Northwest Cattle King

Ben Snipes

By Steve Lent, Crook County Historian

Benjamin Elam Snipes was born Raleigh, North Carolina on July 3, 1835. His family moved to Iowa in 1850. When he was seventeen years old in 1852 he joined a wagon train to Oregon After arriving in Oregon he did various jobs including harvesting potatoes and hiring out as a mule packer from Oregon to the gold fields of California. He filed a mining claim in California and sold it for $500. He then hired out to the new owner who extracted over $75,000 from the claim. He began working as a butcher’s helper then operated his own butcher shop. When the mines began to fade out he returned to Oregon.

He traveled the rangelands of Oregon and Washington Territory looking for sites that had forage and water to establish a large herd of cattle. He went to work for a cattleman who proposed to drive cattle to the British Columbia mining camps. While herding cattle north from the Columbia he found the ground he was looking for in the Yakima Valley Ben made an agreement with the operator that had herded the cattle north to finance him in establishing a herd of his own. He started with a small herd of cattle near The Dalles and in 1859 he moved his cattle into the Yakima Valley near Sunnyside and established his ranch headquarters at Snipes Mountain. He manage to grow his herd and trailed many cattle to the mines of Canada and made a hefty profit of $12,000, of which he paid his backer 50%. His operations met with setbacks after severe winters decimated his herd. But he continued in the cattle business.

He borrowed $50,000 from Portland bankers and purchased as many cattle as his funds allowed. He soon repaid most of his loan. He continued to buy and sell livestock and by the fall of 1861 he had become known as the Northwest Cattle King. Estimates of his cattle holdings ranged from 25,000 to 40,000 head.

He began branching out his business ventures and purchased 100 acres of land in Seattle in what is today’s major section of the city. He built a home in Seattle but invested in businesses in The Dalles and Ellensburg, Washington.

He married Mary Parrott in 1864. Mary was born in 1848. They returned to The Dalles in 1865. He and Mary had one son, Bennie. Ben became a partner in Snipes & Kinnerly Drug Store in The Dalles but did not remain in that business long. He and Mary remained in The Dalles. Ben died on Dec. 12, 1906 in Seattle. Mary passed away in 1920. They are both buried in the Oddfellows Cemetery in The Dalles. Several years after his death in 1958 he was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame’s Hall of Great Westerners.