The Town so Healthy We Had to Shoot a Man to Start a Cemetery
VAN HORN, TEXAS. Van Horn, the county seat of Culberson County, is at the intersection of U.S. highways 80 and 90 and State Highway 54, on the Missouri Pacific Railroad thirty-six miles west of Kent in southwestern Culberson County. The Van Horn Wells were reportedly discovered twelve miles south of the future townsite by Maj. Jefferson Van Horne, who became commander at Fort Bliss in El Paso in 1849, and were well known to nineteenth century travelers. The coaches of the San Antonio-El Paso Mail passed through the area in the late 1850s and early 1860s, when Lt. James Judson Van Horn, no relation to Major Van Horne, was in command of an army garrison at Van Horn Wells. Lieutenant Van Horn's command lasted only two years, from 1859 to 1861, when Confederate forces seized the wells and took him prisoner, but his fame was ensured twenty years later when a town was founded a few miles north and named after him. The town grew up on the Texas and Pacific Railway, which built through the area in 1881. Among the earliest settlers in the area were railroad agent Jack Veats, Thomas Owen or Owens, Ed Hamm, and the families of A. A. (Gus) Cox, J. H. Beach, and Robert K. (Bob) Wylie; the latter two gave their names to nearby mountain ranges. Owen had discovered the Hazel Mine, ten miles northwest of the site of future Van Horn in 1856 but was forced to abandon his claim temporarily due to the Civil War and the ever-present threat of the Mescalero Apaches, who swept down from the Guadalupe and Sierra Diablo Mountains to the north through the 1870s. He returned to Van Horn and later became a justice of the peace. The first person to die in Van Horn was an infant child of the Beach family, in 1881, whereupon Beach gave a plat of land west of town for use as a cemetery. According to local legend, the first adult to die was rancher A. S. Goynes, and his passing was not without irony. In tribute to Van Horn's climate, Goynes supposedly suggested the motto, "This Town Is So Healthy We Had to Shoot a Man to Start a Cemetery," which later hung in the lobby of the Clark Hotel. Shortly thereafter Goynes was shot dead by his brother-in-law in a feud over a watering hole, thereby becoming the first man buried in the Van Horn cemetery.