ONE OF TODAY’S most pressing concerns is: How do we define success? Is it money? Achievement in business? Philanthropy? Family?

The answers are illuminated in the astonishing 135-year-old story of Northwest pioneer Cashup Davis, the charismatic homesteader who was inexplicably obsessed with building a grand hotel on top of Eastern Washington’s Steptoe Butte when only a few hundred settlers lived in the region.

Most of us yearn to take a risk in life: start a business, go to college, move somewhere, ask someone special on a date. But we often don’t because we listen to the doubters.

With his lavish hotel atop Steptoe Butte, celebrity homesteader Cashup Davis elevated the Palouse experience

Cashup never listened to the doubters. Ever. His real-life story gives us a compelling historical glimpse of difficult times and can serve as inspiration for anyone of any age and in any endeavor.

In the late 1800s, Cashup became one of Washington’s first national celebrities. He was a British immigrant who befriended Native Americans during wars with U.S. troops. He achieved fame and fortune with his stagecoach stop in the hardscrabble Palouse region. But when trains put stagecoaches out of business, Cashup dared to risk it all — by building that lavish hotel. Everyone told him he was nuts. He did not listen. He was brash, confident, wily, fun-loving and could charm anyone.

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This story is told through the eyes of Cashup’s great-grandson Gordy Davis. The two never met, but Cashup is Gordy’s “secret mentor.” As Gordy achieved substantial success in his own life (he now focuses on philanthropy), he seemed to yearn for a better understanding of his good fortune by asking me to investigate Cashup’s story.

So our journey began. What we found was not what anyone expected. Gordy, a tough-talking, thick-fingered, cigar-chomping farm boy, was brought to tears.

We uncovered a story of how repeated success can blind you to risks, and to other joys in life. Yet hard work and determination still win the rewards.

The grand lessons of Cashup Davis are there for the taking — even today.