Early Helfrich Family History — Establishing Home on the McKenzie River

Early Helfrich Family History — Establishing Home on the McKenzie River

By Dave Helfrich & His Mom Marjorie Helfrich

My grand-folks, Byron Benjamin and Ruth Helfrich were married over in Prineville and lived there for several years. There they had three children. My Dad, Prince, was one of the three, and he started this whole business of outfitting and guiding.

My great Granddad, John Helfrich, was born in Germany. His wife, Martha was born in Kansas, and they had six kids. Benjamin was the youngest and his mother, Martha died when he was one-year old. This left great granddad John and the oldest kid of the six, Katy, to raise the kids. In the late 1800s John filed a homestead claim near Prineville, where each of his kids filed homestead claims a bit later. That was where Granddad Benjamin met and married my grandmother, Ruth Gladys Wright Helfrich.

They relocated to the McKenzie in 1914 after a short time in Northern California. Their place on the McKenzie was called Hafway because it was half way between Eugene and the summit of the Cascades. Their ranch was located on the flat where the old Mom’s Pies and J & J Cabins sit now. 

One of the first things Ben did was build the Hafway store. Then he built some cabins on the river so overnight guests could stay there. They’d come up there in their wagon and team. Ben had a big barn out there, a big stable. He took care of the guests’ horses, and the cabins were for the people to stay in. I’ve got some of the old brochures on the cabins (See Below), and they show about $3 a day per couple. Each cabin had a double bed. So my grandfolks provided a good place to stay, a place to stable horses, and a little grocery store to sell food. Guests either brought their own, or bought food. They probably sold quite a bit to people traveling through

The store was something that my grandmother ran. She had fresh vegetables in the store from her own garden. She’d go out and pick some fresh vegetables every day and bring them in for anybody that stopped in there, wanting to buy vegetables. She was trying to make a buck, maybe a dime at a time. I don’t know if my grandmother did any cooking for anybody or not.

Granddad did everything he could to make a living. He raised hay in the field, and cut the hay, storing it in the barn so he had some feed for peoples’ stock when they spent the night.

In 1987 my mother, Marjorie Helfrich, wrote a brief history of our family’s relocation into McKenzie country:

The Helfrich family, parents of Prince Helfrich, were early day settlers on the McKenzie River. Ben and Ruth Helfrich migrated from California in the early 1900s, after homesteading a large ranch near Prineville, Oregon.

About 1914 they bought 160 acres of land in the McKenzie Valley from a family named Rust. The sale consisted of some timber, large meadows, and a mile of riverfront, all for $5,000. The house that was included was well built and has a river rock fireplace that dominated the living room. Heat for the house was furnished by this fireplace and a huge black cook stove in the kitchen. Refrigeration was in the form of a “cooling house” built around a cold spring in the backyard.

Travelers coming up river overnighted their teams in the big Helfrich stable and were given food and lodging before they continued their journey to Eastern Oregon. This was a day’s journey by wagon from Eugene, and was about halfway to the summit of the Cascades.

Later on Ben built cabins on the river bank, and the guests he took on fishing trips were the beginning of the Helfrich family fishing and guiding business.

Ben Helfrich had one of the first cars on the River, a 1914 Ford. Once a month he traveled to Eugene with a list of food items and necessities for his neighbors. Occasionally he took passengers as well.

The Nimrod school where the children learned their A-B-C’s was a mile down river. It had one room and eight children attending. The teacher stayed with local families. The school was the gathering place for social events such as dances and potlucks.

The closest neighbors for the Helfrich family were Wakefields to the east and the Charley Neal family two miles downriver. The country was still wild and sparsely settled and in winters of heavy snow one could find wolf tracks in the trails which followed the river.

In the fall of the year parties of Warm Spring Indians from Eastern Oregon came over the mountains to fish for salmon and gather huckleberries. They put their nets and traps in what is now Hendricks Park area. The air would be pungent for weeks with the smell of drying and decaying fish.

The family dogs announced the yearly arrival of the tribes. Several dog fights broke out and everyone rushed out to see the visitors. The Indians drove wagons with light beds, and usually had a horse or two tied on behind. Some of the men rode ponies. Several mangy, ill-tempered dogs trotted along, sometimes beneath the wagons to find shade on hot, fall days. The Warm Springs were a poor tribe, and always looked needy.

