A Look Back, Five Years After Atlas: Letters from donors, Rancher Relief Fund totals

Just a few of the more than 500 letters that accompanied donations to the Rancher Relief Fund following winter storm Atlas in 2013.

The Rancher Relief Fund was started Oct. 8 by the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, South Dakota Sheep Growers’ Association and South Dakota Stockgrowers’ Association in response to questions about where people could donate to affected cattle producers. The funds were managed and distributed by Black Hills Area Community Foundation, Lutheran Social Services and Catholic Social Services.

Raised more than $5.4 million in seven months


  • Average gift $720
  • Median gift $150
  • Smallest gift $1
  • Largest gift $100,000
  • 48% of gifts came from South Dakota
  • 3% of gifts came from seven counties in western South Dakota
  • Gifts came from all 50 states and several foreign countries

Top 10 states

  • South Dakota 48%
  • Wyoming 8%
  • Montana 6%
  • California 5%
  • North Dakota 4%
  • Nebraska 4%
  • Minnesota 4%
  • Iowa 3%
  • Colorado 3%
  • Texas 2%

Reported losses

  • 35,682 cattle in South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming
  • 6,428 sheep lost
  • No formal report of other animals

Average of $128 per animal* lost was donated to Rancher Relief Fund

*Cattle and sheep that were officially reported. Not all livestock losses were reported.

Thousands of people contributed time and money to the Rancher Relief Fund. A few of them shared a bit of their own stories, letting ranchers know they are not alone in the struggle. More than 500 letters came with donations, telling of other blizzards, memories of cattlemen, childhoods on ranches or just plain appreciation for what ranchers do.

Here are just a few of those letters.

This isn’t much, but all I can afford. Sorry for all the problems and losses to all. Former dairy farmer in Snohomish County, Wash.

Our hearts go out to the South Dakota Ranchers. God bless you. Kentucky is praying.

For the ranchers and farmers who lost so much. I admire them for their hard work, patriotism, and honesty. God bless them all.

Hello Friends!

As being a farmer, my heart was touched when I heard of the storm you all had out your way. Here is a gift to help out a little.

May God bless you, as you look to him for help.

Sorry to hear of your losses. We also raise cattle and are thinking about you folks. We hope things get better for you.

Please use the enclosed to help the many ranchers that had terrible losses of livestock in the Oct. blizzard. I grew up on a ranch in SW Kansas and can understand their stress.

Spent most of my life in the cow/calf operations. My heart breaks for these people. Prayers and hugs.

I was devastated to hear about the enormous livestock losses from the Atlas Blizzard that hit Western South Dakota in early October. Not only the direct monetary losses, but also the years of genetics, breeding, care and maintenance that go into building a herd of cattle as well as the emotional toll of losing such a big part of their lives. I was born in South Dakota, went to undergrad at SDSU and am now attending grad school here, so I love South Dakota and I have a lot of pride in this state. I have several friends that ranch West River and have had several jobs out there myself, so I understand the terrain and how bad blizzards can be in that country. I was disappointed in the coverage by the national media and the reaction by much of the unknowing public. So I want to do my part by making a contribution to the Relief Fund and I have enclosed a donation check. I know that the farmers and ranchers will come back strong, but everyone needs help from time to time and that’s what South Dakota is about, helping neighbors and friends when they are in need.

Dear South Dakota Ranchers,

My name is Brandon Weber. I am 5 years old. I watched a video with my mommy about the cows that died in the storm. It made me very sad. I cried. It made me think about losing my calf, Sophie. I am sending you the money from my piggy bank. I hope it will help you buy more cows. I’m sorry that all those cows died. My mommy and I will keep you in our thoughts and prayers. Love, Brandon

My wife and I cannot imagine the stress and anguish your ranchers are going through after their horrific loss. We’ve gone through 3 years of drought conditions, but would pale next to your situation. May God Bless!

I have been a beef cow producer in S.E. Oklahoma for over 40 years. I have lost cattle due to winter storms a few times but nothing compared to what these ranchers have lost. My sympathy goes out to them.

I lived in Sturgis for a short time in 1961. I really enjoyed touring the whole area and have returned a number of times. I hope to do so again soon.

We have been in the ranching business all of our lives. Every year brings another challenge. These past few years ours has been DROUGHT!!–the other end of the spectrum.

Wish we could send more but wanted folks up there to know that we care.

From one cowman to another. Hope this helps out a little. The cattle business is hard enough without natural disasters.

Our hearts go out to all who are facing such tough times. We are so grateful for the ranchers who do so much to take care of the animals and the land. We hope this can be of use.

As a sixty some year old rancher that has gone through 40 some calving seasons, I know the hole in your heart left by just one calf dying. I cannot begin to imagine how those Black Hills ranchers could deal (emotionally or financially) with a huge percentage of their herds lost to the storm. Even a 10 percent loss would be too much, say nothing of a 75-85 percent loss. The average person (non livestock person) doesn’t understand that the loss isn’t just financial, but it’s also a life. And to an old rancher when you see those cows, you can remember their mothers and their grandmothers (gone many years earlier) because those cows are like your family.

