Oklahoma Country Spring 2017

Page 26

ashes from the

by Becky Samples photos by Dustin Mielke

Farming and ranching communities band together to help Oklahoma ranchers recover and rebuild after the devastating wildfires that swept through three states.


n a crisp March afternoon, Britt Hilton looks to the sky, praying for rain. Although the opportunity for rain has never been far from the minds of family farmers or ranchers, Hilton’s prayer has a tone of hopeful desperation. His ranch recently lost 35 head of cattle, 31,000 acres of grass, and more than 150 miles of fence. A good rain would help with the healing process, but Hilton, along with several family farmers and ranchers spread across Beaver, Woodward and Harper Counties, as well as parts of Kansas,

Colorado and Texas, has a long road of recovery ahead of him in the coming days, months and years. Hilton's passion for ranching is a generations-old tradition. The Beaver County Farm Bureau member's family has been ranching in the Oklahoma Panhandle since statehood. Soon after graduation from Oklahoma State University, he made the decision to start his own ranch in partnership with his brother on family land. To those unfamilar with Oklahoma's rural areas, 31,000 acres may invoke

visions of the land-controlling cattle barons of Western lore. The reality could not be further from the truth. Hilton’s herd of nearly 1,000 head of cattle isn’t paid off, not unusual for ranchers just beginning their business, and the land on which his cattle graze is leased. As Hilton surveys his once-lush pastures from his truck, he stops next to one small green patch of grass surrounded by charred earth. “Finding my cattle in this small valley was nothing short of a miracle,” Hilton said. “I had no idea what would be left of

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