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Ruckman, Thomas (1826–1914)

Robert H. Thonhoff Biography Entry

Thomas Ruckman, founding father of Karnes County, Texas, was born in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, on November 8, 1826. After graduating from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1848, he taught school for one year in South Carolina. He moved in 1850 to San Antonio, where he worked for a year as a bookkeeper. In 1851 he opened a trading post in the Mexican settlement of Alamita, located on the old ox-cart road between San Antonio and Goliad. In 1852 he entered into a business partnership with Lewis S. Owings, who left in 1858 to become the first territorial governor of Arizona. Together they foresaw a metropolis arising at this road stop and laid out a new town, which they named Helena in honor of Owings's wife, Helen (Swisher). When Karnes County was organized in 1854, Helena was chosen county seat. Ruckman was postmaster at Helena from 1853 to 1857 and continued for nearly forty years as its leading merchant and banker. He helped found Helena Academy, which was completed in 1872. Ruckman married Mrs. Jennie McCall on February 14, 1861; they had one daughter. He died on December 3, 1914, and was buried in the Masonic Cemetery of Helena.

Thomas Ruckman Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. San Antonio Express, December 5, 1914. Robert H. Thonhoff, History of Karnes County (M.A. thesis, Southwest Texas State College, 1963).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Robert H. Thonhoff, “Ruckman, Thomas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 13, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995