After the ravages of a particularly harsh winter and a spring, which brought severe northern winds, drought was nature’s way of announcing summer in the Wyoming Territory.
Ranchers, without exception, faced losing stock as waterhole after waterhole dried up.
Slim Sherman was one of the few owners who had a water supply fed directly from the hills to the north of Laramie. But even this precious resource was quickly dwindling, and it seemed only a matter of time until he, too, would be in grave danger of losing his herd, a particularly bitter blow as he had just re-stocked after the spring round up.
Slim had high hopes of fattening the cattle during the summer, to sell them at a profit come fall, maybe even make enough to get the bank off his back once and for all. He couldn’t remember a time when the mortgage wasn’t a problem, and he was fed up with the constant struggle to make ends meet. Now it looked as if all the hard work put in by him and Jess, had been for nothing. Even if the cattle made it to fall, the way they were losing weight, through lack of good grazing, was reducing their value, daily. Both men were kept busy rounding up the cattle and horses, and bringing them down to what grassland remained in the lower basin. But even there, the grass was parched and dry.
Thunder rumbled occasionally, and clouds drifted across the sky; but it didn’t rain. Jess said that when it did, they surely would know it. Then Slim would be faced with flooding, and having to move the cattle up to the high country again.
Usually, during the summer, the cattle wandered up into the high hills looking for shade and water. But this year, it was almost as bad there as it was in the basin. Slim made the decision to keep the herd near home so that any sick animals could be shot quickly. It would also save him and Jess from having any long and difficult rides, as the basin was just over an hours ride from the house, compared with the three it took to reach the higher slopes.
Freddie, and a few of the townsfolk, had actually persuaded a old Indian, who was passing through town, to perform a Rain Dance, much to the amusement of the sceptics, who shook their heads at ‘such nonsense.’ If the dance did work, the rain didn’t fall anywhere near Laramie. The dry spell continued week after week, with no end in sight.