Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Landscape, Language, Teaching, Wildness, Beauty, Imagination

It Takes a Ranch — How to Support South Dakota Ranchers Affected by the Blizzard


Dad horseback.

Dad horseback, after the blizzard.

“This is a tough ol’ deal,” Dad said. 

Six days after blizzard, fences still buried. Photo ©Missy Urbaniak

Six days after blizzard, fences buried. ©Missy Urbaniak

In a culture that prizes stoicism and reserve, this one phrase speaks worlds. When your dad’s a cowboy these words go straight to a daughter’s heart.

Ten days have  passed since the worst blizzard on record in South Dakota ripped through the state, leaving an estimated 65,000 dead cattle and shattered lives in its wake. “People are in shock,” Mom said.

Families caught away from the storm returned home, “I didn’t make it 5 miles from home before the tears started. A single mile didn’t pass by that we didn’t see at least one black mound sticking up from the snow,” wrote Missy Urbaniak. “I knew it was bad, I was bracing myself for how bad, but you can’t prepare yourself for such a heartbreaking sight. Later, we headed to Rapid City on the New Underwood Road. We have driven that route a hundred times. It will never be the same again. I will never forget seeing mile after mile of black mounds in the snow. Gruesome. Wishing the boys weren’t in the pick-up with us, but not having anywhere else for them to go. Trying to explain it to them.”

“I was driving a corridor of death and broken dreams. No words will ever adequately explain it,” writes Jodi Shaw in Storm Aftermath: Moving Forward with Character and Hope. “I called my mom, my voice cracked and I just started crying. “Mom, there are dead cattle everywhere. The electric poles are broke off . . . all of them. There’s more cattle, Mom, and more and there… is…more…” 

One pole left standing. Grand Elec. Coop.

One pole left standing. Grand Elec. Coop.

Phone calls began once electricity was restored after a week with no power. “I go out and try to take photos of our place,” continues Urbaniak.  “Try to find the right perspective to show what our life is like. It seems impossible. We begin hearing more about families. They still have no power.  Some of our dearest friends. Their cattle were out on summer gumbo. Their losses were staggering. We hear word that it was not just one family… no… seven families. Our dear, dear friends who lost so, so much. They don’t want anyone to know. Tears over the phone. Joe takes our spare generator to them. Dreaming at night of moving cows by four-wheeler, of cows everywhere, helping them, checking them.”

One week after the blizzard hit, Mom said, “We finally slept a little last night. There has been no sleeping.” Stretched between the brief bookends of sleep are long days of work nobody wants to do – cutting the ear tags off dead cows, disposing of the carcasses, finding yet more dead. “There is nothing romantic about living this,” Mom said. My brother, Bo, drove from Wisconsin to be with my parents this week. Together, my brother and parents ventured into those hard places, physical and emotional. 

As events unfolded, writers wrote eloquently and wisely to the questioning of cattle deaths and questioned why this isn’t receiving national attention: Lapsed Farm Bill Leaves SD in LimboSouth Dakota’s Cattle Cataclysm, About 75,000 Cattle Died in SD Oct. 4th Blizzard, Time to Have a Cow About Dead Cows.

Prairie in summer.

Prairie in summer. © Dawn Wink

It is easy during great tragedies for those involved to become a faceless mass. Here is a photo journal of our ranch last summer. For all of these thousands and thousands of dead cattle, are the families living this devastation. My friend and ranching wife, Jodi, wrote to me, “I am going out to pick apples from our broken trees with my kids.  We need to do something…”

A ranch is a world unto itself. To feel a shard of understanding for what has happened and what ranchers now experience on the plains, this knowing is essential.  What lies on the prairie now along with the physical dead are the dreams, years, decades, generations of back-breaking and soul-hoping work, all with the dream of creating a life for one’s family. 

The separation of land and human cease to exist on a ranch. In Meadowlark, Grace writes of this, “Sometimes when all was very quiet, she would find herself drawn, as if in a trance, into her own depths. Down she traveled past the layers that composed her, through the skin of the surface crust, and the few inches of topsoil, down through the intermittent stratum of soft, pliant sand and hardpan dirt. The layers reflected the story of her life…The prairie was Grace and Grace was the prairie.”

