Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

Texas Independence Trail Region

Map of Karnes County Historic Sites

Topics (click on a topic to jump to that section).
El Fuerte del Cibolo | Helena | Old Helena Courthouse | Karnes City | Karnes County Courthouse | Karnes County Museum | Kenedy | Ox-Cart Road (Section of Chihuahua Road) | Panna Maria, Texas, Oldest Permanent Polish Colony in America. | Pilarczyk Store | Old Riedel Dam and Early Industries | Ruckman, Thomas | Runge, Texas | St. Joseph School Museum
El Fuerte del Cibolo

Marker Title: El Fuerte del Cibolo
City: Cestohowa
County: Karnes
Year Marker Erected: 1991
Marker Location: FM 3191 in Cestohowa
Marker Text: Near this site (about 2.5 mi. N on Cibolo Creek) stood the 18th-century Spanish fort of El Fuerte de Santa Cruz del Cibolo, usually called El Fuerte del Cibolo or El Cibolo. Built to protect the many Spanish ranches between San Antonio and La Bahia (now Goliad), the fort was occupied first from 1734 to 1737, and again from 1771 to 1782. The land between the San Antonio River and Cibolo Creek, called "El Rincon", was part of an area deeded by the King of Spain to missions and many private individuals. The site of El Fuerte del Cibolo was part of a private ranch called El Rancho de San Bartolo which belonged to Andres Hernandez. In 1772 the Spanish government formally authorized the establishment of fifteen presidios (forts) from California to Texas. El Fuerte del Cibolo, which had been reactivated in 1771, came under that authorization and remained an active fort until 1782. Twenty soldiers were stationed at El Fuerte del Cibolo on July 4, 1776. Some of them helped move cattle and horses from this area to the Gulf Coast, where Spanish forces under Gen. Bernardo de Galvez defeated the British during the American Revolution, thereby contributing to the winning of American independence. INCISE ON REVERSE: Erected by the Cestohowa-Pawelekville Chamber of Commerce in honor of the 500th Anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus on October 12, 1492


Marker Title: Helena
City: Helena
County: Karnes
Year Marker Erected: 1967
Marker Location: FM 81, Old Courthouse Square, Helena
Marker Text: Founded in 1852 on San Antonio River by Thomas Ruckman, a graduate of Princeton, and Lewis Owings, later first governor of Arizona Territory. Town was named in honor of Owings' wife, Helen. Situated on branch of famed Chihuahua Trail (running from Indianola to San Antonio to Northern Mexico), Helena was to experience quick growth. Much traffic of wagon freight and gold bullion travelled trail. Four-horse stages daily passed through town. Helena was designated county seat when Karnes County was created and organized in 1854. First election of county officials was held on gallery of Ruckman-Owings Store. During Civil War, Karnes County mustered six companies, including Helena Guards, for service. Helena was a Confederate post office and issued its own stamps. Much Confederate cotton destined for Mexican ports passed through Helena. During its heyday, Helena had a courthouse, jail, newspaper, academy, drugstore, blacksmith shop, two hotels, and several saloons and general stores. Bypassed by the S.A. & A.P. Railroad in 1886, town died. County seat was moved to Karnes City in 1894 after hotly contested election.

Old Helena Courthouse

Marker Title: Old Helena Courthouse
City: Helena
County: Karnes
Year Marker Erected: 1970
Marker Location: Old Courthouse Square, FM 81, Helena
Marker Text: Soon after Karnes County was created and organized in 1854, a frame and clapboard courthouse was erected at this site in the center of Jefferson Square. This rock structure was built in 1873 to replace the first courthouse and adjacent county clerk's office, which had been destroyed by a storm and fire following the Civil War (1861-65). After county seat was moved to Karnes City in 1894, building was used as a school until 1945.

Karnes City

Marker Title: Karnes City
City: Karnes City
County: Karnes
Year Marker Erected: 1967
Marker Location: corner (SW) of Calvert and Esplanade, Karnes City
Marker Text: Seat of Karnes County; was founded in Christmas season, 1890, when a partnership headed by Otto Buchel bought 1,000 acres of land from J. L. Calvert for $5 an acre. The tract was near the geographic center of the county and adjoined the right-of-way of the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad. The young town was first named Karnes in honor of Henry W. Karnes (1812-1840), Texas Ranger hero. Although a small, mild-mannered man, Karnes was conspicuous for his cool courage in battle. Red-headed, he was once beseiged by a group of Comanche women who attempted to wash the "berry juice" out of his hair. When the first Karnes post office was established April 1, 1891, "City" was added to the name. The new town grew so fast that within three years citizens petitioned for an election to remove the county seat from Helena to Karnes City. The voters favored Karnes City two-to-one and the move was made January, 1894. Having grown steadily since 1891, Karnes City has had seven newspapers, four banks, and many businesses. During the railroad boom, when a train was the most exciting way to travel, six passenger trains per day came through town. The economy of the area has been based on ranching, farming, uranium, oil, and gas.

