For generations, Cameron Bros. Ranches has driven its cattle along narrow Klickitat County highways in a grassland valley between the Columbia River and Mount Adams.
Only a handful of long-distance cattle drives still occur in Washington state, said Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association.
That includes the recently completed Cameron Bros. drive, a three-day affair that moved a herd of about 600 — mostly cows and calves — from High Prairie to their summer pastures in the Simcoe Mountains.
“We could put them on a semi and haul them, but aside from being more expensive, that would not be near as fun or satisfying,” said longtime rancher Brad Cameron.
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A handful of friends woke as early as 3 a.m. to help on horseback or manage support trucks.
Steadily and slowly, the sea of riders and cattle streamed past pioneer wagon trails, abandoned one-room schoolhouses and scrub-oak forests. Seventy-year-old cowboys rode alongside young ranch hands who texted down the trail.
Every so often, a postal truck or neighbor’s vehicle would encounter the cattle drive on the slender ribbons of road. If they came from behind, a rider would lead them through. If they came from the front, the vehicle would stop and the cattle drive would funnel around them. One young driver jumped out of a sporty red car to film with her tablet.
Halfway though the journey the cowboys and cowgirls sorted, weaned and checked the health of the herd. They put bells around the necks of the Angus crossbreds, which will roam the Simcoe range until October.
Brad Cameron, 49, has participated in his family’s cattle drive since age 3. He doesn’t recall when the tradition began, but said his family homesteaded and established the ranch in 1903. His two children and wife, Kristin, usually ride alongside him each year.
“I think it’s fun,” said Lexi Cameron, 18, known for her fast roping and goat-tying. “You get to visit and hear old stories.”
The Camerons hope their traditional, long-distance cattle drive will endure for future generations. But, with changing times and an urbanizing population, they are unsure how much longer their ranching lifestyle will continue.
“We’re trying to produce a good product, and people need to know how it gets to the grocery shelf from range to plate,” said Brad Cameron.
Erika Schultz: 206-464-8145 or firstname.lastname@example.org