Washington State Rancher Holds Cowboy Cattle Drive

February 5, 2014 10:42 AM
Washington State Rancher Holds Cowboy Cattle Drive

By: MIKE JOHNSTON, Associated Press

Saturday's cattle drive through the Yakima River Canyon of Washington could be called the friendly roundup.

Each year, the Eaton family moves a herd of pregnant cattle from open range to ranch pasture in the canyon southeast of Ellensburg, Wash. The operation involves the help of many family and friends.

It was the same this year, said Ken Eaton, one of the sons of Jack and Beneitta Eaton, head of the longtime Kittitas County Eaton ranching family. "I guess to some it could be a little bit of an early rodeo parade," Ken Eaton said Sunday with the more than 170 cattle safe in the pastures of the family's Mount Baldy Ranch. "There's people who like to get out and ride, and mix that with helping us move cattle in the old-fashioned way."

The drive started Friday as grazing cattle were brought down from the slopes of Selah Butte to a corral area off Burbank Creek Road.

Riders, with pickups and horse trailers following behind, guided cattle slowly along Burbank Creek Road starting at 9 a.m. Saturday.

The drive comes on to state Route 821 about 11 a.m. and heads north on the Yakima River Canyon Highway. State Department of Transportation vehicles follow in front and behind to keep cattle and horse riders safe.

About 30 to 35 people helped out, which included 25 riding horseback to the move the cattle along and guide stray cows back to main herd, Ken Eaton said.

"Really, this is the only safe way to move them," he said. "They're close to calving, and trucking them, well, may not be the best thing for them."

After a short rest at the Big Pines Recreation Area, the group moves on to the ranch.

Longhorn Cattle Co.'s authentic circa-1870 chuck wagon was a new feature this year. Owner-operators Greg and Kristine Akehurst offered cookies, campfire coffee and other refreshments at the Big Pines campground. Don and Buttons Akehurst, last year's Kittitas County Cattlemen Association family of the year and Longhorn Cattle Co. family ranch owners, helped out with the chuck wagon.

Don said his son, Greg, and Ken Barnhart a long time ago helped with cattle on the Akehurst ranch, and the two as young men learned to cook over a campfire out of self-preservation.

"Let's just say they got real tired of weenies and beans all the time," Don said.

Greg and Kristine later joined the cattle drive with their horse-drawn chuck wagon. Riders and family and friends were treated to dutch-oven baked biscuits and beef stew after reaching the ranch and depositing the cattle.

One of the enduring attractions is a neighborly sense of camaraderie that pervades the drive.

Kevin Barnhart, father of Ken Barnhart, said he was into his third year helping out on horseback. The Barnhart family has ranch land in the Colockum area.

"We're not close neighbors (to the Eatons), but they're kind enough to invite us to help out, and it really becomes a family thing," Kevin said as he sipped coffee at Big Pines.

He grew up cattle ranching with his late father, Gene Barnhart, but now works as the maintenance supervisor for the Kittitas School District.

Kevin is the fourth generation of Barnharts in the Kittitas Valley.

Also taking part in the drive were Kevin's wife, Elaine, driving the pickup and trailer, and his daughter, Amy Magruder. Son-in-law, Darrin, and his two children, Kevin's grandchildren, Colton, 7, and Isabella, 10, rode with Kevin and the herd.

"I did things like this (raising and caring for cattle) for 20 years; it was something I loved to do and did it as a living," Kevin said. "It's a good thing to bring the family out, to help neighbor-to-neighbor, so to speak. It's a little bit of showing the kids the cowboy way, helping others whenever you can."

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