“The Toughest Town on Earth” Eastern Newspapers called Helena. The first county seat of Karnes County, Texas founded in 1852. The town named for the wife of a founder, Lewis Owen. Helena flourished until the railroad bypassed it in 1894. After the county seat moved to Karnes City, Helena became a Ghost Town. The population is about 30 now; if you don’t count the ghosts.
Other than the ghosts of the past, Helena is known for the “Helena Duel.” It was invented by some mean hombres. Men who had a score to settle were tied at the left wrist and each wielded a razor sharp knife. The blade short so no vital organs could be punctured. Shirtless, the fighters lashed at one another until the loser begged to stop or bled to death. The local cowboys bet on the Helena Duel, like it was a cock fight.
My Great Grandfather, Dan Brown, operated one of the Helena Saloons until 1894 when the town died. That had to be a tough job! John Ruckman built a home in Helena in 1878 that is on the National Registry of Historic Places. I met Paul Ruckman, the Great Grandson of John, in Dallas in 1989. It was years later that we realized our Great Grandfathers settled the town of Helena.
The “Indian Summer Heritage Festival” is held in Helena on the last Saturday in October. Lulubelle and I will be signing books and telling stories this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Helena Courthouse Museum located at Highway 80 and FM 81 NE of Karnes City, 5 miles E of Panna Maria, Texas.
One hundred and seventy-five years ago this week; President Mirabeau Lamar arrived in the Capitol City. The townspeople waited anxiously for their President at the “Hall of Congress.” The modest wooden structure sat on a hill; at the NW corner of what is now 8th and Colorado. The covered porch of the Capitol looked down on a large clearing of land; two blocks wide and fourteen blocks long. Tree stumps cluttered the muddy ground; that would become Congress Ave.
Lamar’s architect for his new center of government; Edwin Waller and a hand full of mounted dignitaries, met his Excellency’s entourage west of town. They were led to the unpainted capitol. As the citizens cheered; a twenty-one gun salute was fired from the town’s only cannon.
After a short public ceremony, the officials proceeded to Bullocks Hotel for the official dinner. President Lamar made a toast “there has sprung up, like the work of magic, a beautiful city, whose glory is destined to overshadow the ancient magnificence of Mexico.”
My next book, Two Trails to Taos, about the story of Fayette Smith’s capture in Austin, Texas in 1841. Why did the Comanche’s take a 9 year old boy to Taos? It was simple, it was the only place with an active slave trade. The going rate for a healthy white boy at that time was $60. I found a well-written article from Adam James Jones that I would like to share with anyone interested in this bit of southwest history.
Two votes in the Continental Congress prevented Franklin from becoming the fourteenth state in the Union. The State of Franklin existed from 1784-1789 in a parallel government with North Carolina. Those that favored breaking from North Carolina were called Franklinites, those that didn’t were Anti’s. The issue divided westerners who had fought side-by-side during the revolution for independence.
The North Carolina Assembly voted in 1780 to cede western lands over the mountain to the federal government to settle the state’s war debt. The western settlers were left to fight hostile Indians on their own. They quickly formed the State of Franklin for protection, after being abandoned by North Carolina and the federal government. Only in desperation did they approach Spain for help. Many scholars have suggested Franklinites were treasonous by doing so. The Republic of Texas used a similar ploy many years later to become the twenty-eighth state in the Union. Amazing how history repeats itself.
During a heavy snowfall, open rebellion broke out between the Franklinites, led by John Sevier and the Anti’s by John Tipton. Two killed and several men were injured. The fighting was for naught as the North Carolina Assembly elected John Sevier as a delegate to reconsider ratification of the Federal Constitution. Western North Carolina became the Southwest Territory and in 1796, Tennessee was admitted to the Union as the sixteenth state.
The Franklin Constitution signed at Jonesborough, Tennessee on 17 December 1784; Section 31, stated “No clergymen or preacher of the gospel could hold public office.” The next Section 32, went into great detail that “No person that did not believe in God could hold public office.” I found those sections interesting.
Read more about the Franklinites in Book 2, Adam’s Daughters and Book 3, Children of the Revolution.
John Sevier, President of Franklin
The State of Franklin Road that runs through Johnson City, Jonesborough, and Greeneville, Tennessee is not named for a band, as many young people assume. Men fought and died to establish the State of Franklin shortly after the American Revolution.
Some historians think the leaders of Franklin, specifically John Sevier were conspiring with Spain and Britain to gain control of the Mississippi, which was the western border of their state. Benjamin Franklin had no part in the state that bore his name. He loathed what the Franklinites were trying to do. However, he may have influenced them by saying “Whoever controlled the Mississippi River would eventually control the continent.”
The government of Franklin had a constitution and a monetary system established before the U.S. federal government. George Washington was concerned enough about their activities to send a special agent to the State of Franklin. Lieutenant John Armstrong arrived in the spring of 1788 and interviewed the leaders of Sullivan, Washington, and Greene Counties that represented most of Franklin.
Book 2 of the Westward Sagas, Adam’s Daughters and Book 3, Children of the Revolution tells the story of Armstrong’s visit to the State of Franklin and his report to George Washington. I will share more of my research on next week’s blog.