Cabin Fever: On the Western Frontier with Levi’s®

Levi Strauss & Co.
January 26, 2017

With a name like Rogue River, you’d expect this Oregon locale to be site of many a frontier tale. But it might come as a surprise that this particular wilderness story has an important connection to Levi’s®, another quintessential feature of the American West.

In 2016, a small cabin belonging to Zane Grey, author and frontier enthusiast, was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The one-room cabin set amid remote forest was the perfect wilderness retreat for this novelist.

The Rogue River “flows through a lonely valley set amid the lofty green mountain slopes,” wrote Grey about the site. When his novels, particularly Riders of the Purple Sage, won him a large readership and hefty sales, Grey bought a mining claim in 1926 at a spot called Winkle Bar and built the cabin. There, he fished for steelhead trout and enjoyed the solitude.

Picturesque alone time, and the cabin that went with it, also appealed to Walter Haas, Jr., great-grandnephew of Levi Strauss and President of the company from 1958 to 1970. An accomplished fly fisherman, Walter especially enjoyed fishing along the Rogue River. When Grey died in 1939, the same year Walter joined LS&Co., Walter heard the writer’s property was up for sale. He proceeded to take the bait on that opportunity.

“The property was in a rugged and remote section of the Rogue River, accessible by boat or a seldom-used trail,” Walter’s son, Bob Haas, explained. “He hired a crew to build a modest house and nearby open-air sleeping cabin, and, importantly, fixed up Zane Grey’s old cabin and boat shed so that people boating down the river could stop and get a feel for how the famous author lived when he came there to fish.”

To discourage graffiti, Walter put out a guest register and encouraged visitors to record their visits. He even maintained his own Winkle Bar diary of his trips. The diary remains a keepsake in the Haas family.

“After our father’s death we sought to preserve the property,” said Bob. The family agreed to sell the site to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for a small sum with the stipulation that the property be maintained in its original state. Check out photos of the cabin here via the Bend Bulletin.

Inspired by passages like, “The sun changed from white to gold and rested like a huge ball about to roll on its golden shadows down the slope,” LS&Co. quoted some of Grey’s prose in a publication titled The West by Zane Grey and Levi Strauss & Co. That work, which came out in the 1980s, expresses this romantic mood of the old West. It also captures the unique tie — now solidified by a cabin connection — between the Levi’s® brand and the famous writer.