Christina Rose
Up to 100,000 cattle, horses and other animals died in the rogue blizzard that hit western South Dakota plus parts of Wyoming and Nebraska in the early days of October, entombed where they fell in the snow.

Entombed in Snow: Up to 100,000 Cattle Perished Where They Stood in Rogue South Dakota Blizzard

Christina Rose

The animals held out as long as they could against the punishing 70-mile-per-hour winds and the blinding snow. Unable to get to safety, thousands of cattle, horses and other animals simply died where they fell—or stood—in the storm that lashed western South Dakota for 24 hours earlier this month, with whipping winds lasting well into the following day.

RELATED: Oglala Sioux Declare State of Emergency After Record-Breaking Early Blizzard

State Senator Al Davis of Nebraska, which was also hit, visited the affected areas last week and estimated that up to 100,000 cattle and other livestock died, he said in a statement. Ranchers are assessing millions of dollars in damages that will affect the region’s economy for years.

“Things here are far worse than I anticipated in terms of deaths among cattle,” Davis said. “Livestock losses on the plains of Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming are estimated to be between 60,000 and 100,000 head. There are also animals that will sicken and die as time goes on which will add to these numbers.”

Though South Dakota is famous for extreme winter weather, that fateful storm seemed to bring all of it at once.  Tornadoes, thunder and lightning, high winds and driving snow were reported in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota, all of which run along the borders of South Dakota’s Indian reservations.

The animals and their owners were caught completely unaware by the unseasonable storm, which in a mere three days dumped more snow than the region usually receives for all of October. Ranchers had not yet moved the animals from their summer pastures to their winter areas, where more shelter is available, they said. Further, there was only a 12-hour warning before the storm hit. And the animals had not yet grown their winter coats, which might have helped them cope.

The rolling hills of the prairies create areas that dip and fill with snowdrifts, and many of the animals were found caught in those drifts. Ranchers said most of the cattle died along the fence lines, their calves beside them, as they tried to escape the treacherous conditions.

A week later, cattle sunned themselves behind lines of broken trees, and calves frolicked in the grass. But in the same pastures, along the fence line, dead cattle still stood deep in snow, forming a veritable trail of carcasses, Butte County emergency management director Martha Wierzbicki told the Rapid City Journal. Besides calves, the dead included cows that would have delivered calves next year, NBC News noted. And those that lived may very well abort over the winter, Davis said.

“Some cows managed to survive the storm by eating pine needles because grass was covered,” the state senator said in his statement, which was posted on the Rapid City Journal site. “This will cause them to abort the calves they are carrying in the next few weeks.”

"This is absolutely, totally devastating," said rancher Steve Schell to the Rapid City Journal. "This is horrendous."

How many of those animals died on the Pine Ridge Reservation itself has yet to be tallied. With layoffs occurring throughout the tribe in the wake of the U.S government shutdown, and massive power outages caused by the storm, resources have been slim. And ranchers are still searching for cattle that were driven miles away by the high winds.

“The government shutdowns have been hard on us,” said Ben Good Buffalo, Lakota, of Red Shirt, South Dakota.

Ranchers and individuals on the Pine Ridge Reservation lost not only their cattle and calves, but also their horses and other beloved animals, said Pine Ridge Eagle Nest District representative Ruth Brown. While the majority of the cattle lost most likely belonged to ranchers who lease reservation land, tribal members also ranch, and their livestock was also lost in the storm, said Lyle Jack, chairman of the Pine Ridge Community Development Corporation.

“We do have Indian ranchers, and driving around, I see cattle lying around,” he told ICTMN. “Quite a bit was lost.”

Many ranchers lost 20 to 50 percent of their herds, said Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, to the Rapid City Journal. Some of the cattle had just been brought up from Texas because of the severe drought.

This week the ranchers will start the heartbreaking and daunting task of getting rid of the carcasses. Pennington County in South Dakota is offering livestock-disposal assistance, Keloland TV News reported.

“Pits are being dug for livestock losses and these pits will be open to all producers on Monday, October 14, free of charge,” the station said. “The locations will be announced on Monday morning.”



GLORIA TYLER's picture
Submitted by GLORIA TYLER on


Cyndi Slaughter's picture
Cyndi Slaughter
Submitted by Cyndi Slaughter on

So very sorry that such devastation occurred in your communities. We are starting a coat drive for the Native Americans, and will have the donations delivered by November 1st. Our prayers are with all of you as you begin to recover. You are not alone although at this time, you may think you are.