Karnes County Courthouse

Marker Title: Karnes County Courthouse
City: Karnes City
County: Karnes
Year Marker Erected: 1994
Marker Location: Courthouse Square, intersection of US 181 and FM 99, Karnes City.
Marker Text: In 1854 Karnes County erected its first courthouse in the county seat of Helena, an important stage stop between San Antonio and Goliad. The original courthouse was destroyed in a storm about 1865 and a new stone courthouse was built in Helena in 1873. In the mid-1880s the citizens of Helena refused to grant right-of-way and cash concessions sought by the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad to route its proposed rail line through the town. As a result, the railroad bypassed Helena as it built a line through Karnes County in 1886-87. By 1893 the railroad town of Karnes City, established here in 1891, had surpassed Helena in population and political clout. Karnes City was chosen the new county seat on December 21, 1893. Karnes County officials let bids for a new courthouse and jail on January 4, 1894. They received bids from prominent Texas courthouse designers Alfred Giles and J. Riely Gordon, but awarded the contract to design and build a new county courthouse at this site to John Cormack. Cormack died before finishing the structure and his business associate J. A. Austin completed the job. The courthouse was dedicated on October 25, 1894, and completed on May 29, 1895. Its original turrets and clock tower were removed during 1920s remodeling.

Karnes County Museum

Museum Name: Karnes County Museum
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 162
City: Karnes
Zip Code: 78118
Street Address: Old Helena Courthouse
Area Code: 830
Phone: 780-3210
County: Karnes
Types of Exhibits/Collections: Archeology, Photos, Historical, Local/Pioneer History, Archives


Marker Title: Kenedy
City: Kenedy
County: Karnes
Year Marker Erected: 1986
Marker Location: City Hall, 300th Block Main Street, Kenedy
Marker Text: The town of Kenedy occupies a site that once was part of a royal Spanish land grant to Don Carlos Martinez. American settlement in the area began after the Texas War for Independence (1836). Land for a townsite was purchased in 1886 by railroad promoter Mifflin Kenedy, for whom the community was named, and a post office was established the following year. Kenedy's early growth was attributed to its position as a major stop on the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad. Early buildings in Kenedy included a church, store, and cotton gin. By 1906, businesses in the town included newspaper offices, a bank, livery and feed stables, and one of the largest cotton compresses in the state. Incorporated in 1910, Kenedy gained a reputation for gunfighting that earned it the name "Six Shooter Junction." In 1915, hot mineral water was discovered near the depot, and the Hot Wells Hotel and Bath House was a thriving business for nearly 25 years. An alien detention camp was located on the outskirts of town during World War II. Although passenger train service no longer runs through Kenedy, this historic town remains an economic center for the surrounding agricultural area.

Ox-Cart Road (Section of Chihuahua Road)

Marker Title: Ox-Cart Road (Section of Chihuahua Road)
City: Helena
County: Karnes
Year Marker Erected: 1967
Marker Location: Old courthouse Square, FM 81, Helena
Marker Text: After centuries of use by buffalo and Indians, this trail from San Antonio to the Texas coast gained importance when opened to colonial travel by the Alarcon Expedition in 1718. Spanish conquistadores and priests, the Gutierrez-Magee Expedition (which invaded Spanish Texas in 1812), Stephen F. Austin, Alamo heroes, Santa Anna's messenger ordering the death of prisoners at Goliad, Polish and German settlers of Texas-- all traveled on road. Rich trade in gold, silver, and leather with Mexico and the West was conducted along the road from San Antonio to Powderhorn. The U.S. 2nd Cavalry Forts, established to protect the Texas frontier, moved men and supplies over it. Materials were transported in two-wheeled ox-carts, prairie schooners, Wells-Fargo wagons drawn by sixteen mules, and by pack animals. In 1852 Helena was founded on road as a midway point between San Antonio and Goliad; Lewis S. Owings operated a daily stage line here, 1854. Major incidents of the Bizarre Cart War of 1857 between Texan and Mexican teamsters occurred near Helena. Herds of longhorns from South Texas crossed the road here enroute to market. After the railroad came through county in 1886, the Ox-Cart Road was abandoned.

Panna Maria, Texas, Oldest Permanent Polish Colony in America.

Marker Title: Panna Maria, Texas, Oldest Permanent Polish Colony in America.
City: Panna Maria
County: Karnes|
Year Marker Erected: 1966
Marker Location: FM 81, Main Street, Panna Maria
Marker Text: Settled by 100 Polish families who came to Texas to gain economic, political and religious freedom. Led by father Leopold Moczygemba, O.F.M., Conv., they made a contract in 1854 with John Twohig, a San Antonio banker and merchant, for land at this site. The colonists, natives of Upper Silesia and Krakow, landed at Galveston after a hard voyage of nine weeks on a sailing ship. They hired Mexican carts to haul their farm implements, featherbeds, and the cross from their Parish church in Poland. The 800 men, women, and children walked--some in boots, others barefoot--the 200 miles inland to their new home. Babies were born on the way, and some of the people died. All suffered from hunger and exposure. On Dec. 24, 1854, they reached this site. They named it Panna Maria (Virgin Mary), placing it under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception. Beneath a large oak they offered their first Midnight Mass of Thanksgiving and petition for strength and courage. They camped out until they could put up huts of mud, straw or wood, later building in stone. In spite of hardships, they founded a stable community, aided in settling other frontiers, pioneered in education, and gave Texas many patriotic, dedicated citizens.