A ranch is a life story. We are all the prairie, the land. This knowing touched people around the world as the prayers, sympathies, and well-wishes for ranchers poured into the comments of The Blizzard that Never Was —over 1,100  as of this moment. I invite you to read and share these messages. I now work to get these messages to ranchers. 

So many wrote, what can I do? And now I have a response! Artist Rebecca Farr has created a way for us to contribute:

SD Ranchers

SD Ranchers

On October 4, 2013, South Dakota was hit with an early blizzard that left tens of thousands of cattle dead. The devastation and loss was tremendous. Some ranchers have reported between 20% and 50% of their herds were killed.

This tee shirt has been designed to support the South Dakota Ranchers in their time of need. Proceeds will go to the Black Hills Rancher Relief Fund which as been set up specifically for the victims.

Tee shirts are $25.00 each. Shipping and handling is free to anywhere in the world. The shirts are available in Large and X-Large. When you purchase a shirt, you will have the option of signing up to get updates on how much money we have raised! Locally designed and printed in Santa Fe, NM!

www.rebeccafarr.us to purchase! Thank you for your support! © R Farr 2013

Or contribute directly to South Dakota Rancher’s Relief Fund here: https://www.giveblackhills.org/27677

It takes a ranch.

It takes a ranch.

What has sustained our family, and what we have said through heartbreak and joy is, “It takes a ranch.”

I hope we’ll dissolve the borders that separate the state of South Dakota from the hearts and understanding beyond its borders, beyond the borders between urban and rural, the borders that would rather be “right” than understand, and the borders between countries. For this moment, let us be that ranch that comes together to sustain, support, and care. 

Thank you and with love,


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Author: Dawn Wink

Dawn Wink is a writer and educator whose work explores language, landscape, wildness, beauty, and imagination.

45 thoughts on “It Takes a Ranch — How to Support South Dakota Ranchers Affected by the Blizzard

  1. Pingback: Dewdrops Birthday | Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

  2. Thank you for the update, Dawn. This is so horrendous. It sickens me, although unfortunately it doesn’t surprise me that this disaster is being ignored. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this. I’ll be happy to post on social media about the t-shirts and the donations link. Many hugs and much love to all.

  3. Dawn, would you be so kind as to share that the Helpline Center is available to connect Black Hills storm victims with volunteers? The Black Hills Disaster Update Center page is available at http://helplinecenter.org/black-hills-disaster-update-resource-center/. Thanks in advance for passing along this valuable information.

  4. Dawn, It has been so sad seeing these cattle along the road and I drove to Sturgis yesterday and there are still electrical poles down and lots of dead cattle along the road. The first time I drove along 34 I just cried. He was a Mommy with her twin babies, all dead. One cow died with it’s head up and it looks like the cow is still alive. There are two cows right next to it. There are animals hanging over the fence that got hung up there and died. I should have taken pictures yesterday. It is sooo sad. I have been driving to Sturgis twice a week for physical therapy and it is unreal. I feel so bad for these ranchers and many are our friends. I pray for them every day. I could tell you stories and stories of what people have shared with me. No one has a clue what these people have been through. Wish some of the guys from Washington would come out here and see what has happened.

  5. Thank you for the update. I am not able to contribute financially but my thoughts & prayers are
    with you and your neighbours

  6. Pingback: Sorrow for South Dakota | Life in the "ManeStream"

  7. Dawn I am no stranger to the tragedies of growing up a farmers daughter. Heaven only knows my travesties and heart aches have not been close to the devistation of livlihood these ranchers and their families have endoured. Few realize how this will impact our lives across the country and how much this will impact our economy. This is no laughing or isolated matter PEOPLE! These people need help that they are not receiving. Please do not dismiss this as “not your problem.” I am passing this on to my fb page in hopes that others will to bring awareness. Come on people lets rally. Dawn can you e mail me personally. I would like to donate to the cause and make sure I have accomplished it . Not a computer guru. Prays and Strength.

  8. Sorrowing and praying for the great American ranchers ~ And you are right about the prairie; it is in every heart. May the Lord
    of Creation hold you close and comfort you.

