Though a few homes remain in rural Karnes County, Helena is a ghost town—killed, so they say, by one gunfight too many. Helena was established in 1852 near the famed Chihuahua Trail and the Indianola-San Antonio Road. During a saloon shooting one night in 1884, 20-year-old Emmett Butler, son of the area's wealthiest rancher, Col. William Butler, was killed. Unable to determine who fired the fatal shot, Butler vowed to kill the town that killed his son. He persuaded the railroad, then building across South Texas, to bypass Helena by offering free land miles away. As other towns sprang up along the railroad, Helena lost its role as county seat and its citizens drifted away. An old courthouse and silent ruins are testimony to Butler's vow. On Texas 80 between Karnes City and Gillett.
Historic buildings around the square include a small turn-of-the-century farmhouse, a barn, the old post office and one of the four original jail cells. All are open the same hours as the museum.
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