By Mike Johnston Daily Record
ELLENSBURG — The annual Eaton family cattle drive is a longtime tradition that’s growing in popularity: One of the largest crowds of onlookers ever showed up Saturday and lined the Yakima River Canyon Highway to get a glimpse of a bit of the Old West.
John Eaton said he rides his horse out in front of the cattle to ask people and children to step back from the side of the highway and get in between their parked cars or behind them as the animals pass by.
It happens at this time of the year to take bred (pregnant) cattle for around a five-mile slow walk on the Yakima River Canyon Highway from Burbank Valley Road southeast to the Eaton family home/ranch property along the highway, located about 15 miles southeast of Ellensburg.
The herd has grazed since early November on Manastash Ridge and the ridges of the Burbank and Selah creek drainages. They’re being taken to ranch pastures where they will have their calves.
The herd of about 240 bred cows were guided by 17 Eaton family members and friends on horseback, with vehicles in front and behind.
“We want to give the cattle as wide a space as possible between them and the people,” Eaton said this morning. “We don’t want the cattle spooked or anyone to get hurt.”
Eaton estimated more than 100 people — adults and lots of children — were parked from Burbank Valley Road southeast to the Eaton family home/ranch.
“There must have been 15 or 20 cars parked to where we put them into the pasture at the ranch,” Eaton said. “Everyone seemed to have a camera.”
Two television news camera crews were along the route, as well as other news photographers.
The family has driven the cows to fenced pasture at this time of year for more than 20 years.
“You can see the excitement in the kids’ faces as we come by,” Eaton said. “Maybe they’ve never seen cattle and horses up close like this and this is their time.”
Eaton said some of the adults watching along the way have said they worked on farms as kids or their parents or grandparents did, “… and they just want to see the cows. Maybe see them like they were in the old days.”