The Indians camped under the apple trees and the annual trading and exchange of news began. Homesteaders traded deer skins and other pelts for moccasins and gloves. The skins were picked up in the fall and the finished products were delivered the next.

Squaws and children picked up apples and Ruth Helfrich shared her garden, fruit and health remedies with them. On the way over the mountains the Indians had also picked up obsidian for their knives and arrowheads.

The men of the family exchanged hunting stories with the visitors. A great deal of sign language was used. The homesteaders also liked to know what the tribes thought the coming winter would be like. This was based on natural signs, the heaviness of animal coats, the early migration or hibernation of other animals.

In later years the Helfrich family added a small store to their accommodations for guests, and called their place “Hafway.” The years passed and more people came to the McKenzie for fishing and vacations. Around 1936 Hafway was sold and a new era of owners and development began.”

5 Reasons Why “Non-Campers” Love Helfrich Camping Trips

5 Reasons Why “Non-Campers” Love Helfrich Camping Trips

“As outfitters, we encounter a lot of potential river guests who want to experience these amazing wild places but are worried about spending a week camping in the wilderness.  The best is when these people bite the bullet and decide to go anyways.  Without fail, by the end of the the trip you hear reactions like “Wow, turns out I do like camping! This kind of camping at least!”  Our goal as your outfitter is to make your wilderness experience as comfortable and enjoyable as we can.  With the accommodations, equipment and meals we provide, we have all of the pieces in place to meet and exceed your expectations.”

– Kelsey Helfrich, Owner/Outfitter

Frequently Asked Questions About Middle Fork Camping


  • Sleeping Gear: Most guests prefer to bring their own sleeping bag and pillow, but we also offer rental sleeping bags with pillows for a small cleaning fee.
  • Sleeping Outside: Our guides often sleep outside; we encourage you to pull your cot out and do the same!  The stars are AMAZING! 
  • Personal Tents: Generally, we bunk two people per tent, but private arrangements can be made for solo travelers or odd-numbered groups for an additional fee.  Our tents are also large enough to accommodate 3 or 4 guests for families that prefer to sleep in the same tent together. 
  • Accommodations for Tall Guests:  We offer extra long and wide cots for our larger stature guests by request. 

Our Food:

  • Special Diets: We can accommodate most dietary needs. We suggest reviewing our menu beforehand and bringing any specific substitute items you may need.
  • Picky Eaters: Each of our meals have multiple options for guests to choose from and our guides are great about accommodating requests.

The Shower:

  • Soap in the River: To help protect and maintain our pristine ecosystem, soap is not permitted in the river, sidestreams, hot springs or anywhere near the water.  Our shower offers guests the opportunity to stay clean and fresh without negatively impacting the river.
  • How Much Water: Water for the shower is hauled by hand in buckets up from the river, heated on the fire and mixed to the right temperature for you.  We ask that you try to conserve the amount of water you use by turning the shower on and off as needed. 

The Bar and Drinks:

  • What to Bring: We supply a variety of beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, but you’re welcome to bring additional preferred drinks. Cans are preferred over bottles for easier disposal.
  • Beverage Service: We offer our guests a beverage service (for a fee) where we will purchase and pack your extra beverages for your trip so that they are ready and waiting for you when you arrive.  

More Frequently Asked Questions: Click Here

The Rogue River’s Blossom Bar Rapid: A Blend of History and Thrill

The Rogue River’s Blossom Bar Rapid: A Blend of History and Thrill

The Rogue River is a beloved destination for multi-day river expeditions, drawing adventurers from around the world every year. Since 1968, it has been one of the original eight Wild and Scenic Rivers, celebrated for its exhilarating rapids, unique fishery, fascinating side hikes, abundant wildlife and rich history.

The Legendary Blossom Bar Rapid

At the heart of the Rogue River’s allure is Blossom Bar Rapid, one of the most well known rapids in the west. Its reputation is well-known, with numerous tales of triumph and tribulation shared among river enthusiasts. A Rich Historical Landscape

Blossom Bar’s history is as rugged as its waters. Initially, an unnavigable boulder maze, the rapid posed a significant barrier to early river travelers, compelling many to carry their boats around it. Nearby, gold miners established operations, leaving remnants that hint at the area’s bustling past. In the 1930s and 1940s, efforts to tame the river for navigation saw the use of dynamite to clear pathways through rapids, forever altering the river’s flow. Among the river pioneers who undertook this daring task was Dave Helfrich, whose contributions significantly shaped the river’s present-day landscape.  Check out Dave’s story about dynamiting Blossom Bar here.

