Day Trips

Duels and gunfights killed this Karnes County town

Day Trips
Photo by Gerald E. Mcleod

Helena, Texas was a town killed by one too many gunfights. The old, two-story former county courthouse remains as a testimony of the ghost town's once promising future.

On the busy road between the port of Indianola and San Antonio, the village was a popular watering hole on the dusty trail. The saddle tramps that passed through town had a game they called the Helena duel. To play, two men were tied together at one wrist and given a short-blade knife that wasn't likely to inflict a single fatal cut. The combatants slashed and wrestled until the loss of blood stopped the fight.

Violence from the Helena saloons was so prevalent that the priest in nearby Panna Maria conducted services with a six-shooter on his pulpit in case he was interrupted by local ruffians. In 1854, Helena became the seat of the newly formed Karnes County.

A few years later, the son of a local rancher was slow on the draw in a Helena saloon. The father vowed to kill the town that killed his son, and gave land for the railroad to bypass Helena. The once bustling town withered and Karnes City was chosen as the new county seat.

The 1873 Helena courthouse served as a schoolhouse until it became the Karnes County Museum. The exhibits are open Friday through Monday from 11am to 4pm when volunteers are available.

1,098th in a series. Collect them all. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of “Day Trips,” is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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