Pilarczyk Store

Marker Title: Pilarczyk Store
City: Panna Maria
County: Karnes
Year Marker Erected: 1968
Marker Location: FM 81, Panna Maria
Marker Text: Built 1875; second oldest store in Panna Maria; still has original rafters and floors. Lime for mortaring stones (visible on back and sides) was fired in home kilns. Store was bought by Victor Pilarczyk, 1913. First gas pump was installed 1919.

Old Riedel Dam and Early Industries

Marker Title: Old Riedel Dam and Early Industries
City: Gillett
County: Karnes
Year Marker Erected: 1969
Marker Location: 0.2 mile W of SH 80 on FM 887, Gillett
Marker Text: 250 yards west lie the remains of a pioneer dam built in 1869 by Carl Edward Riedel to supply the power for his sawmill, gristmill and cotton gin. That year another German immigrant, Max Krueger, helped install Riedel's gin-- first steam cotton gin in Karnes County. Shortly before, Krueger had built the barracks to house 50 U.S. Cavalrymen near Helena. Within 2 years a town grew up near Riedel's industries and was named Riddleville in his honor. On June 9, 1871, the U.S. postal records were moved from Ecleto post office (3 miles up the creek, where Kelly's Stage Stand stood) to the post office here. Between 1870 and 1886 Riddleville was one of the 5 principal towns in Karnes County. It was located at the crossing of the Helena-Gonzales Road and the Yorktown-Sutherland Springs Road. In 1876 its population was about 75. In 1905 the name of the town was changed to Gillett. With lumber from his mill, Riedel had built a hotel, which was destroyed by fire about 1905; but he immediately built a second hotel. Many homes and business houses in this area were constructed of Riedel's lumber, which can still be found today in existing Karnes County buildings. (1969)

Thomas Ruckman

Marker Title: Thomas Ruckman
City: Helena
County: Karnes
Year Marker Erected: 1968
Marker Location: Old CH grounds, FM 81, Helena
Marker Text: (November 8, 1826 - December 2, 1914) Founding father of Karnes County, Ruckman was born in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. He graduated in 1848 from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and taught in South Carolina for a year. But the lure of Texas-- then a frontier state where land was cheap and opportunity boundless-- brought him on Christmas morning, 1850, to San Antonio. In 1851 he started a trading post in the little Mexican settlement of Alamita, located on the Old Ox-Cart Road between San Antonio and Goliad. Other businessmen followed his example, and soon Ruckman was able to build a gristmill near the San Antonio River, enlarge his store, and erect a stately home. Soon after, Ruckman took as partner Dr. L.S. Owings, and together they foresaw a metropolis arising at this important and inviting roadstop. Their store once stood near the site of this marker. In 1852, they laid out a new town, which they named "Helena", in honor of Owings' wife. When Karnes County organized in 1854, Helena was chosen county seat. Ruckman was postmaster here, 1854 to 1857, and he continued nearly 40 years as leading merchant and banker. In 1872, he helped found the Helena Academy. He is buried in the Masonic Cemetery of Helena.

Runge, Texas

Marker Title: Runge, Texas
City: Runge
County: Karnes
Year Marker Erected: 1968
Marker Location: FM 81, Town Square, Runge
Marker Text: Early Texas town. Near site where Old Ox-Cart Road from San Antonio to Indianola crossed the Ojo de Agua (Spanish name meaning "eye of water" or spring) Creek. Here pioneer travelers found essentials of water, wood, and grass. Numerous Indian artifacts found nearby indicate that Karankawas, Tonkawas, Apaches, and Comanches camped or hunted in vicinity. First Anglo-American settlement here, in early 1850s, was named Sulphur Springs; in the late 1850s and 1860s the place was called Mineral Spring. In 1886 a group of Cuero merchants known as H. Runge and Company bought a large tract of land on which they platted the townsite of Runge. The San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad, called the "SAP", extended its line from Kenedy toward Houston and built a depot, a switch, and stockpens at Runge. The first post office was established here September 20, 1887. By 1890 Runge had grown to be the largest town in Karnes County. The public schools were organized in 1891 and Runge citizens engaged in many typical pioneer social and civic activities, including weekly band concerts held in the town square. The economy of the region has been sustained by farming, ranching, dairying, and petroleum production.

St. Joseph School Museum

Museum Name: St. Joseph School Museum
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 52
City: Panna Maria
Zip Code: 78144
Street Address: Farm Rd 81 E
Area Code: 210
Phone: 780-4471
County: Karnes
Types of Exhibits/Collections: Photos, Historical, Local/Pioneer History, Other.

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