Hello, Atascosa County! I hope this column finds you well. This week I will talk about a favorite subject of mine, music history. I’ve been a history enthusiast all of my life, but for some reason, the curiosity of music and behind the scenes happenings in the music business has caught my attention from an early age. I recall reading about music stars like Elvis, Bill Haley, Jimi Hendrix, The Everly Brothers and the list could go on for pages.
As an adult, I learned of a death in music with a backstory and a little touch of the supernatural. This week, I will talk about the death of Johnny Horton. Horton was a country superstar with hits such as “North to Alaska,” “Johnny Reb” and “The Battle of New Orleans,” to name a few. On the night of Nov. 5, 1960, Horton, his manager Tilman Franks and bandmate Gerald Tumlinson were traveling east from Austin to Shreveport on US Highway 190/Hwy 79. Horton had just completed a show at the Skyline Club in Austin and was driving when their vehicle approached the railroad overpass bridge in Milano. At that moment, they were struck by an intoxicated motorist driving westbound. Horton died on his way to the hospital and was the only person to die from his injuries in the accident. The driver was a 19-year-old student from Texas A&M that was later charged with intoxication manslaughter. The strange incidents prior to his death is what caused the country music world to talk. For years, Horton claimed to have a psychic ability and predicted that his death would be violent and caused by a drunk man. He also went as far as promising loved ones that he would contact them from beyond the grave.
Horton’s premonitions and fears caused him to cancel shows and appearances. One major appearance was the movie premiere of North to Alaska, which featured his hit song during the opening sequence of the John Wayne film. His gig from Nov. 4 at the Skyline Club in Austin was to be a cancellation by Horton, but the star was forced to perform.
A few weeks back, my job required travel to Longview. I decided I would avoid all major highways on my return home and picked the GPS route that took me through every small town in Texas. I realized that I was approaching Milano. As I approached the railroad overpass bridge, I slowed down to look for the simple marker I have seen pictures of on the internet. Beside the fire station, there is a small memorial with a white, wooden cross. I have seen efforts online from the Milam County Historical Commission to have a certified state historical marker erected to recognize this tragic incident.
I realize that this is not Atascosa County history, but I believe music history is something we are all familiar with and we can all appreciate our idea of great music. Thank you for reading, until next time.
MARTIN GONZALES is the Atascosa County Historical Commission Chairman. If you have history to share, you may contact him at 830-480-2741.