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 routes of the famed Chihuahua Trail and the Indianola-San Antonio Road. It was a boisterous frontier settlement with more than its share of outlaws and sudden death. During a saloon shooting one night in 1884, 20-year-old Emmett Butler, son of the area's wealthiest rancher, Colonel 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. Other towns sprang up along the railroad; Helena lost its county seat, and its citizens drifted away. Today the old courthouse and other silent ruins are testimony to Butler's vow. Helena is located 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 locations are open the same hours as the Courthouse Museum.