Driving cattle is as much a part of the American West tradition as deep red sunsets and the sounds on the open prairie.
For more than 60 years, the Eaton family has raised cattle and other animals on the rolling hills near the Yakima Valley. They’ve been moving cattle from their winter pastures to their summer calving grounds for generations.
In fact, the Kittitas County ranching family’s cattle drive through the Yakima Canyon is one of those traditions that’s been going on so many years nobody remembers exactly when it started.
Cattle are brought down from the slopes of Selah Butte to a corral area off Burbank Creek Road the old-fashioned way with outriders and support crews. Of course, they travel along State Route 821, but it is still quite a site to see, some 200 pregnant cows moving through the Yakima River Canyon near Ellensburg.
The tradition will continue on Saturday when the Stingley family and volunteers move the cattle, which spend the winter near Selah Creek, down to the Eaton family ranch to give birth.
“We’re just trying to pay homage to the Eatons and uphold their legacy,” Marty Stingley said. “Jack and Beneitta are both in their 90s and their family is spread out.
“My grandsons are accomplished riders that have been riding since before they walk it seems. Ryker, who’s 10, and Jace, who’s 8, will be riding with the guys. I’ll follow along in the truck. I’m not from the Wild, Wild West, but it sure feels like a trip back in time.”
Unlike bringing the cattle across the open prairie for hundreds of miles, Saturday’s drive is easier on the cows, and much faster, to walk them along state Route 821. The entire route is about eight miles long and it typically takes four or five hours.
“The cows typically know the route, so they move along pretty smoothly,” Stingley said. “They’ve had a number of (outriders) in the past, but my family has done it with five to six people before.”
At the midway point the cows and the riders will take a break at the Big Pines Bureau of Land Management campground. The Yakima River flows along one border of the campground and gives the cows a chance for water.
Four generations of Eatons live in the Kittitas Valley; three are on the same plot of land, a more than 100-acre parcel bordered by Interstate 82 and State Route 821 on the canyon road, just south of Ellensburg.
Jack and Beneitta have been married 63 years and are expected to ride along, taking part in the tradition that has been a part of their history for so long.