that in the state this weekend. Not saying it isn't there, I just couldn't find it.
While looking, I came across a piece of Montana History I wanted to share with you. The worst winter ever in Montana. It was in 1886-1887. (This story will make all those Russell paintings make more sense, by the way.)
The Great Die Up
The story says that for a couple of years prior, Montana saw cooler summers with a lot of range grass for cattle, and relatively mild winters. This made the East Coast transplants pretty complacent about storing food for their cattle for the winter. Then the storm hit in January 1887. The summer prior had been very hot and left little to no grass for grazing, and there was very little hay stored for the winter. Snow fell at an inch an hour for 16 hours blanketing the state and what little grass there was, wild wind blew and a low of about 50 below. When the storm subsided, it was still so cold, the ground was covered with ice that cattle couldn't break through to try and eat. This "perfect storm" of negligence combined with harsh, fast, sustained brutal cold resulted in millions of cattle dying and rotting where they fell. It also resulted in a lot of those ranchers abandoning their Montana Cowboy dreams and heading right back to the East Coast. The ranchers who remained learned a harsh lesson about storing food for their cattle. The storm was later referred to as the Great Die Up. A play on round up.
The Great Falls connection
They even write about how some cattle made their way into Great Falls and were eating bushes, trees and any other greenery they could find. Residents said they could hear the cattle crying with starvation and recalled many dying right here on the street in Great Falls. Charlie Russell lived in this area and was cowboying at this time. This explains the many paintings I've seen of starving cattle that he painted. He's a cowboy that saw it first hand. I can see how that could leave an impression on a person and why that would inspire such paintings.