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As It Was-Winter of 1889-90 Kills Klamath Basin Cattle

Thousands of cattle perished in the Klamath Basin during what was long remembered as the “hard winter of 1889-90.”  The parched region was still recovering from a damaging summer drought and Klamath Falls had just gone through a major fire that destroyed most of the town’s business district on Sept. 6, 1889.

On the night of Dec. 9, a storm dumped more than two feet of snow across the Basin.  The snow continued to pile up for several weeks.  Many ranchers soon realized their hay supplies would not last the winter, and some could not even reach their herds.  One rancher hired a crew to rescue his herd at Algoma, a few miles north of Klamath Falls. The men waded through deep snow and cut brush to clear a path for the animals to reach a south-facing slope and edible shrubs.  Still, the rancher lost nearly the  entire herd.

Rancher Pressley Dorris, just south of the California state line, reported he was hauling away between 25 and 50 dead cattle a day.  His losses totaled nearly 6,000 head that winter.

By March, enough snow had melted to allow surviving cattle access to sufficient forage to keep alive.


Sources: Leavitt, A.L. "Forty Years Ago the Basin Experienced an Extremely Dry Fall – Then it Snowed." Evening Herald, 5 Dec. 1929 [Klamath Falls, Ore.], p. 11; "Winter of 1889 and 1890 Is Described and Events Related." Evening Herald, 7 Mar. 1933 [Klamath Falls, Ore.]; Loss of Cattle in California." Oregonian, 11 Mar. 1890 [Portland, Ore.], p. 9. genealogybank.com.

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Todd Kepple has been a Klamath Basin resident since 1990. He was a reporter and editor the for the Herald and News from 1990 to 2005, and has been manager of the Klamath County Museum since 2005. He enjoys volunteering at Crater Lake National Park, the OC&E Woods Line State Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also a founding member of the Klamath Tree League.