Snow, death, and learning to trust God on the South Dakota plains

“I pushed open the gate and all at once saw dead horses. I counted 7! I gave Dad the signal and he shook his head in disbelief! That’s crazy! Horses don’t just die that easy! As he worked to get hay I went for a walk through that lot. I’ll never forget that walk.”

Reposted from Facebook with permission of the author

Rachel Reinhold, Facebook photo

Rachel Reinhold
October 4 at 9:31 PM ·

It took 5 years for this …
Five years ago my life was impacted in a very big way. Starting the first Thursday of October 2013 and for weeks to come, my world felt like it was never going to be OK again. It had been a great Summer. The drought of the past couple of years had broken in April and we had good grass, water and lots of hay for the winter! A beautiful September with many warm days with several in the 80-90s. We hadn’t hardly even had a frost yet! You couldn’t have asked for a nicer Fall. So far.

We picked the garden, we planted the winter wheat, they called for snow. We brought the cows home. We fed the horses. It started to rain. We decided not to go to the missions conference in ND that we always look forward to because they started to call for the first snow of the year. “It was the beginning of October, it shouldn’t be bad, but we had better stay home and keep an eye on things anyway.” It rained though the night. Fall rain is always a blessing… but the next morning after over an inch of rain had fallen… It turned to snow. We headed out to feed the livestock, glad we had decided to bring the cows closer to home.

Then the wind came up. By 2:00 we lost power for good. By night fall we couldn’t see a thing outside. We had to wait out this storm. “It couldn’t be THAT bad!” Since there was absolutely nothing else we could do we felt good about everything and hoped that it would let up in the night. So we played ‘The Farming Game’ and RISK by candlelight and sat close to the fireplace. The next morning we woke to the wind still howling and snow still flying. “Ok. It’s got to let up soon! It’s the first of October! Right?!”

Through the morning we sat looking at the snow-plastered windows listening to the wind… thinking about the 85-degree day a few days before. Wow. SD can sure change fast. Finally it let up enough by early afternoon that we were able to get outside. The first thing we saw as we pushed our way through the snow and out the door was one of our herd bulls, Standing there staring at us. He had been a mile to the north where we left him in good shelter before the storm! The next thing we saw was the trees. Still full with leaves they were completely weighed down by heavy wet snow. Many were completely stripped of all branches. Wow. What a difference had occurred in the last 48 hours! As we trudged our way to the barn we felt exhausted. It was still blowing and it was cold, Wet snow. When we made it around the corner of the shop we saw a bunch of horses standing in the hay yard. 5 were stretched out flat in the snow. 2 were dead and 1 died as I got to him. These horses had been over north with the bulls!

We split up. Some went to clear off the tractor; some went to check the herd of saddle horses in the corral and the milk cow. Somehow they had gotten a gate open and made their way into an old shed during the storm! They looked beat, but fine. The tractor was running now and Dad started to clear snow so we could get hay to everything. One of the horses that was down looked like he might have a chance if we could get him warmed up! He was stretched out and shaking like crazy. Somehow we got him pulled to the barn and started to rub him down. As soon as Dad got the snow cleared I went to help him get down below where we had all the mares and colts, and a batch of young fillies. I pushed open the gate and all at once saw dead horses. I counted 7! I gave Dad the signal and he shook his head in disbelief! That’s crazy! Horses don’t just die that easy! As he worked to get hay I went for a walk through that lot. I’ll never forget that walk. I counted 36 dead horses and had no idea how many more were buried. “Oh God!” was all I could say. I couldn’t believe it. I got back to Dad and told him what I found. We both just stared in silence.

We fed what we could but had to wait for it to clear off some more before we could get out any farther. We got back inside and dried off and warmed up by the fire and told Mom and Grandpa what we had found. We didn’t know what to think. What we didn’t know. Was that it only got worse.

By late afternoon it quit snowing and the wind went down and we were able to get the driveway cleared a little ways up. The livestock that were in the yard were soaked and completely wore out. They just stood there shaking. Most of them wouldn’t even eat. The horse in the barn was slowly warming up. We kept rubbing him trying to get the blood flowing. We finally got up the road far enough to see some of the big yearling steers that we planned to sell that Fall. Some were dead, others were buried in snow with just their head sticking out. We were able to get to 2 of them with the tractor and dug them out. We tried hard to get them going again, but they were completely exhausted. They died not long after that. There was nothing we could do. We found another one not far from them that we could not get to with the tractor so we dug around him with our hands and got a rope on him. Molly, Danny, Caleb, Levi and I were able to pull him out to a dry spot and rubbed him down as much as we could. We found some horses there too. Found where one had camped out under a tree through the storm and ate all the leaves and some of the branches. Stayed out until dark doing whatever we could.

