Thunder Butte

December 22, 2007

Winter on Thunder Butte Creek

Winters were harsh in the area and in that period. It was common for the snow to bank up to the eves of the roof. When the snow was fresh and soft, nothing moved through it. Later, when the snow had frozen solid, people and horses would walk right over the top of the largest drifts. One of the things ranchers had to watch out for was cattle walking on the roofs of the houses and barns, they would walk right up the snowdrift and on to the roof.

About this time of the year, men and boys would gather on the creek with axes and long lumber saws to cut ice. Ice would be cut into huge chunks, about 4' x 4' x 6' feet. Then, with a team of horses, the block of ice would be pulled to a spot where the men had cut out a large section of a bank, near the house.

The future ice house would have been about 30 fee wide by 60 feet deep into the hill. When it was filled with blocks of ice, the men would cover it with deep layers of hay, sod, and straw. This ice would stay solid and unchanged all year and supplied the only cooling in the heat of summer for foodstuffs like meat and milk.

Everyone took turns felling trees and chopping the trees into wood for the big pot bellied heating stove and the large cook stove. This chopping went on for hours every day all winter.

The milk cows had to be milked morning and night. They had to be supplied with hay and their barns cleaned. Horses were groomed, fed, and stalls cleaned. Milking the cows was not that much fun in winter time either. You had to make sure their tits were dried thoroughly when you finished milking otherwise the tit would freeze and that was the end of the milk cow. Actually they nearly froze while you were milking them and your hands as well. The milk came in handy though, it probably helped to keep us alive.

Another chore that kept men busy was the banking of the house. They would cut sod into chunks like large bricks and stack it around the bottom of the house. Sometimes this sod would be stacked up to the bottom of windows. The reason was to hold in heat and to prevent drafts of cold air from entering.

It took a half day for one person to just travel the eight miles to the mail box through the deep snow.

Throughout the winter a large amount of time went to feeding and watering range cattle and horses. During the cold winter the water holes and streams would freeze solid and the animals were unable to find drinking water, so the rancher, cowboys, needed to ride the water holes with an axe and cut holes so the animals could drink.

Another chore was the feeding of range animals. During periods of snow storms and heavy freezing, the grass, what little was left , would be buried beneath hard frozen snow drifts. Men would load wagons with hay, drive it out on to the prairie and spread it for the animals. Sometimes during the feeding season, there would be as many deer, antelope and wild horses feeding as the ranchers' cattle, but that could not be avoided.

A lesser preoccupation was the hunting for meat. Most every one carried a gun for the sole purpose of hunting. No pheasant, prairie chicken, beaver, porcupine, deer, or antelope was ever ignored. I suppose there were a few lesser species that came home to dinner during those times.

One nice thing about winter was that water was no longer a problem. You just took your bucket, scooped up a bucket of snow, set the bucket on the wood stove and in a few minutes you had a 1/4 bucket of water.

The more I try to think of how it was in winter, the more depressing it seems. Even finding a Christmas tree was a chore. I remember one year my Mother was all upset because one of the boys brought home a huge Black Hills spruce. She was upset because the spruce had been growing on a cliff where she would see it all the time from her kitchen window.

There was a story about one Christmas Eve when we tried to take a dinner to Joe who was working at the John Barthold ranch, but when we stopped to open the pasture gate, a car came down the road toward us until it got to almost where we were—then it just turned off and drove off across the badlands. That may have been our most exciting Christmas ever. We just went home and said our prayers.

--John Crowley
Mike Crowley Saturday, December 22, 2007


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