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Veteran TV journalist writes debut biography, ‘Cashup Davis: The Inspiring Life of Secret Mentor’

Sept. 18, 2022 Updated Sun., Sept. 18, 2022 at 5:59 p.m.

Since leaving a senior investigative reporting role at Seattle’s KOMO TV News in 2015, Jeff Burnside has continued to work and write independently. A veteran TV news reporter, anchor and executive producer, Burnside can now add “author” – and soon “documentarian” – to his list of job titles.

But why now? Well, Burnside said, when the right story comes along, you know.

“As you get along in your career, you … run across stories that just scream for a book,” he said.

That story centers on an immigrant from England who made his way to Eastern Washington and eventually built a hotel atop Steptoe Butte.

In “Cashup Davis: The Inspiring Life of a Secret Mentor,” Burnside delves into the life of “the first celebrity pioneer.” Born in England, Davis emigrated with dreams of making a name for himself in the United States. Written in collaboration with Davis’ great-grandson, Gordon Davis, the book follows Davis as Burnside’s research slowly introduces him to his great-grandfather, the man he’s long considered a “secret mentor” on the path to his own success.

“He’s all about the pursuit of excellence,” Davis said, mentioning his great-grandfather’s willingness to pursue reward even where the risk might have deterred others. “And that’s a big deal for me – he always went for it.”

Granted, he said, the last risk his great-grandfather took didn’t work out the way he’d hoped. The hotel Cashup Davis built at the summit of Steptoe Butte was doomed to be abandoned and famously burned to the ground in 1911, several years after his death.

“But nevertheless, he did it – he tried,” Davis said. “And the thing I learned from that was if I ever get a good idea, I’m not going to fail. And I did not.”

Burnside first met Davis through their fraternity at Washington State University. But the pair really became friends while working together on a capital campaign a few years back.

Over the course of their conversations, the name “Cashup Davis” just kept coming up.

Fascinated by the stories he was hearing, Burnside told Davis that he should write a book, to which Davis said, “Well, you’re the journalist.”

Burnside jumped on board, quickly convincing Davis to collaborate .

“The book is really told through Gordy’s eyes,” Burnside said. “All those years growing up in Deer Park – and, of course, his family being from the Palouse – I think Gordy’s always kind of idolized Cashup in a lot of ways, but he really wanted to go deep.”

With the book finished, Burnside is in the process of developing a documentary companion piece.

“I’ve had to put the script kind of to the side on my desk for a while, but we’re working on that now,” Burnside said.

They were doing the research anyway, so why not put it all to work in a second project?

“There’ll be good synergy between the book and the film,” he said, recalling how one of their early reviewers referred to the book as “cinematic.”

“I just love that because (the story) screams for a documentary – it’s just very visual,” he said. “If you spend time in the Palouse – when the sun is just right, there’s no more beautiful place on earth. … And we have captured that on camera – the spirit of the Palouse both then and now.”

With both projects well underway, they’ve even looking into a third.

“We’ve had people approach us about a screenplay for a dramatic film,” Burnside said. “Which would just be a home run.”

Burnside and Davis will participate in several launch events on Monday including a news conference with WSU President Kirk Schulz at 9:30 a.m., a trip to the summit of Steptoe Butte in honor of Cashup Davis, a 4:30 p.m. book signing at Auntie’s Bookstore and a 6 p.m. book reading and book signing in the meeting room at The Onion in downtown Spokane.

“Cashup Davis: The Inspiring Life of a Secret Mentor” is available at wsupress.wsu.edu. For information, visit cashupdavis.com.

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