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Oregon Pioneer Biographies



     Conspicuous among the early settlers of Jackson County is Abel D. Helman, who came here a full half century ago, and has since been an important factor in developing its resources and advancing its interests. Prominent in the upbuilding of Ashland, which he had the honor of naming for the Ohio county in which he was born, he is one of its most respected residents. Soon after locating here, he succeeded in having a post office located in Ashland, in 1855, and was appointed its first postmaster, giving a bond as security. At first mails arrived once a month only, later coming once a week. When a daily mail was established, he gave a new bond, and when the office was made a money order office his bond had to be made largely increased. As postmaster he served twenty-seven consecutive years without re-appointment, no one offering opposition until the salary reached the sum of $600 per annum, when others sought to secure the plum, and, in 1882, a successor was appointed, Mr. Helman made no effort whatever to retain the position. Coming from substantial German stock, he was born, April 10, 1824 in Wayne, now Ashland, county, Ohio, where his father, John Helman, was engaged in agricultural pursuits.

     Born in Germany, John Helman immigrated to this country with his parents, locating first in Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the War of 1812, and afterwards removed to Ohio, where he was for many years successfully engaged in general farming. His wife, whose maiden name was Sophia Dougherty, was born in Pennsylvania, and died on the home farm in Ohio. Four sons and three daughters were born of their union, and of these three children are now living. One son, Harmon, came to the Pacific coast with the gold seekers in 1849 and died in California. Another son, John, came to Oregon in 1853, but is now a resident of Montana.

     The fourth child in succession of birth in the parental household, Abel D. Helman grew to man's estate on the home farm in Ohio. Obtaining his early education in a subscription school, he was a pupil in the pioneer log schoolhouse with its puncheon floor and rude slab benches, learning to write with a quill pen. Subsequently learning a carpenter's trade in Wooster, Wayne County, Ohio, he followed that in connection with the trade until he was twenty-six years old. In January, 1850, anxious to follow the gold hunters, he sailed from New York in the streamer Ohio to Aspinwall, and then preceded on foot to Panama, where he waited a month for a vessel to take him to California. Arriving in San Francisco in April, 1850, he went to Weaver Creek, where he was engaged in mining for a time and subsequently worked his trade in Sacramento for about a year. In 1851 Mr. Helman made a trip to over the mountains to the Willamette Valley, Ore., driving a mule team from Yreka,Cal., to Salem, Ore., on the way crossing a part of the tract that he afterwards took up as a donation claim. Returning to California, Mr. Helman resided in Yreka until January, 1852, when, with two friends from Ashland County, Ohio, he came to what is now Jackson County, Ore., and took up three hundred and twenty acres of land on what was then called Rock Creek. Erecting a log cabin on the thoroughfare now known as Helman Street, he kept house until the arrival of his wife and children, for whom he returned to Ohio in 1853. In 1852, with his two companions, he built a saw-mill on Mill Creek, and two years later erected a grist-mill near by. In 1855 Mr. Helman laid out 12 lots around the plaza, naming the settlement Ashland from his native county. During the Indian Wars of 1855 and 1856 he took part, being assigned to home duty at a fort on Wagner creek. for a number of years thereafter he operated the mils, then sold out and resumed work at his trade. As a carpenter and contractor he erected several fine residences and barns, and as a cabinetmaker did a good deal of work. Mr. Helman has within a few years laid out three or four additions to Ashland, his entire home farm being now included within the city limits. Of this he still owns about sixty acres, which he devotes principally to the culture of peaches. He is almost the oldest settler of this locality, he and Mr. Hargadine having taking up the first two donation claims in Ashland.

     In Wooster, Ohio, Mr. Helman married for his first wife Martha J. Kanagy, who was born in Pennsylvania, came to Oregon by the Nicaragua route in 1853, and died soon afterwards on the home farm. Eight children were born of their union, namely: Mrs. Almeda L. Shepard of California; John K., living in Ashland; Mrs. Mary E. Niles, of California; Martha Jane, wife of J.A. Carter, of Ashland; Abraham Lincoln, of Ashland; Benjamin Butler, also of Ashland; Ulysses Grant, of Ashland, and Otis O., of Ashland. For his second wife Mr. Helman married Mrs. S.A. Rockfeller, who was born in Ohio, and came to Oregon in 1873. Politically Mr. Helman is an ardent supporter of the principles of the Republican party, and has served as councilman one term. Fraternally he is a member of Ashland Lodge, No. 45, I.O.O.F., of which he is past noble grand, and was Grandmaster of the Grand Lodge in 1892; is a member, and past chief patriarch, of Pilot rock Encampment. In 1891 he was grand patriarch of the Grand Encampment; in 1892 was grand representative to the Sovereign Grand Lodge, at Portland, Ore., and in 1893, went to Milwaukee,Wis., as grand representative to the Sovereign Grand Lodge. He is also identified with the Rebekah's, and is a member of both county and state Pioneer associations. Possessing deep religious convictions, he is a firm believer in the Bible, and although not a church member is inclined towards the Methodist Episcopal faith.

(Portrait and Biographical Record of Western Oregon 1904)

Contributed by Robin Helman October 23, 1998. Robin is the Assistant State Coordinator for the WIGenWeb. Visit the Helman Family Home Page.

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