Traditional Eaton family cattle drive lives on

Laynie Erickson, Reporter

Every year just outside of Ellensburg in the Yakima River Canyon, over 200 cows make their way down state route 821. The annual Eaton family cattle drive has been a Kittitas County tradition for well over 30 years. 

And this year, once again the cattle were moved from their winter home near Selah creek back to the Eaton family home to give birth. 

Jack and Beneitta Eaton have raised cattle for over 60 years and will celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary this September. Jack remembers the first year they did the drive before the cattle were able to utilize route 821 like they do now. 

“It was in February and there was snow on the ground,” Eaton said. “And the first cows made it pretty good but then it began to be like a ski lift or something and we had them sliding off all over.” 

He detailed the struggles they had gone through decades ago when moving the cattle in the winter weather, with many of them dying on the journey. Once the cows were able to walk the highway the drive became much easier and is now an event that attracts attention from all over.

Beneitta shared several instances where people from different states were calling her to ask about the cattle drive. She said that with people posting about it online and taking photos, the word has spread fast about the Eaton Family Cattle Drive. 

On the morning of the cattle drive, the streets were lined with cars and spectators waiting to take pictures and see the cattle up close. Road closure signs were posted, along with assistance from park rangers to keep cars off of the road. 

Bob Conley and his wife Doris were excited to watch the cattle drive for the first time this year. 

“My wifes a photographer and we like to get unusual subjects,” Conley said. “We are very familiar with the canyon and we thought that’d be a fun day.” 

Others happened onto the cattle drive due to road closures and signs warning cars to pull to the side of the road. Jeff and Melissa Miller were one of these people who weren’t planning on attending.

“I heard it on the news a couple days ago and we were coming up the canyon and were like oh that’s today,” Miller said. “So we thought we’d check it out.”

In recent years the Eaton’s have leased the land to the Stingley family who have kept the drive going, but even in their 90’s Jack and Beneitta Eaton still come out to participate in the festivities. It’s a Kittitas County tradition we hope will continue for many years to come.