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Klickitat County Cattle Industry

The Klickitat County Cattle Industry
by Stuart of

In 1854, an immigrant train crossed the Columbia River from The Dalles and rode to the top of the Columbia Hills. Ben Snipes was aboard the train and he had a vision which came to him as he looked at the view from the top of the hills. It was any cattleman’s dream. There was grass shoulder-high which stretched across the valley to the Simcoe Mountains and plenty of water from the streams. Snipes traveled to The Dalles and the Willamette Valley to secure a loan and purchased as many cattle as he could. The cattle were moved to the Klickitat valley and later, in 1855, he established his headquarters in what is now Goldendale. Snipes’ parents are buried about two miles west of Goldendale on top of what is known as Snipes Butte. On the south side of Horseshoe Bend road, their monument can still be seen. From The Dalles to the Okanogan, Snipes began one of the largest cattle empires in the west. It is estimated he had 60,000 horses and 144,000 head of cattle.

The area was growing rapidly with settlers by 1877 and desiring to plant crops, they began plowing up the prairie grass. To protect their property they built fences. A milk cow was kept by nearly every family and most had a few beef cattle which they had for their own consumption. More land was acquired by homesteading and leasing land in the Simcoe Mountains and Mt. Adams areas where ranching enterprises were established. These areas were at higher elevations and thus produced greater rainfall which resulted in lush green pasture which lasted into late summer and the cattle could thrive. Thus grew the cattle industry in Klickitat County which contributes to a large part of its economy and stability. There are approximately 30,000 head of cattle in Klickitat County today.

Beginning in the 1950s and lasting about 30 years, purebred cattle were being raised by the ranchers. These were mostly Angus and Hereford and were considered among the finest quality stock in the United States. To improve their herds, producers throughout the Northwest purchased these cattle.

Many of the ranchers today are descendants of the early pioneers who first settled in the area and have grown into large operations. The early pioneers would drive or trail their herds from the home ranches in the valley to summer graze in the Simcoe Mountains or Mt. Adams areas and the descendants still do that today. In October, when the summer season is over, the ranchers would then round up the cattle and take them back to the valley home ranches to spend the winter. It is not uncommon in Klickitat County to come up on a herd of 100 to 500 head traveling from one grazing area to another since it is legal for cattle to travel the roads as long as they are accompanied by drovers or cowboys. It can appear to be a rather daunting task to get through them, however. The cowboy, however, will split the herd and have people follow his horse to get them through.

The State Legislature enacted two sets of laws that govern the lands in Klickitat County and across the state of Washington. The classification designation is left to the discretion of the County Commissioners under a strict set of rules. These two classifications fall under range law areas and herd law areas. Farm lands and grazing lands are included in the classifications. Grazing land with adjacent farmland included fall under the range law area. To graze livestock in range areas, the operator must own, lease, or have other agreements with land owners included in the grazing area. Turning out animals to graze in these areas without the agreements with land owners is illegal. A legal fence, also covered by state statute, must be set up by land owners to protect their property in range areas if they don’t want animals on their property. They must also maintain the fence. In herd law areas, owners of livestock must keep the animals on their own property with fencing. Half the fence between two properties is usually built and maintained by adjacent landowners. There is an old saying that says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

It was apparent in the early 1900s that an organization of ranchers needed to be formed as the legislature began enacting laws and agencies began writing rules. The organization would be a unified voice to protect their interests. At first, it was called the Cattleman’s Association, however, now it is called the Klickitat County Livestock Growers Association.

For over 150 years, farmers and ranchers have proven to be good stewards of the land and they have provided one of the largest segments of the economy in Klickitat County.

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History of the Klickitat County Cattle Industry - The story of how Ben Snipes started his cattle ranch in Goldendale in 1855 which led to the area becoming one of the prime producers of livestock in the Northwest and the creation of what is now the Klickitat County Livestock Growers Association.