Debbie (Dequi) Gipson David's picture
Debbie (Dequi) ...
Submitted by Debbie (Dequi) ... on

I want you all to know how very sad I am over this horrific loss you have encountered..May god be with each and everyone of you and to the livestock and horses and any other creature that was loss during this storm...........from Missouri

Debbie (Dequi) Gipson David's picture
Debbie (Dequi) ...
Submitted by Debbie (Dequi) ... on

I want you all to know how very sad I am over this horrific loss you have encountered..May god be with each and everyone of you and to the livestock and horses and any other creature that was loss during this storm...........from Missouri

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

YOU GUYS HANG TOUGH, WE ARE AMERICANS, WE WILL ENDURE.. I feel for all the ranchers, and all those poor animals. Praying things get better

Paulette's picture
Submitted by Paulette on

I am so sorry for every ones loss, God bless you and help you get through this. My prayers are with you all..

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

I never heard a word about this before today. Has the area been declared a disaster area? Or has it been ignored because of the federal shutdown? In any case, it's a terrible tragedy.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

if the meat is still frozen can not it still be used if not for human consumption then possilby sold to dog food or cat food companies/

Ron's picture
Submitted by Ron on

Reptile gardens should take the dead.... A gator eats beasties that have been dead for a long time.... It is not good for the dead to be wasted. Sad news for the ranchers.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

I am beyond shocked and saddened by this. My sister and I just visited SD for the first time on Sept 15 and we're from Boulder, CO; we escaped the floods here to take our trip to see the Black Hills. It was beautiful, green and gorgeous. This is just unbelievable to see and our hearts go out to you all.

nateh's picture
Submitted by nateh on

I'm from Wisconsin but I was visiting the black hills the week of the blizzard. It was crazy, it went from high sixties and sunny Monday through Wednesday. Then the wind starting blowing from the north and by thursday it was raining with a high of like thirty six. When I woke up at four on Friday, several inches of snow were already on the ground and it had turned very bad out. Not wanting to get stuck in the blizzard we left as soon as first light came. It took a very long time just to get to Rapid city. We took highway 44 through the badlands were it stayed a blizzard until we crossed the Missouri river. Along the way you could see the cattle hunched up and struggling to stay warm by the fence lines. My prayers and blessings are with all who were affected by the blizzard.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

The End Draws close, these are only the beginnings of mass deaths of animals, fish and fowl. It has been declared. Repeat and be Holy! Times Running Out!

Audrey from California's picture
Audrey from Cal...
Submitted by Audrey from Cal... on

My heartfelt prayers and thoughts go to who suffered such a devastating loss. I'm a horse owner myself and know how hard it was to lose just one. May God be with you all during this terrible time and keep you all safe. May He grant you prosperity and the will to stay strong. We are with you in spirit and heart.

Paul Revere's picture
Paul Revere
Submitted by Paul Revere on

Blame those Democrats....they are the ones that shut the government services down because they are spoiled with their power to want their Obama care crap. Damn Democrats!

Gail Tarbell's picture
Gail Tarbell
Submitted by Gail Tarbell on

This is dis-heartening! And it's happening way too often around the world. Freak storms and enormous animal deaths; recently, Uruguay lost thousands of sheep in a torrential rain storm. If scientists now control the weather (example: "HAARP") with funding assistance by the Rockefeller Foundation, why are they not helping the situation? Or, are they causing these freak storms and massive animal deaths?

Lyn from Alberta Canada's picture
Lyn from Albert...
Submitted by Lyn from Albert... on

This should be all over the news because of the devastation and death this has caused. We only heard about this through a friend who was down there. A sad time for all ranchers.

Mike Czysh's picture
Mike Czysh
Submitted by Mike Czysh on

very sad

Brenda Ingraham's picture
Brenda Ingraham
Submitted by Brenda Ingraham on

Our thoughts and prayers are with you all, we are so sorry for all the losses you have been through and will yet still go through.
The Ingraham Family

Jennie Harborth's picture
Jennie Harborth
Submitted by Jennie Harborth on

This is heartbreaking - for the animals and the farmers, but, I wonder it, in the face of weather changes due to global warming, these farmers would consider joining their farms into a massive nature reserve. They could stock it with animals native to the area, build resorts and chalets, and encourage tourists to come and stay and go for game drives, wilderness walks and photographic tours. The native animals would cope better with the weather than cattle and horses would, and it would help bring a bit more of the planet back to its natural self. Just a thought....

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

Sending prayers and love for everyone from California. We are thinking of you and your animals in this time of need.