La Kiva, Terlingua’s first well-known bar and restaurant, was dug into the banks of Terlingua Creek in 1979. The over-the-top décor relied heavily on the plentiful bones common to the desert, and on Tuesday morning, February 4, when La Kiva’s owner, Glenn Felts, was found dead outside the building, the mementi mori appeared almost grotestque.
Felts had been killed sometime the night before; his body was discovered by an early-arriving employee. The Texas Rangers and crime scene investigators from El Paso joined the Brewster County Sheriff’s Department, and together they determined that the death was a homicide. By the end of the day, local river guide Tony Flint had been charged with first-degree murder.
It would be difficult to find anyone with a bad word to say about Felts, and this tiny, close-knit community was consumed with shock and grief at the news of his death. Hundreds gathered Wednesday at the Starlight Theater, Terlingua’s remaining whisky bar*, to hug and cry, and maybe have a few more than usual. People mourned the community's loss of a friend, and some questioned what would happen to this local hangout. But most were reeling from the news of the brutal death (Felts died as as a result of blunt-force trauma to the head) and the accusations against one local taking the life of another. As one man was heard to say, “We have lost our innocence.”
Felts, 50, with his long, curly blond hair and boyish smile, developed a loyal following for La Kiva and turned it into both a welcome watering hole for locals and a friendly tourist destination that has drawn thousands of visitors over its decades-long history. La Kiva was the demented brain-child of Gil Felts, Glenn’s uncle, who built La Kiva out of stone and old beams. To access the subterranean bar and music venue, patrons entered through a huge, counter-weighted mine-shaft door, and walked down several steps, which led to an opening revealing many rooms, grottos, and caverns to the right and left. A creekside patio draped in grapevines hosted dances, weddings, and parties.
In the recent past live music was featured nearly every night, and each Wednesday for seventeen years, La Kiva hosted an open mic night. The Wednesday after Glenn’s death, the bar was still a crime scene, but that didn't stop a large crowd of grieving friends from gathering outside to keep the open microphone tradition alive, despite the cold temperatures and blustery wind.
If Flint posts bond, currently set at $200,000, he will be required to stay in Brewster or adjacent counties. He had asked to be released to family in Missouri, but the court nixed that idea. When a reporter contacted Greg Henington of Far Flung Outdoor Center about whether Flint would still have a job, Henington answered with one word: “No.”
The fate of La Kiva is unknown, but the grief in the community is still palpable.
*Correction: Due to an editing error, the Starlight Theater was referred to as Terlingua's only remaining bar. It is the town's only other whisky bar.