The Montana spring blizzard that is raging across the Big Hole Valley has howling winds and temperatures dipping below 0 minus 20 degrees. The wind is blowing furiously and piling drifts of snow all over the farm and making it almost impossible to see where you’re going and to open barn doors and ice has already formed on the troughs. The small farm is nestled in the middle of the valley surrounded by bigger cattle farms and ranches and is owned by local farmer and long time resident Gus Hayes. Gus is not a big time operation. He is just a small cattle operation of about 20 head of Hereford’s and a handful of horses, he raises about 500 acres of hay every year that he supplements his own farm and if any locals run low or out of hay he graciously gives them a ton or two to get them through.
The spring blizzard hit the day after several of Gus’s cows dropped their new born calves on the ground. Gus has accounted for all of them but two calves and has decided to chance the storm and take his trusted cow horse, McCloud, out into the blizzard to find his calves. Calves are money for his farm and to let them freeze to death is food off of the table and money that never hits the checking account. Gus kisses his wife Lucille and tells her that if he’s not back by midnight to send a search party. Lucille asks, him not to go, but after 40 years of marriage she knows that once he has his mind made up, then it’s made up and it’s best to let him do what he needs to do and to mop up the mess after he’s done.
Gus saddles McCloud inside the barn and is able to get him and his horse through a side door of the barn. He climbs on his horse and turns on his lantern and heads out into the snow abyss in search of his two lost calves. Lucille watches him ride off into the blizzard until he is consumed and lost into the gray white that has filled the early evening air and has turned it cold, so cold that it hurts to breath into your lungs, but at the same time lets you know that you are either alive or frost bits is bound to get you!
After, Gus and McCloud make their way past the first gate and they are out into the open of the pasture where the cows calves are kept Gus is waving the lantern on each side of them trying to see if he can see any movement in the snow or hears any crying from a calf. His hands are getting extremely cold and the snow is blowing onto his face; he pulls his cowboy hat down tighter and hopes that the wind doesn’t catch it, and whip it off of his head and carry it out into the blizzard never to be found again; it is his favorite cowboy hat after-all. McCloud let’s out a snort and starts stepping sideways and turns and snorts again to get Gus’s attention and Gus points the lantern in the direction that McCloud is trying to take him and there laying in the snow almost completely covered other than an ear and part of the back of his head is one of the lost calves. Gus jumps down off of his horse and makes his way through the snow and wind to the calf and prays, that he is still alive. He checks the calf, but no such luck, he has succumbed to the bitter night winter storm and cold. Gus hangs his head and runs his hand over the calf then says a prayer that he will find the other calf alive. He walks back to Mccloud and climbs back into the cold saddle. He gives him a nudge with his spurs and McCloud starts moving.
The snow is coming down harder and the wind has grabbed another gear and is really blowing across the farm now. Gus and McCloud keep searching and finding nothing; Gus is heartsick at the potential loss of both calves, when suddenly, McCloud let’s off a snort and shakes his head up and down then tries to move sideways again. And again, Gus is using the lantern to look into the blowing snow to see what he can see. McCloud turns himself completely around and snorts again and back around he goes. “Whoa, boy!” Gus tells him. Gus finally sees movement and eyes looking at them through the wintry night and Gus knows it’s not his calf. He grabs his Henry’s rifle out of his scabbard, he tells McCloud, “easy boy” and hangs the lantern on the horn of his saddle then puts the reins into his mouth and then raises his rifle pulls the lever and shoots. he hits the coyote in his side and the coyote runs a few feet and drops. Gus nudges McCloud with his spurs again to walk him towards the coyote and he shoots him again then sees another and another gathering around a lump of snow and Gus knows it must be his new born calf they are after or have killed. He pulls the lever on his rifle again and shoots another coyote and drops him right there, dead! The others run off into the night. Gus holds his rifle in one hand and grabs his reins out of his mouth and walks McCloud over to the lump of snow when all of a sudden Gus hears the quiet crying of a calf. Gus jumps down off of McCloud and with his gun in his hand he goes to the pile of snow and low and behold there is a ball faced calf staring right back at him and let’s out a cry when he sees Gus.
Gus pushes the snow off of the calf and checks him to see if the coyotes injured him. Gus can’t see any injuries. He takes his rifle and puts it back into the scabbard and goes back and scoops up the calf into his arms and takes him to McCloud. “Whoa boy!” he tells McCloud while he is putting the calf up onto his saddle. Gus climbs onto his horse and lifts the calf to unhook the lantern off of his saddle horn. He holds the lantern in his hand, pulls his cowboy hat down tight again, gives McCloud a nudge with his spurs and says, let’s go home ole boy. McCloud starts walking like instructed. Once back, by the barn, Gus whistles loudly and waves his lantern in the air so that Lucille knows he made it home and not to send out the search party after him. Lucille waves back to him through the window and thanks God, for listening to her prayers on the cold blizzard night.