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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 Chihuahua Trail and the Indianola-San Antonio Road. During a saloon shooting 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 to bypass Helena by offering free land miles away. As other towns sprang up along the railroad, Helena lost its role as the county seat and its citizens drifted away.
The old courthouse and silent ruins around the square are testimony to Butler's vow. Historic buildings include a farmhouse, the old post office and one of the four original jail cells. All are open the same hours as the museum.