Prince Helfrich


The hair-raising howl of the timber wolf is a thing of the past in the Cascade Mountains. The pony camps used by the Warm Springs Indians in their summer migrations to the valleys of western Oregon are now discernible only by the occasional glimpse of an obsidian arrowhead glittering in the grass. And, zipping along Highway 126 into the High Cascades, one finds it difficult to imagine that this was once a dim trail leading to Clear Lake, traversable only by foot, cross country ski or on horseback.

This was the natural world of Prince Helfrich, and he lived his life to the fullest in it. Skilled outdoorsman, whitewater riverman, explorer, naturalist, conservationist, storyteller and writer, he was that rarest of combination-a man of action and of contemplation. Not only did he move naturally among the forests, streams and mountains that were his home, but also through his knowledge of the geology, plants, and animals of Oregon, and his gift for words, he was able to make that world live vividly for others. A charter member of the McKenzie River Guides Association, Prince was remembered by his guests for his unsurpassed skills on the river as well as for his tasty biscuits and rainbow trout. Evenings spent around his campfires were filled with the sound of his harmonica mingling with the sounds of the night, and with the stories of Indians and animals that he would recount, conjuring up a passing legendary world.

Prince and Marjorie Helfrich

Prince and Marjorie Helfrich

Many of his clients went on to become lifelong friends. Among them former Governor of Oregon, Robert W. Straub, said of Prince: “Oregon rivers were just rivers until we met Prince Helfrich. Running rivers with Prince made them come alive. He gave Pat and me a most precious gift- a greater sense of awe about nature.”

Born in Prineville in 1907 and named after a pioneering frontiersman, Prince Helfrich moved with his family to Halfway (now Hawthorne Cottages) on the McKenzie River when was seven years old. As a boy, he would go down to Clover Point, near Nimrod to search for lost fishing flies among the bramble, and it was there that his love of fly fishing began. He began guiding on the McKenzie for Thomson’s Lodge while still a student at the University of Oregon. With neither plywood nor waterproof glues available, the boats of the time were heavy plank and pitch scows, incapable of running serious rapids and requiring a strong arm to row and constant bucket to bail. The quest for a light, maneuverable craft had yet to yield the modern day drift boat.

Prince was an alumnus of the University of Oregon class of 1929, and married his college sweetheart, Marjorie Love Peyton, in 1931. He passed his outdoor skills, natural knowledge a d lor on to his sons and daughter. All three sons, and many of his grandchildren, went on to become highly respected guides in their own rights, In the 19040’s, Prince founded the Skyline Boys Camp to teach wilderness survival skills to young men of ten to fourteen. He ran this camp for seventeen years.

All his life, Prince was drawn to exploration, and he loved the challenge of white water rivers. He was the first to run the upper Rogue, the Deschutes, the John Day and the Blackwater in British Columbia.

Prince’s love of the natural world led him to become an early conservationist and spokesman for the wilderness, and he was once asked to testify before Congress on related matters. He was the first president and charter member of the Oregon Guides and Packers Association, charter member and vice president of the McKenzie River Fly Fisher Association, and a member of numerous conservation organizations. In 1961, Prince was asked to write a series of articles for the Register Guard. He responded with stories written in an eloquent, quiet style and filled with the natural knowledge local lore and not a few tall takes that are his legacy to the McKenzie Rive community and to all who cherish our wilderness heritage.