Blossom Bar’s Namesake

The naming of Blossom Bar pays homage to the natural beauty surrounding it, inspired by the Western Azalea’s fragrant blooms that adorn the canyon in spring. This area, rich in biodiversity, reflects the unique ecology of the Siskiyou Mountains.

Experiencing the Rapid in a Drift Boat

Navigating Blossom Bar in a drift boat introduces an entirely different dynamic to confronting this rapid. Known for their agility and maneuverability, drift boats offer a markedly smoother ride through the tumultuous waters. This advantage allows boaters to expertly weave through the boulder-strewn rapid, making the experience less about battling the water and more about gracefully dancing with it. The design of these boats, optimized for river running, coupled with the skill of seasoned rowers, turns the journey through Blossom Bar into an exhilarating ballet of precision and fluidity.

Today, Blossom Bar stands not only as a testament to the raw power of nature but also as a monument to human ingenuity and the unyielding spirit of adventure. The rapid’s blend of natural beauty, historical richness, and the thrill of navigation continues to captivate the hearts of those who traverse the Rogue River, making every trip through Blossom Bar a memorable experience of its own.

Shootin’ Blossom – Dynamiting Blossom Bar Rapid on the Rogue River

Shootin’ Blossom – Dynamiting Blossom Bar Rapid on the Rogue River

Dave and Dick Helfrich, Editor Roger Fletcher

Blossom Bar is a Class IV rapid on the Rogue River. It is called ‘Blossom” because of the wild azaleas that dominate the flora in that immediate area. In the last seven years Blossom has taken seven lives. A notorious rock garden that once required portaging boats and equipment, is navigable today by skilled oarsmen. Blossom Bar was opened by the early guides with the use of dynamite. Blasting Blossom was sometimes done surreptitiously, and sometimes openly, with U.S. Forest Service tacit approval. It was always dangerous (Editor).

I think I told you logging is the most dangerous profession, and I came through my logging years with nothing more than a broken toe. If I did anything more dangerous than logging, it mighta been shootin’ Blossom.

Dick, you broke up some rocks yourself, but you did it different, without dynamite.
Dick: Yeh, back up there at Rainie. As we were lining the boats around Rainie Falls, Red Keller told me that kinda depending on the rock, you can move them with a sledge hammer. If you see that it has veins or striations in it, and you can hit the rock just right, and it’ll break apart. You want to put on some eye protection. Do you remember those bad ones at the lower end of the chute we were hitting our boats on several times? We hit ‘em with a sledge hammer.

Another time I had the ax in my boat. There was a group ahead of us with aluminum boats, and they hung up near the top of the fish ladder. They let out the rope and their boat got crosswise. The current couldn’t make it around it. It was just lodged there. We were waiting to line through there. I could tell they needed help. So Steve Schaefers and I walked down there and I took that axe with me. The rock was on the north shore and it had those striations in it, so I began to hit that rock. The third time I hit it a big chunk broke off and it released that boat. They had a hold of it and they got through there. But some of those rocks were like sandstone, and many are volcanic, but some of them we were able to move.
Ya know, Dave, an interesting dynamite story was when Dean and I put in on the Rogue with a group in November. It was the year that BLM was widening the trails. We had lunch and went through the next rapid, and we began to fish. Way up the hill on the right BLM was working on that trail. All of a sudden, someone came down the hill running, hollering, “Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!” We were right down below them.

That stuff went up in the air. There wasn’t anything we could do but watch. I mean, there were chunks the size of a softball, and a lot of smaller pieces. One of them hit the deck of my boat. It probably wasn’t any bigger than a marble, but it dented it.

We went on down to Black Bar Lodge. The crew that had been doing the blasting was staying at Black Bar also. The official in charge of the crew came down to visit with us. He was apologetic. He told us that they weren’t expecting any boats, and so they didn’t post any signs on the river. This was probably in the early 70s. We were staying in Black Bar the first night. That was pretty scary.

