50 years later, brothers recall cattle drive that pushed through snowThose cattle had to be moved 50 years ago, and nothing was going to stop it.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
OACOMA — The cattle just had to be moved.
Bitter cold? Couldn’t be helped.
Piles of snow, with drifts taller than a man’s head? There were ways around and through it.
Those cattle had to be moved 50 years ago, and nothing was going to stop it.
Despite the adverse conditions, brothers John and Bart Blum drove 350 head of cattle from a ranch 10 miles south of Oacoma to property 10 miles north of the Lyman County town March 5-6, 1962. The brothers marked the anniversary of the cattle drive this week.
“I wouldn’t want to do it again,” John Blum said with a laugh Thursday. “But at the time, we thought it was kind of fun.”
The brothers, their stepfather and two friends made the 20-mile drive despite snow that covered the ground and slowed the trip. National Guard vehicles — “A ‘Cat’ and a blade,” John recalls — cleared the way for the cattle, pushing through drifts that were 10 feet high.
National Weather Service hydrologist Melissa Smith, who is based in Rapid City, said the Blum brothers’ memories of the cattle drive are accurate.
There was about 20 inches of snow on the ground in the Oacoma area when the drive began, she said. The low on March 5, 1962, was 19 below zero and it only “warmed up” a bit on March 6, 1962, when the low was 3 below.
But they were tough. The Blums were young ranchers then. John turned 24 the second day of the drive. Bart was 25.
“We were renting that place and we’d bought this place and needed to move,” John recalled. “The first of March was when our time was up. The cows were ready for calving, so we decided to move them. And normally, around the first of March, it isn’t too bad.”
But 1962 was an unusual year.
“It started to snow about the middle of February and seemed to snow every three or four days,” John said. “It just kept piling up and piling up.”
He recalled the low temperature on Feb. 28, 1962, was 35 below zero, and NWS records confirmed that.
Still, they set out March 5 and made it to their friend Alvin Werner’s ranch on the first night. They put the cattle up and prepared for the final push the next day.
“I was in the National Guard at the time,” John said, and that’s one reason the heavy equipment was made available to help with the move.
The Blums’ stepfather, Joe Wagner, drove a truck loaded with hay and feed and the cows followed behind.
The Blums and their friends Bill Wilbur and Floyd Moffitt rode along on horseback, keeping the cattle in line.
“We didn’t have the equipment then like we do now,” John said. “We didn’t have a four-wheel drive.”
What they had was youth, energy and a sense of adventure. Today, they have experience, the wisdom they gained over the years and vivid memories of the experience.
“It was cold for that time of the year,” John said. “I know the day we came up here it was a little cloudy.”
The Daily Republic covered the cattle drive and ran two photos on the front page of the paper March 7, 1962.
“I think we have one of them,” John said of the 50-year-old newspapers.
Pat Blum also recalls it clearly. She was engaged to Bart Blum at the time; they married on June 3 and will celebrate their 50th anniversary this year.
Today, half a century after that remarkable effort, the Blums are still partners in the ranching business, along with John’s son, Jay.
They operate Blum Brothers Ranches and, at 74, John Blum said he wants to keep working. He’s had both hips replaced but still works his cattle and stays active, although he’s rarely on horseback anymore.
“I’ll keep going as long as I can, I guess,” John said.
He and his wife, Ruth, still live on the same ranch where the cattle drive ended 50 years ago.
Bart and Pat Blum live four miles north along the Missouri River.
The Blums feed calves and buy and sell cattle. But now, they use trucks and four-wheelers.
The days of horseback cattle drives through the snow are over, John said. It’s fun to tell the stories and remember the event — but he doesn’t care to repeat it.