Today, ranchers are better prepared for harsh winter conditions than they were in 1887, when the winter of the "Great Die-Up" devastated the U.S. cattle industry.

Photograph by William Albert Allard, National Geographic
  • On January 9, 1887, ranchers endured the worst day of the “Great Die-Up.” The Great Die-Up—also called “Death’s Cattle Round-Up”—was one of the harshest winters in the “Old West,” and devastated the cattle industry in the United States.
    The severe winter followed an unusually hot and dry summer, when few crops could be grown. Together, these weather conditions meant ranchers throughout the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana had little food to feed their huge herds of cattle in the winter. 
    More than 500,000 cattle died in horrific conditions during the winter of the Great Die-Up. One rancher recalled “It was all so slow, plunging after [cattle] through the deep snow. . . . The horses' feet were cut and bleeding from the heavy crust, and the cattle had the hair and hide wore off their legs to the knees.”
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    cattle Noun

    cows and oxen.

    crop Noun

    agricultural produce.

    Encyclopedic Entry: crop
    devastate Verb

    to destroy.

    endure Verb

    to survive.

    harsh Adjective


    herd Noun

    group of animals.

    hide Noun

    leather skin of an animal.

    horrific Adjective


    industry Noun

    activity that produces goods and services.

    Old West Noun

    time period that refers to the western part of North America in the 19th century.

    rancher Noun

    person who owns or manages a livestock farm (ranch).

    round-up Noun

    gathering of all the livestock on a ranch. Also called a muster.

    weather Noun

    state of the atmosphere, including temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness.

    Encyclopedic Entry: weather