I hope there will be enough help available so that any of those young guys can keep ranching if they want to and the older guys can regain some of their retirement nest egg that they worked so hard their whole life to obtain.

I have been around for many years (94) and recall the BIG Depression of the ’30s and the ’49 Blizzard. My check doesn’t begin to cover anything like that but every little bit helps.

We lived in R.C. during the ’49 disaster and owned what is now “Tally’s” Restaurant. The day after the storm my husband walked to the café from our trailer park where Fischer Furniture is now (on W. Main and Jackson Boulevard).

I’ve been a farmer for over 50 years and am still active farming with my son on the family farm near Tabor, S.D. My heart goes out to all the ranchers that have sustained great losses. Our state and nation is a great place to live. We all pull together in natural disasters.

My father was a rancher from age 6 to 81. He loved his land, cattle, and horses. He would have been first in line to help the many ranchers who lost stock in the recent storm.

It is in his honor that we enclose our contribution to the Rancher Relief Fund.

I was born in South Dakota and raised on a farm. My dad raised Angus cattle. When I read of Storm Atlas that hit your area in October it brought back memories of the 1966 blizzard. I remember what joy it brought me and my siblings to sled down those big drifts but I also remember the sadness from the loss of cattle. So, my heart goes out to all of those who have lost so much, possibly their livelihood.

My father was a rancher/farmer in Charles Mix and died in October at the age of 89. His love of land, livestock and horses continued to the very end. He was riding and green-trained a gelding just a year ago. I hope this small amount will help a rancher in need. These are memorials from the funeral. I know my father would be happy that these monies were donated to Rancher Relief Fund.

We are sorry for your great losses. Our family lived in South Dakota for a few years. We love the area and the people. The generosity and kindness given to us while we lived in South Dakota have not been forgotten. We hope this little amount of money helps. It is sent with love and admiration.

My husband died just a year ago. His cattle was his life. Our grandson is just getting started. Blessings.

I got $10 from my church for Christmas. We were supposed to pay it forward. I also decided to give $5 of my own money. The reason I picked to give it to the Rancher Relief Fund is because I like farming and they lost a lot of money. Some also lost their dreams of being a big cattle rancher. I hope this money helps a farmer get back on track.

I was part of a bus tour from Dayton, Ohio, stranded in Sturgis for three days during the snowstorm. While we were inconvenienced for a few days, I’m sure it was nothing compared to the hardships all of you endured. I’m sending you my payers along with a donation. I hope it helps a little.

Wish we could do more—Pushing our legislators to approve a new Farm Bill is big and we will direct our efforts toward that. The sad thing is we already have the support of our legislators—it’s the idiots on the two coasts who we need to convince.

As a breeder of registered Holsteins I can only imagine the grief and sense of loss these cattlemen and women are feeling. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them all.

Enclosed please find a check for the ranchers in South Dakota. I wish we could send more as I know this will hardly be of any help. My husband and I visited the Black Hills area a couple summers ago and fell in love with the beauty of the state.

We are so devastated by their losses as we too farm and ranch here in Western Kansas. Ever time I watch a video or read of their losses I just cry! Please tell them we are praying and thinking of them all!

My brother and I traveled thru South Dakota just a few days before your bad weather. We talked to several farmers and ranchers and every one took time to visit and answer our many questions. (He is a retired dairy farmer from northern New York and I’m a retired dairy supply dealer from southern NY.) Enclosed is a little something.

Our hearts go out to these folks. Our lives are geared toward caring for these cattle. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose so many. I pray for God’s presence.

My heart goes out to the South Dakota ranchers that lost so much in the early Oct. blizzard. We experienced that in the April 3-day storm of 1984. I wish I could send some more but hopefully the check enclosed will help some. God bless these friends.

To our neighbors in South Dakota—

As children of homesteaders in Campbell Co. Wy, we have seen, felt and picked up the pieces after Mother Nature’s fury. We both wish all afflicted by the recent killer storm the very best of luck in re-capturing your lives and future. At 79 and 83 years old we can’t come help, but hope the check enclosed helps a little. Keep your chins and spirits up. You all already know how to work and plan. Keep at it—don’t give up. All our best.

I’m a farmer and cattle producer in west central Illinois. When I heard of the devastating storm and the tremendous loss of your cattle herds I was devastated. I feel terrible when I lose just one baby calf at birth, I can only imagine how you must feel. What little monetary help I can send must seem insignificant but I had to do something, just some small thing.

Know that I will keep all of you in my thoughts and prayers, and pray that somehow God will give you the courage and strength you need to carry you through this disastrous time.

Just remember God never closes a door without opening another. God bless all of you, and I wish you as speedy a recovery as possible.

We farm in NY. Weather been tough but not as bad as yours.

This comes from a 89 yr young lady that was born on the banks of Sulphur Creek, Newell, S.D. that knows what hardships are.

We just celebrated sixty (60) years of marriage. Some folks ignored the request of “no gifts please” and gave us money.

We decided to donate the money to our fellow South Dakotans who have lost so much. We know it’s not much, but every little bit helps.