(July 3, 1835 - January 12, 1906)
Ben Snipes was born in North Carolina and followed the family in 1847 to Iowa. At the restless age of 17, Ben joined a wagon train headed for Oregon. He served as a wagon driver and other miscellaneous duties. His brief term as a potato farmer in Oregon was interrupted by the California gold rush. With a pic and shovel, Ben struck out and made a small find. He took the five hundred offer for the claim and stayed on to assist the buyer for seven dollars per day. The mine eventually made $75,000.
Hearing his brother also ventured west, Ben headed back to Oregon in search. Here Ben met John Jefferies who owned a few cattle. Working on the ranch, Ben loved the cowboy life and decided this was his calling.
With the help of a new Chinook Indian friend, Ben found the perfect grazing range in Eastern Washington near the Cascade Mountains. With financial nerve which would later mold the Northwest Cattle King, Ben along with Jefferies purchased a local herd on credit with a high interest rate.
The following spring Ben sorted the herd and with a group of Chinook cowboys drove this herd through dangerous ice filled rivers and over mosquito infested terrain which drove the cattle crazy. Through the 800 miles of hardship Ben only lost a few cattle before arriving at the Cariboo Mines in Canada. Snipes made a handsome profit among these gold miners who welcomed the fresh beef. He earned enough money from this trip to pay off the debt and break the partnership with Jefferies.
The number of cattle increased during the ensuing years. In the winter of 1861-1862 large amounts of snow were dumped from the skies. The snow started to melt before the deep freeze of sub-zero temperatures which created an icy crust on the top. The cattle were not able to paw through this barrier. Snipes lost 70% of his herd as did other cattlemen in the area.
The bovines which did survive looked like they were confined to a concentration camp. A number of other ranchers decided to quit the business and Ben bought the skeletons with hide a rock bottom prices. Eventually these sick recovered. Another gamble paid off as the beef prices increased.
His love of horses prompted request for Kentucky Hambletonians. Paying to drive a number from the Jack Daniels State to Oregon, the cross breeding of these handsome masters with native Cayuse horses developed a fast, strong and sturdy breed.
On one profitable drive to the mines, Ben noticed he was being followed and watched. Using his Cayuse cowboys as a distraction, Snipes grabbed the heavy bags of gold and rode only at night to the safety of the bank in Portland.
As the cattle industry began to wane, Snipes started a bank in Rosyln, Washington. The interesting part of this story is the robbery of this bank by Wild Bunch members Matt Warner (using the name Ras Lewis at the time), Tom McCarty, Bill McCarty and others. Warner and the McCartys were known as the Invincible Three. It was Matt Warner and Tom McCarty who took Butch Cassidy on his first bank robbery in Telluride, CO.
Due to a general panic in 1893 and some question of the operating practices of the bank, this business venture failed. All of Ben's holdings were taken and sold for pennies on the dollar. Never one to be disappointed at a failure, Snipes was making his next fortune when he died.
Ben Snipes was a modest man. He never used tobacco, never drank and never carried a gun. Although he once had millions of dollars in reserve, he lived in a simple cabin and didn't sport flashy clothes.
The Northwest Cattle King is buried in the IOOF Cemetery in The Dalles, OR. The main large headstone for the Snipes grave is covered by an overgrown bush.
Information compiled by Steve Grimm
Books About Ben Snipes
Ben Snipes - Northwest Cattle King by Roscoe Sheller
A book which must be intended for juvenile readers. To move the story along the author has Ben Snipes constantly talking to his horse. Still it is the only book which covers the subject of this neglected cattleman.