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Riddle of the Month

The Human Resources Department of the City of Medford publishes a monthly newsletter for City employees, and I occasionally write articles or items of historical interest to the City or Jackson County, Oregon. For example, here is a “riddle of the month” published in the June issue of the newsletter Corridors:

What name definitively does not belong on the following list, and explain your answer?

Roxana Baker, John Bowen, Abel D. Helman, David Loring, A. A. Skinner, James Stuart

The answer is that Abel D. Helman was not connected to Medford, while all the others were. Here’s a more detailed explanation:

John Bowen was married to Roxy Ann Bowen, after whom Roxy Ann Peak is named. It was originally known as Skinner Butte after A. A. Skinner, Indian agent from 1851-53. One authority mistakenly believed the name Roxy Ann was applied to the peak in 1854 for Roxana Baker, but John and Roxy Ann Bowen lived near the base of the peak in the 1850s, according to the McArthurs’ Oregon Geographic Names, well before Roxana Baker. David Loring, civil engineer for the Oregon & California Rail Road Co., named Medford after the middle ford of Bear Creak, although he was also from Medford, Massachusetts. Bear Creek was originally known as Stuart Creek after Captain James Stuart, who died June 18, 1851 the day after being wounded in hostile action against an Indian band a few miles from the confluence of the creek with the Rogue River. There is no apparent connection between Medford and Abel D. Helman, lumber mill owner who named Ashland Mills in 1852, used the same name for a later-built flour mill he and several others built, and served as that City’s first postmaster beginning in 1855. He served as postmaster for 27 years. The word “Mills” was dropped from the City name for Ashland in 1871.

More discussion

When preparing the riddle of the month question, I relied on the McArthurs’ description under the Ashland entry, which used the two-L spelling for Helman’s last name, citing various newspaper and other accounts, including postal records. Helman’s name was almost certainly spelled with one L, reminding again about the inadvisability of relying on a single source for particular kinds of facts. Regardless of the spelling, Helman was not identified with the early days of Medford as were all the others.

A city colleague who successfully answered the question also unearthed a recent exchange between a correspondent for the Medford Mail Tribune and a writer in the Beaufort Gazette, South Carolina, regarding the final resting place for James Stuart. Bill Miller’s article in the Mail-Tribune on May 6, 2007, and a column in the Beaufort Gazette by Gerhard Spieler on June 17, 2007, both giving details on Stuart’s original burial in Phoenix, Oregon, and his permanent burial spot at St. Helena’s Episcopal Churchyard in Beaufort, South Carolina. Apparently the burial location was not known in Southern Oregon about 155 years, but was the subject of a 1974 article by Spieler in South Carolina, and confirmed in column earlier this month.

Stuart was born in Beaufort, S. C. on July 12, 1825, the son of John A. and Claudia S. Stuart. At his request, he was buried next to his grandmother in St. Helena’s Churchyard, Beaufort, S.C. He was a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point, NY in 1846, and while a Lieutenant was the first American to enter Mexico City during the Mexican War. After returning to South Carolina briefly, he traveled with his regiment to Oregon in 1849, and then help construct Fort Vancouver. In 1851 the regiment was ordered home, and they rode south, reaching Douglas County, Oregon, and learned of Indian attacks in the Rogue River Valley. Near Shady Cove, Stuart was mortally wounded, and died the next day (June 17, 1851) in a temporary camp near Phoenix, Oregon, that was called Camp Stuart, 24 days short of his 26th birthday. General George McClelland (who later became a commander of Union forces during the Civil War) was Stuart’s close friend and roommate during the Mexican War. On September 20, 1853, while exploring central Washington during the Pacific Railroad Surveys, McClelland named Mt. Stuart in his friend’s honor.

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