Jeff Burnside ’89 Comm. and Gordon Davis ’68 Ag., ’69 Ag. Ed.
Basalt Books: 2022
Cashup was quite a character.
An immigrant, pioneer, and eccentric entrepreneur, he chased big dreams from England to America. Not only was James “Cashup” Davis a successful Palouse farmer, but he operated one of the region’s most popular stagecoach stops. And, when he was 72 and “everyone in the territory thought that he was absolutely insane,” he opened an ornate hotel on the summit of Steptoe Butte.
Its heyday was short-lived. But Cashup’s legacy lives on in this biography, co-written by Seattle-area journalist Jeff Burnside and Cashup’s great-grandson Gordon Davis. His reverence for Cashup shines through each chapter.
The story starts with Cashup’s burning dream. The luxury hotel he built on the butte is on fire. It’s 1911. Cashup’s son watches the structure go up in flames from a telescope that once offered guests sweeping views from the hotel’s rooftop cupola.
By now, the hotel had been closed for about a decade and Cashup, born in 1815, had been dead nearly 15 years.
He was already a grandfather in his mid-50s when he first caught “Oregon fever.” In 1870, he brought nine of his 11 children, ranging in age from three to 19, to Oregon. In 1872, they continued on to the Palouse, where Cashup got right to work building a name—and nickname—for himself. Cash was rare in those days and, while many pioneers bartered or traded, he would offer to pay a certain amount “cash up.”
His stagecoach business dwindled as rail lines were laid throughout the region, and Cashup—short in stature but stubborn and self-assured—was on to his next venture. He bought the butte, built a road to the top, and opened his grand hotel on July 4, 1888. Cashup designed it himself—with a dining room for 50 patrons, ballroom ringed by a second-floor balcony, and 14-by-14-foot cupola.
“Cashup had a mania for company, and the bigger the crowd and the longer it stayed, the better his mood,” the Spokane Review is quoted in the book, which traces Cashup’s life from East Sussex to New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, Oregon, and, finally, the Palouse. Drawing from newspaper accounts, family documents, and interviews with longtime Palouse residents, it provides a rich context for Cashup’s journey.
The multilayered narrative jumps back and forth in time and perspective—from the objective voice of a journalist to the “we” of both writers and personal reflections of an adoring descendant. The well-researched text is peppered with commentary from Davis, who opines about the parallels he finds between his own life and that of his ancestor he never met. “Cashup was relentless. I am, too,” says Davis, who repeatedly refers to Cashup as his “secret mentor.”
After a few good years, hotel traffic slowed. In 1894, Cashup’s wife of 50 years, Mary Ann, died. By the time he died in 1896, Cashup was living in his empty hotel atop a lonely peak, waiting for crowds that no longer came.