Tuesday, September 27, 2016

1885-1886 Kansas Winter

I came across this tidbit from the Winfield Courier, Thursday, November 5, 1885.

The latest guess of the weather prophet is on the rounds. Here it is. Old chicken hunters say the coming winter is going to be an unusually hard one. The thick coating of feathers on the bird indicates cold weather, and the short tails indicate much snow.

So I checked the weather of Kansas in the winter of 1885-1886.

In an excerpt from Holding Down a Kansas Claim put out by the Kansas Historical Society in their quarterlies collection there is a quote from a Catherine Wiggins Porter, who lived in Northwest Kansas during this time.
In the blizzard [of January, 1886] thousands of cattle were lost and died. There were no large herds of cattle in our particular part of the country, but farther north the cattle wintering on the range "drifted" southward with the storm into the draws which were level-full with snow, couldn't get out, and froze to death.

If you would like to read more of this account here's a link the the web page. Link

Another account in Meade County Kansas spoke of the loss of the cattle from that winter as well as the year before.
But 1884 and 1885 were two very cold winters. So severe that many were frozen before the drift fence. So the second year, when the weather became too severe and stormy so that they began to stand along the drift fences and freeze, the cattlemen saw their folly and cut the fence and let them go south where it was warmer. They decided it was better to let them go altogether even if it cost more. The cattle of different brands were mixed together. So the cattlemen had a meeting and planned to send men according to the number of cattle. The ranchers sent out one mess wagon each, then cowboys, one horse rustler, and seven ponies so that each cowboy had one for each day of the week, making 70 in all. Then Yeepee o-o-o-o! and away we go for the round-up. Follow this link for the rest of the post Link

And in the KS cyclopedia 1912 this excerpt says:
While there was more or less loss of life during the early settlement of Kansas from these causes, the blizzard of Dec., 1885, and Jan., 1886, was probably the most destructive to life and property of any storm that ever swept over the state. This storm was general from the mountains to the Missouri river. It started in the latter part of Dec., 1885, and an unbroken blanket of snow extended from Williams, N. Mex., to Kansas City. Railroad traffic on the plains was practically suspended. The weather moderating, railroad traffic was resumed, when another storm, more serious than the first, again tied up traffic, this time completely. Temperature during the month of January ranged from 12° below zero at Atchison to 25° below at Junction City, and 18° below at Dodge City. A 44-mile wind a part of the time helped make things lively at the last named place. All over the southwestern part of the state the precipitation was chiefly sleet, which left the ground covered with ice. A big cut on the Union Pacific near Salina was completely covered with snow, and it required the combined efforts of all section men on the road between Lawrence and Brookville for nearly 16 hours with picks and shovels to open it for traffic. This cut was about 20 feet deep and a quarter of a mile long, and eleven locomotives were employed in "bucking" the snow, but they all became stalled and had to be dug out. Many points on the railroads were a week without mail from the outside world, and cattle losses from some sections were reported from three to twenty-five per cent.

Basically this all proves that animals can and do forecast the weather.

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