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.”

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