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Then and Now: Steptoe Butte

Prominent Palouse landmark was site of hotel

May 20, 1891: Locals pose during a celebration at the hotel on top of Steptoe Butte.

James “Cashup” Davis, born in England in 1815, came to America in 1840 to seek his fortune. He married in Ohio and headed west in a covered wagon in 1871. He settled near St. John, Wash., and later near Steptoe Butte. On a 1,600-acre homestead he farmed wheat, raised livestock and started a general store with a dance hall and rooms for rent, making the Davis ranch a popular stop for stagecoaches during the 1870s. Intermittent battles between the Army and the Nez Perce made life uncertain, but the Davis family prospered enough to use money instead of barter or credit. When asked to pay a bill, Davis would “cash up,” hence the nickname. But as rails were laid through the region, the stagecoach business dried up in the 1880s. Davis’ early success in the hospitality business led him to dream of a hotel perched atop Steptoe Butte, a rocky hill in the middle of the Palouse. He bought it from the railroad and built a road to the top. His two-story hotel, which cost $10,000, opened in 1888. After a few good years, business slowed. His wife, Mary Ann, died in 1894. In the end, Cashup lived alone in the hotel, waiting for crowds that didn’t come. He died in 1896 at 81. Teens playing in the abandoned hotel burned it down in 1911.

– Jesse Tinsley

Aug. 12: A meteor streaks across the sky at the top of Steptoe Butte State Park.