Harsh Winters in the Early 1890s
By Dick Perue
Stories of harsh winters on Wyoming ranches have been spun over coffee, around the campfire and in the bunkhouse for years. A few which prevail in this area concerns the winter of 1893-94.
Newspaper articles report prior to winter, thousands of cattle roamed free year-round on the grass along Pass and Lake Creeks above Sheep Rock.
One story notes in the fall of the same year, 30,000 head of cattle grazed in the area with only 300 head surviving the harsh winter. Another article puts the number closer to 3,000 with less than 300 surviving.
Cowboys related tales of being able to step from carcass to carcass without having to touch the ground during the spring roundup.
Readers can pick whichever story they want to believe.
The one truth of the incident was the free-roaming cattle herds of this area were wiped out, and ranchers would have to start over. They also had to begin putting up hay to feed their livestock during winter months.
The history of mail routes was never the same following the winter of 1893 and 1894. The snow was very deep across the hills during this winter, so mail rural route teamsters drove their teams and buggies or sleds on the frozen river all the way from Saratoga to the mouth of Brush Creek, nearly 20 miles. The frozen river made a most excellent road for teams.
The winter was just as harsh for the women of the valley, with isolation a major problem.
A ranch woman wrote, “Margaret rode miles on horseback to visit her neighbor and remembered once dismounting and crawling on her hands and knees on the icy trail. The neighbor was a valued friend and offered great help and strength. She showed Margaret how to make bread, but by the time Margaret got home the yeast foam was frozen, so the effort was a failure.”
“It was not long before her husband realized happy as the men were here and romantic as was the setting, it was no place to rear a family, so he took Margaret back to California,” the ranch woman continued.