Postmistress of Lamonta and Newspaper Manager

Kate Helfrich

By Steve Lent, Crook County Historian

Katherine Helfrich was born in Antelope Valley, California on December 1, 1870. Her mother died when she was only nine years old and Kate assumed the care of her younger sister and four brothers. Even with the burden of taking care of her siblings Kate managed to acquire an education and learned the art of typography.

When she was 16 years old her father filed a homestead claim in Central Oregon about fifteen miles north of Prineville near the region locally known as Haystack. This was during a homestead boom time and several claims were filed in the immediate vicinity. Homesteaders mostly subsisted on dryland farming and it became a productive region as it was a relatively wet period in the local climate. The influx of homesteaders led to a desire to have more local mail. Post offices had been established at nearby locations such as Haystack and Desert, but it required traveling relatively long distance to get the mail.

Young Kate was instrumental in getting a post office approved for the area and the new office was to be located in the Helfrich home. Kate was appointed the first postmistress and submitted the name La Monta for the new office. It had no particular meaning other than it sounded pleasant to her. After some haggling with the Post Office Department the name was finally approved and Kate officially took over as postmistress on September 7, 1898.

Soon the site became a small town that included a hotel, store, saloon and a dance hall. Later a school was established nearby. The region briefly became prosperous and Kate filed for her own homestead. The name of the town was shortened to Lamonta.

After her siblings grew up Kate became eager to expand her horizons. She began doing some typography for newspapers in Prineville. She maintained her homestead at Lamonta but soon became sought after for newspaper work. In June 0f 1902 a new newspaper was established near Bend and was named the Deschutes Echo. The fledgling newspaper needed a manager and typographer and the owner Alomond Palmer lured Kate to become the manager of the paper.

Kate traveled to Portland on several occasions hoping to attract advertisers for the paper. She became disenchanted with the owner of the paper and resigned in 1903, but began negotiating to buy the paper from Palmer. She was just beginning to become an emerging young activist in the region.

In April 1903 she came to Prineville and boarded at the Poindexter Hotel while visiting her family at Lamonta. While staying at the hotel some girls working there became sick and Kate feared it was smallpox. She helped nurse one of the girls despite not being vaccinated and her fear of the dreaded disease. She soon left for Portland and shortly after more people became sick and it was determined to be smallpox. A panic spread through the community. Kate learned of the epidemic and became frightened that she would contract the disease.

Unfortunately she was soon diagnosed with a severe case of smallpox. She was taken from her room at a hotel in Portland to a local pesthouse for smallpox victims. She died just a few days later on May 5, 1903.

The promising young newspaper woman had come to a tragic end. The town of her naming did not survive her for long. Lamonta post office was closed in 1918 and no trace of the once prosperous little town remains.