The Lonetree Ranch has been in the Reinhold family for almost a century. It has seen its share of weather storms, but none with the devastation produced by the October 4th storm.
Larry and Robin Reinhold are the third generation to ranch and farm the land settled by his grandparents. They and their six children live in the house that has been the home for each generation.
“They named it The Lonetree Ranch,” said Reinhold. “There was one lone Cottonwood tree on their land.”
The ranch spans 4,250 acres of western South Dakota land, twenty miles north of Rapid City and twenty miles west of Sturgis. Those are the closest towns. Approximately 350 acres is planted to wheat.
“The cattle are the Hereford breed,” said Reinhold. “They have proven their hardiness for our changeable weather, winter cold, summer heat and do well on grass. We also breed and raise American Quarter Horses. They are broke to be dependable cattle horses and can be trusted with children.”
That is mighty important to the Reinholds. In addition to their ranching livelihood, they own and operate Rainbow Bible Camp. Thoughout the summer months children spend a week at the ranch, riding horses, ranching, experiencing life away from today’s technology. There is time for Bible lessons and the wide open spaces provide opportunity for meditation.
“Last summer kids from nineteen states spanning San Deigo CA to Newtown, CT took part in Rainbow Bible camp activities. We need to be able to have confidence in our horses for the many different riders.” At least twenty of those horses died in the storm. Their monetary value is between $5,000 and $10,000; their proven abilities priceless.
Those first days in October, Reinhold was sowing winter wheat. The temperature was 85 degrees. By necessity, we keep a pretty close eye on the weather, he said. “My wife, Robin is a trained weather reporter.”
“We knew a winter storm was coming,” he said. “We moved the cattle to shelter and put the horses by the barn. It is what we always do when adverse weather is predicted. It has always been sufficient before.”
It started raining Thursday night, when Reinhold woke the next morning at 5:30, it was still raining; but soon turned to snow. Chores were done that day. Saturday morning it was still snowing. The storm left behind 24 inches of snow with huge ten foot drifts.
“Electricity went out on Thursday,” said Reinhold. “We moved from our house to the Rainbow Camp building, there we had heat and water due to a gravity flow system. The electricity was off until Wednesday, so we had no contact with rest of the world.”
By Saturday evening, the Reinholds knew they had some losses, but as the days unfolded, the extent of the devastation became evident. Over 90 head of horses and a dozen head of cattle perished in the blizzard. Other ranchers sustained losses too.
“ I can tell you story after story,” said Larry Reinhold. “Of young couples just getting started. One family had invested all they had to purchase 85 cows, now they have just 13 cows left. This kind of loss is hard to comprehend. A young couple were building up a Red Angus cow herd, they are going to have to start over.”
Reinhold’s father and other old-timers have endured the storm of 1949, those of the sixties, but none have produced the livestock loss as this one has.
The cattle still had their summer coats on, remember it was still 85 degrees just days before the snow flew,” said Reihold. “It was early in the season, it was heavy, wet snow with great accumulation, and the wind was ferocious.”
Ranchers are still in shock. It is difficult to assess the total financial loss as the surviving cattle are no longer in perfect condition. Pneumonia is a problem. Then there is the emotional anguish that comes with seeing the massive death loss.
“Ranchers care about their cattle,” said Reinhold. “They put their lives on the line all the time. This storm came in like tsunami. The judgmental attitude that we are hearing for many, just shows their ignorance.”
Reinhold is doing what he always does in the storms of life that seek to overwhelm. He looks to God for strength and help.
“By the Lord’s grace we will keep going,” said Reinhold. “Agriculture’s tradition is a can-do attitude,” He hopes to be an encourager and help to others who have suffered. Already he has been heartened by telephone calls from former Rainbow Bible Camp attendees.
He looks for practical ways to assist these young families. “Cattle numbers are low, and the cattle price is high,” said Reinhold. “That makes it extremely difficult to rebuild cattle herds. But there are other opportunities to show that you care.”
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As of 11:30, October 22, 111 ranchers had reported their losses to the South Dakota Animal Industry Board. Susan Reenders, DVM, Staff Veterinarian said 9129 Cattle, 348 Sheep and 186 Horses deaths have been reported.
Mike Traxinger, South Dakota Farmer’s Union Legislative Director is encouraging those who want to help to contribute financially to the Rancher’s Relief Fund.
“It was established by the Black Hills Area Community Fund Association,” said Traxinger. “But it will be adminstered by the SD Cattlemen’s Association, SD Stockgrowers Association and the SD Sheep Growers.
“Monetary donations are best at this time,” he said. “It is the time of the year, that ranchers sell. They use that money to pay living expenses and pay down on bank notes. Now their income is gone.”
Traxinger said the three organizations were providing excellent leadership, mobilizing efforts with support and information.
“A lot of producers thought they had their cattle in a good place with plenty of bedding,” said Traxinger. “One sheep producer lost all his sheep when the building collapsed on them.”
The ranchers did the best they could, he said. So many different factors were involved. The storm delivered a more powerful punch than predicted. Forty plus inches of snow fell in some places in the Black Hills, with wind speeds over seventy miles per hour.
In addition to being the largest snowfall ever in October, it also hit at the very beginning of the month.
“South Dakota will recover at the end of the day,” said Traxinger. “Support is coming from the local communities and elsewhere.”
Three information meetings were held in late October. These gatherings are a joint effort by SD Cattlemen’s Association, SD Farm Bureau, SD Farmers Union, and SD Stockgrowers Association with the support of other industry groups and local businesses.
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To donate to the Rancher Relief Fund visit www.giveblackhills.org and search “Rancher Relief Fund”.
Caleb Reinhold, age 11, cradles a storm survivor.
Waiting for help.
Molly Reinhold, age 17, looks for survivors.
Removing cattle along the interstate.
The melting snow reveals more victims.
story by Renae B. Vander Schaaf
Photos by the Reinhold family