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A Sample Story

A Sample Story

"The Blizzard" is a partial sample of the short stories of disasters, murders, lawlessness, and unsolved mysteries that fill the pages of the Gopher Books"

Excerpt from "Sagas of the Canadian West", Vol.2 - Gopher Book #11

"The Blizzard"  By Jean James

     On November 18, 1906, the first severe storm of the season struck southern Alberta, ushering in what was to be the cruelest winter ever experienced by white man in that part of the country. Blizzard followed blizzard. When it did clear up, the temperature dropped to thirty or forty below and remained below zero for weeks at a time. During the storms, the cattle moved with the wind until some obstacle stopped them, their legs raw from plunging through the crusted drifts. Then they bunched and died, smothered by the snow which coated their faces, starved and frozen in their tracks. Thousands of them died that winter and dozens of farmers went broke. Horses did not fare much better; if the snow was not too deep they could paw through it for feed, but the winter got hundreds of them.

     Old timers will tell you that the winter of 1906-07 marked the end of an era; the end of the rancher whose cattle roamed for miles unchecked by fences; the end of the legend that the chinook country was always warm and pleasant. That winter taught people what the country could do to unprepared men and animals; and if the old timer wants to emphasize his point he will probably tell you the story of Leo Brainard and his ill-fated herd.

     W.L. Brainard was born in Minnesota near a little town named after his father. As a young man, he went to Montana where he worked for several ranchers and later obtained his own land and built up a fair herd of cattle and horses. He heard that in the newly created province of Alberta there was ample water, and that even in winter the warm Chinook winds melted the snow so that the cattle could graze all year round.

     His first wife had died some years earlier, leaving him with a young son. He had married again, a young lady whose sister was the wife of Ben Ferguson. Ferguson was also intrigued by the idea of ranching where there would be no necessity of putting up winter feed, so the two men rode north to look over the country. When they arrived in Canada they learned that the only land still open for homesteading and ranching on the scale they wanted was north of the Red Deer River. They located north of the present village of Richdale, in an area now known as Ferguson Flats, some 15 miles (25 km) north-east of where the town of Hanna was later built.

     The summer of 1906 saw them back in Montana, with Brainard preparing to bring his stock to Canada. His wife was to remain with her sister for the present, but Brainard took his teenage son with him and hired a crew of six or eight men to help drive the 600 cattle and 200 horses. They crossed the South Saskatchewan river at Medicine Hat, where the Mounted Police and old timers tried to persuade him to spend the winter. They said that unless he had put up hay to feed his stock, he was taking a very great risk going further north. But Brainard insisted that he would be in chinook country and the cattle would be able to rustle all winter.

     They pushed on and when...

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