It’s Just Wyoming
Published: 16 November 2013
A while back I received a diary of a young man, Frederick John Avery, who had staked a claim in the area of northern Converse County around 1909-10 and was herding sheep, as was most everyone in that area at that time. In the diary he mentions the Ogallala Ranch, Antelope Creek, Sand Creek, Pine Ridge, and it sounds like the towns he visited were Glenrock, Douglas and Casper, where he had more fun gambling and drinking than he should have. He wasn’t married and didn’t have a family, so it was just himself and his sheep to care for.
The diary started in December of 1909, and the storms that winter sounded a lot like what a number of ranchers went through throughout the early years. It was also similar to the storm that hit parts of the state and western South Dakota a couple weeks ago. The recent storm, Atlas, is one that will not soon be forgotten for the loss of livestock it caused.
If we thought it is tough to weather a storm in these modern times, just think what it was like to ride out a winter storm in 1909-10. A horse and wagon was the mode of transportation, and a heavy wool coat and cap was all that helped keep you warm. There were no weather forecasts to help you plan for the coming days and no communication between ranches except in person. He talked about having to go to the Pine Ridge for pinewood as he said that cottonwood didn’t make a hot fire. But as with everything in past times, no one knew any different. One day they will say the same about us in our current times.
In December 1909, he said, “Summing it all up, December was the most disastrous month on the range in years. Sheep are in terrible condition, and thousands have died. Outlook is very gloomy, but two or three fine days in the month. The rest snow or high wind, and the snow deeper now that I ever saw in Wyoming.”
On Jan. 4, he wrote, “Simply hell, wind in north and way below zero. Hardly got the sheep out of camp and was lucky to get them back. About 100 died today. Weather will have to change or all are gone.”
On Jan. 9, he wrote, “Wind blew to beat hell. We all raised our hands towards heaven and cursed it. If the senseless elemental thing were something tangible or compact, it would seem some use to fight it. We got the sheep out against it but could not hold them. We succeeded for an hour or more until the wind got stronger. Anderson came from the ranch, and we got corn and tolled them back to the bed-ground. Today I saw them eat the wool from off a dead one’s back. Never saw such a terrible winter on the range or such suffering and misery.”
They skinned all the dead sheep for their pelts and said that they were very careful to only skin their own sheep, as one could get four cents for a pound of wool. Some were sent to jail for skinning their neighbor’s sheep.
For all its beauty, Wyoming still has a dark side now and then.