Cattle were king in the Old West, an economic and cultural foundation that fed the myth—until the Great Die Off.
The summer of 1886 brought a terrible drought that killed much of the open range grasses. That was followed by one of the worst-ever winters with sub-zero temperatures and snow drifts several feet in height. There was no food for the herds; in some areas, 90% of the cattle died.
Ranchers went out of business. Many cowboys turned to outlawry to make a living. The cattle industry changed forever.