Sunday Morning I got one of my main saddle horses and Molly caught hers and we saddled up. Dad had headed up the road and got stuck with the tractor. We couldn’t get hardly anywhere unless on horseback or in the tractor. Even then it was a real challenge to get anywhere. Dad and the boys were digging out the tractor and we rode to the top of the hill in the driveway. We saw a bunch of black spots out by the main road that when we finally got to them, found out that they were the neighbors cows that had drifted across the road with the wind, wore out and died. More were stuck dead in the fence and there was one live cow and a couple calves walking aimlessly on the hilltops where the wind had blown off the snow. They were survivors.
We had no phones, internet or electricity and had no idea that this was the same story going on around us. We had no idea what was going on.

The days that followed were busy. They were draining. Mentally, physically and emotionally. We couldn’t get anywhere and had not much news from the outside world. As we unburied and talked to neighbors over the next couple days we found out we weren’t the only ones. The counts started coming in. 24 cows. 50 cows. 200 cows dead. 150 just in one pasture. We couldn’t get to the main bunch of saddle horses until a couple days later. Riding there was a battle. But Dad said that they would be ok, Trying to reassure us all. They were in the best pasture with the best shelter. We had to trust that they had come through ok.

When we finally topped the breaks. It wasn’t ok. There they were. 30 some horses, stretched out for over a mile. Dead. The horses that we saddled every single day in the summer. The horses you could put an 8 year old on that had never been on a horse and know that it would take care on them no matter what. The horses that I talked to every day and told all my problems too. The ones who just listened and didn’t care what I said. The horses that were my best friends. We found 7 live ones. 7 out of 45.

I didn’t know what to do. I had no words. And I cried. There on my horse in the middle of the brown and white S.D. prairie. I cried. And I asked God why?

The months that followed were taken up by counting the live ones. The dead count came to 92 horses and 12 cows. Others were never found. Big holes were dug. And load after load was hauled to the “grave” the last horse in the main hole was “Sweetheart” the first horse that Molly and I saved up our money for and bought from Mom and Dad when we were 9 and 7. The one we saddled in the barn with our little pony saddle as a colt.

Power was restored a week and a half later. Phones sometime after that. Internet was down for over a month.
I never want to live those moments again. I had nightmares for months. What were we going to do next? How do you rebuild after that?! Well, We learned to Trust.

It didn’t end there. Events in the next weeks were complicated more as we were dealing with 30 inch’s of snow melting and more rain on top of that… there was lots of flooding. And then when the call came with the loss of a friend in a pickup crash our hearts were ripped apart again. That friend was the first person to come out the week after the storm to help rebuild. Brandon, 14 years old ate pizza with us in our house a few days before he was killed.

I didn’t know what we were going to do. But God came through. God came through in ways I could never have dreamed up. It was hard. My heart literally hurt. But we trusted. Neighbors came together. People we didn’t know came to help Western SD get put back together again.

Tonight as I lie in bed, It’s 12:19 on the morning of October 4, 2018. The forecast is calling for rain in the morning and probable snow after that. Outside right now it is the midst of the first freeze of the year. And to be honest… I couldn’t help but feel anxious all day as we worked to haul hay out of the fields preparing for winter.

5 years ago to the day. And if I could tell you how many times this summer and fall I thought.. “man, it feels a lot like 2013! So many similarities to that year!” … you’d probably think I was crazy. I don’t know how much sleep I’ll get tonight… there’s a lot going on in my heart. But one thing I do know. God is in control. He makes broken things whole again, Heals the scars, and He wastes absolutely nothing. He makes good come from the worst storms. And He is good. And if I learned anything from that storm in 2013 called Atlas . Although known to most of us just as “ the storm” …

I learned to trust.
-Rachel Reinhold October 4, 2018
Lonetree Ranch
Sturgis, SD

Rachel Reinhold, Facebook photo

1 thought on “Snow, death, and learning to trust God on the South Dakota plains

  1. What a terrible tragedy. I cried reading this. May God help all of you to recover, and know that we care. I am formerly a ranch girl, and I remember the time we had cattle bloat and of trying to relieve there suffering by using a trocar (?) to stick in their bloated bellies, even resorting to using a knife when we had no more sticks. Most of the badly bloated ones died, but thank God I never had to experience your terrible losses.

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