Ben Snipes drives cattle through the Willamette Valley to the Fraser River gold fields in 1859.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 1/24/2003
  • Essay 5110
In 1859, cowboy Ben Snipes (1835-1906) drives his first herd of cattle north from the Columbia River through Washington Territory to the gold mining camps along the Fraser River in British Columbia. Snipes drives his herd through present-day Klickitat, Yakima, Kittitas, Douglas and/or Chelan, and Okanogan counties before crossing into Canada. At the Fraser River hungry gold miners pay as much as a hundred times the herd's original price. 

Ben Snipes, Washington's most famous embodiment of the cowboy as living Western myth, came to the Willamette Valley around 1856. He drove cattle, worked with a butcher, and occasionally prospected for gold.

In 1859, Snipes heard rumors of gold strikes in the Fraser River area of British Columbia. Upon arrival he realized that while the many miners sought their fortunes panning for gold, there was a fortune to be made supplying those miners with beef.

Snipes returned to Washington Territory and began driving herds of cattle north, first for other people and then eventually for himself. By 1864, he owned more cattle than any other person in the Northwest, with livestock estimated at perhaps 125,000 head of cattle and 20,000 horses.

In 1958, Benjamin Elam Snipes was posthumously inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame's Hall of Great Westerners.

Sources: Ruth Kirk and Carmela, Alexander, Exploring Washington's Past: A Road Guide to History, Revised Edition (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 53; George and Jan Roberts, Discovering Historic Washington State (Baldwin Park, CA: Gem Guides Book Company, 1999), 157; National Cowboy Hall Of Fame website (; Roscoe Sheller, Ben Snipes: Northwest Cattle King (Portland: Binford and Morts, 1957).

Related Topics:   Agriculture | Firsts

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