Well, let me tell you about “scary.” It wasn’t long after Everett Spaulding and I started boating together, that Everett wanted to shoot out Blossom Bar on the Rogue. A friend of ours by the name of Frances Russell had a cabin up there at Brushy Bar. He said, anytime you want to use that cabin, go right ahead. So we decided that we’d take our two powerboats and our wives, and we’d go up there. I agreed to help Everett with Blossom. I had all this experience with dynamite, using it in the logging business and all. I knew how to handle dynamite.

So I bought six boxes of powder. In those days you could pull your pickup in front of the place, say I need six boxes of 40 percent, throw them in the back of the truck, and drive home. You can no longer do that. If you’ve got a box of powder in your car, you’ve gotta have flag cars and everything else.

After we settled in at Francis Russell’s, the two of us took a run upstream to Blossom Bar in Everett’s powerboat. We were gonna improve that channel. These were great big boulders the size of a pickup truck, and there was one in particular that was in the way. I wanted to move it to the south. So I loaded up a big charge, about 20 sticks. Everett edged me up there so I could hop off on that rock. My plan was to drop the charge on the north side of the rock. I could ease that nest of dynamite attached to a sack full of rocks, using a pole, down the upriver side, so the current could hold that dynamite right next the that rock. I had three different caps and fuses, triple. I didn’t want to take any chances on something not going off. So I had triples. These were the kind of fuses that you light, and when it comes to the other end, the cap blows up. You can’t use that kind anymore. You have to use the kind that you touch off with electricity.

Anyway, I figured out how to keep those things reasonably dry in plastic bags with black tape and grease, stuff like that. I put 20 sticks in that charge and placed it where I wanted it. I was all ready to go. Spaulding was in his boat, and he said, Light “em and let’s go. So I lit ‘em. They had 10-foot long fuses, so theoretically they’d burn for 10 minutes. I’m getting ready to jump back in his boat, and when I looked, there was Spaulding trying to start his motor. He was trying to get that motor running, pulling on that cord, pullin’ on it, and pullin’ on it, chokin’ it, and pullin’ on it. And here I was, standing on that damn rock with 20 sticks under me in the middle of the Rogue River, with a life jacket on. I was a good enough swimmer that I could jump in and swim on down there, or I could wait and see if Everett got the motor started. Or, I could jerk the charge out of the dynamite. That’s what I ended up doin’. I got a hold of those fuses and I gave them a big jerk, and jerked them all out.

Everett finally got that motor started. I loaded up another 20 sticks and put ‘em in there. This time I said, Everett, keep that damn motor runnin’. I lit the charge again and we headed back down to the head of Devil’s Stairway and watched it go off. When the explosion went off, that rock disappeared. It absolutely disappeared. There was nowhere to find even a piece of it. That blast created a real geyser goin’ in there in the air.

We had Deke Miller helpin’ us up there too, Deke Miller from Paradise. He had his 30/30, and he walked up the trail ahead of us. He said, if anybody is comin’ down the river, I’m gonna shoot a couple of signal shots. But fortunately, at that time of the evening, nobody was comin’ down the river.

I think we shot it two or three more times in there to get rid of some rocks. I’m not sure if we just ran out of dynamite, or we were satisfied with the job that we did, but when we finished Blossom was runnable with an empty drift boat. But there was still a rock stickin’ up down there that was still a problem. But we went on ahead and ran Blossom on our next trip. In the meantime, Wooldridge, Briggs or Pritchett came in there and shot that one rock that was still in the way. Blossom hasn’t changed since then, except the normal highwater stuff washing in a few more boulders, or washing out a few boulders.

Ya know that one great big rock in the middle up there that you pull in behind before doing the chute? It’s moving downriver a little bit. Each time we have a big flood that boulder gets nudged downstream a little bit. That passage is narrowing where you come down there with your boat. We used to come through there with the boat and you could slip through sideways. You won’t fit through that way now. You come down there now, you get all prepared, and then have to push through that little hole.

I think if I had to choose which profession was the most dangerous, logging or shooting Blossom, I’d have to say, shooting Blossom with Everett.

Buttermilk Biscuit Recipe

Buttermilk Biscuit Recipe

If you have ever been on a multi-day Helfrich trip, you have most likely enjoyed the family recipe for dutch oven buttermilk biscuits. These biscuits are a fluffy, flavorful, delight that make any meal amazing. Top them with butter and jam or honey, make a biscuit sandwich or enjoy as the base for strawberry shortcake — you really can’t go wrong with any option.

Guests have been asking for the recipe for these biscuits for years so we have finally decided to share.


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