Old-fashioned cowboy cattle drive

'Only safe way to move' pregnant cattle, says Kittis County rancher

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ELLENSBURG — The cattle drive last weekend through the Yakima River Canyon 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. 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 last 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 two days earlier, on a 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. Feb. 1. The drive came onto state Route 821 about 11 a.m. and headed 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 moved 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.