  9. If I were younger and fitter and could afford it, I would volunteer to help out with the cleanup. As I am now, It would be a challenge to volunteer to take photos for those who need them for insurance purposes. The spirit is willing. Still sending my prayers and sharing the info on the Relief fund and the T-shirts.

  10. Pingback: #RanchersRelief | Conversations With a Cowboy

  11. I am so sorry and overwelmed by this act of nature. We have suffered from floods and loss of life in 2010 in the east as well. I pray for everyone to keep faith.

  12. Your Canadian friends are still thinking of you and praying for you. Sending our love.

  13. Thank you Dawn for your update . My father and I farm WV and its a great loss to lose one but to lose thousands it has to be very hard on each rancher . All we can do is pray and try to pick them selves up and move on .

  14. Hi Dawn, thank you for this article and the update. My heart is just breaking for all of the ranch families that have lost so much and still have so much to do.
    I put out a local weekly newsletter here in the PNW for horse related sale items and current events, whatnot. Could I copy a section of this and reference your article and your fundraiser? Let me know and I’ll get it in as fast as can be.

  15. Thank you Dawn for the update. My heart breaks for the ranchers and we pray every night that they will find comfort and the strength to carry on. I am from a diary farm in southern MN and I understand first hand the heartache that these folks are feeling. We will continue to pray for everyone affected by this and sincerely hope that more people will hear about the tragic events that have taken place and take action.

    • Keiron, Those continued prayers for those who have lost so much are so very much appreciated. Deepest gratitude.

    • Your insights are really well formed and thought up. I’m so glad I found this blog. This blog really keeps me really well informed on the latest events happening around me and around the country. I just took a minute from building a coffee table to write your website. On a scale going from 1 to 10… You’re an 11! I just found your blogs on Wednesday.

  16. Hello Dawn: My former in-laws, the Marcoes of Rapid City, have lived in South Dakota for generations. My first visit there began the week before the Rapid City Flood, more than 40 years ago. Good luck and best wishes to all personally affected by this tragedy.

    I have reposted your blog in order to help you get the word out: http://forestpolicypub.com/2013/10/16/the-great-south-dakota-blizzard-that-didnt-happen/

    • Hello Bob: Deepest thanks for lifting this up. Wow, a week before the Rapid City Flood.. another moment in time of Before and After. Thank you so much for taking the time to connect and for sharing what is happening on the Plains.

  17. So heartbreaking. Beautifully written and I know it must not be easy for you. I so appreciate you keeping us informed as to what is happening in South Dakota.

  18. These stories brought tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat…I cannot even imagine the consequences this devastation has brought to these farmers…I pray that they will be able to survive economically and return to their farms …

  19. I would like to post a picture and price of the t-shirts on facebook but I don’t see an icon to do this.

  20. I’m the editor at Horse Around New Mexico magazine, and have just posted a blog entry on our website in support of the S. Dakota ranchers. I have linked to this post and to Rebecca Farr’s fundraising t-shirt. So very sorry to hear of the plight of the ranchers and their families, and of all the livestock lost. I hope that my small effort will help out in some way.

    • Dear Karen,
      Thank you so very much taking the time to create this opportunity for your readers and members to support SD ranchers. As our small efforts join together, we contribute as we can. Thank you so much for your time and compassion.
      Deepest gratitude,

  21. Pingback: New Mexicans Support Ranchers in South Dakota after Catastrophic Early Blizzard | Horse Around New Mexico

  22. Thank you, Dawn, for being another excellent advocate for the ranching lifestyle. My heart breaks for everyone involved- what a horrible way for all the stock to die. God bless each one of you!

  23. Thinking of you, your folks and all the S. Dakota folks affected by this tragedy. with love to you and them.

  24. Thank you Dawn, I can’t get past the crying yet!

  25. I am blown away by the tragedy. We pray for them all and thank you for sending out the way we can support. I will pass it on. With much love Dawn…

  26. Diane, I sit at the kitchen table and read and read your words.. Thank you. Such love to you..

  27. My heart aches for you and your family and all of the ranch families. Your words along with your Mom and Dad’s touch the depth of my soul. Please keep sharing your words with everyone. love to you……

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