The winter of 1880-’81 has gone into history as one of the most severe that was ever known. The prairies were covered with snow so deep that the cattle could not graze on the buffalo grass on which the ranchers relied for their winter feed. The snow came early in the fall and laid on the ground all winter. It was so deep that the cattle could not travel, and at times a crust of ice covered the surface of it making travel impossible as the cattle sank into the snow and thousands of head starved to death, sometimes in sight of the hay which ranchers had put up to be fed when the cattle could not graze. Of the 3,000 head on the Cook ranch only 800 were left in the spring. Other ranchers had similar losses and were obliged to close out, thus leaving the fertile prairies open to settlement by the farmers who came a few years later. To these hardy frontiersmen much credit is due for their efforts to establish cattle ranches in this country to which it is so well adapted. Had they understood the climate they could have protected their stock from blizzards as is now done and saved themselves from losses.
Among these early ranchers were Cook and Tower on Bone creek, A. M. Brinckerhoff at the mouth of Pine creek, G. W. Howenstein, J. W. Roselle, James Abernathy and G. W. Kirkpatrick.
The first survey for a railroad was made on the north side of the Niobrara river . This fact may account for the early settlements along the Niobrara and Keya Paha Rivers.