Mason County War

Mason County War

The Mason County War, also called the Hoodoo War (1875–1876) was a cattle rustling dispute between German-American settlers and the non-German ranchers in Mason County, Texas.



The war was brought on mostly due to neither culture understanding the other, with neither making much effort to do so, in addition to political and social disagreements. However, it likely would not have resulted in violence had the area possessed a suitable and professional law enforcement element. German settlers began settling in the Mason County area early on, and by the mid-1840s they had a considerable population. However, despite a slight language barrier, the two groups at first cooperated fairly well, due to there being a considerable Indian threat. In 1860 the county's first Sheriff, Thomas Milligan,[1] was killed by Indians, and the settlers, both Anglo and German, banded together to hunt down the hostiles.

Following the war, although tensions were high, there was little to no trouble due to the Union Army posting troops at Fort Mason. After the United States Army closed the fort in 1869, law enforcement was left to the local population. Many Germans held positions of authority over the Anglos, both as judges and as lawmen.


In 1873, Sheriff John Clark was elected. Having grievances, the German-American majority of the county was thus able to get into place law enforcement that they felt would protect their interests. Little is known of Clark short of the fact that he enforced the law with an "iron fist", openly supporting the lynching or shooting of any suspected of cattle rustling, even when there was little to no evidence supporting the charge. It was through Clark's administration that the German faction struck first, eventually sparking the county conflict.

His Deputy was German descendent John Wohrle, known to have killed several cowboys during the next two years. In August 1874, prominent Llano and Burnet County ranchers M.B. Thomas and Allen G. Roberts were arrested by a posse led by Clark, who accused them of rounding up cattle that belonged to other ranches. Roberts and Thomas denied this, and in reality according to Texas state law at the time, it mattered little, as the law allowed cattlemen to round up any cattle they wished, as long as after the cattle were sold they turned the proceeds over to the true owners. Clark did not abide by this law, and imprisoned the cattlemen for one week, then released them after charging them a hefty fine. The ranchers brought charges against Clark for false imprisonment and robbery, but little became of it.

On February 13, 1875, Sheriff Clark led a posse into McCulloch County, Texas, arresting nine cowboys he suspected of rustling, to include brothers Elijah and Pete Baccus. Four of the cowboys made bail, while the other five remained in jail. Sheriff Clark then voiced around town to several that he had no problems with the men being lynched. A few days later, a 17-year-old cowboy named Allen Bolt was found shot to death by the roadside just outside Mason, Texas. To his back was pinned a note saying "Here lies a noted cow thief".

On February 18, 1875, several masked men entered the house of Deputy Wohrle, demanding he turn over the keys to the jail to them. He did so, and the men removed the five cowboys, took them outside of town, and lynched them. Texas Ranger Dan Roberts happened to be in town at the time. He intervened, preventing the hanging of cowboy Tom Turley, while cowboy Charlie Johnson was able to break free during the chaos and flee into the night. Sheriff Clark, realizing a Texas Ranger was present, also made an effort to intervene. However, it was too late for brothers Elijah and Pete Baccus, who were both hanged. The fifth cowboy, Abe Wiggins, was shot in the head by unknown parties, and died the next morning. No arrests were ever made for the lynchings, and this fueled tensions that would eventually explode into violent retaliation by the Anglo settlers.

A few days after the lynchings, former posse member Caleb Hall was arrested, allegedly for rustling, but many believed it was due to his objections to the lynchings on February 18. Placed in a cell with Turley, the two men tunneled their way out and fled town. Former posse member Tom Gamel, who also had objected to the lynchings, received several threats. However, instead of fleeing, Gamel gathered together a band of some thirty riders, and entered town to confront Sheriff Clark. The sheriff fled town, but on March 24, 1875, Sheriff Clark returned with some sixty riders to confront Gamel and his band. Although it appeared the two factions would fight, eventually they reached a truce, and departed.

However, on May 13, Sheriff Clark and Deputy Wohrle rode out to the ranch of Carl Lehmberg, to speak with foreman Tim Williamson. Several months earlier, Williamson had been falsely arrested for possessing an alleged stolen calf. However, well liked within the community, Williamson had been released. Daniel Hoerster, the German owner of the calf, had since pressed Clark to arrest Williamson, which Clark had now decided to comply. Williamson agreed to accompany the two lawmen, and rode toward town with them. However, after traveling some ten miles, the party was met by a band of masked men. According to some reports, Williamson recognized Peter Bader, a member of the mob, and Bader shot him, killing Williamson. This latest murder would change the course of the Mason County War, as Williamson was a mentor and close friend to Texas Ranger Scott Cooley.

Cooley becomes involved

When Cooley received the news at the Texas Ranger camp where his Ranger Company was based, he broke into uncontrollable crying, which quickly turned to anger. By this time, Cooley was spending much of his time in the company of the Rangers, but was not officially working as a Ranger. Cooley blamed Worhle for Williamson's death, believing that he was in cahoots with the Germans, as Worhle was of German descent. However, he waited for indictments to be passed down from the court against those responsible for Williamson's death, but when none came, he took matters into his own hands. On August 10, 1875, Cooley went to Worhle's home, where Worhle was working on his well with a helper. Cooley shot and killed Worhle on sight. He then scalped him, and displayed the scalp as a prize to the Germans. Cooley then killed German cattleman Carl Bader. By that time gunman Johnny Ringo had joined Cooley, along with several others. Two of Ringo's friends, Mose Baird and George Gladden, were ambushed shortly afterward by a posse led by Sheriff John Clark, during which Baird was killed and Gladden seriously wounded. That posse included Peter Bader, brother to Cooley's second victim, Carl Bader.

Johnny Ringo and a friend named Bill Williams rode boldly into Mason, Texas on September 25, 1875, riding up in front of the house of James Cheyney, the man who led Gladden and Baird into the ambush. As Cheyney came out, both Ringo and Williams shot and killed him. The two then rode to the house of Dave Doole, and called him outside, but when he came out with a gun, they fled back into town. Four days later, Scott Cooley and John Baird, brother to Mose Baird, then killed German cowboy Daniel Hoerster, and wounded German's Peter Jordan and Henry Plueneke. The German cattlemen then retaliated, hanging two men they suspected had assisted Cooley. The next day Texas Rangers arrived, finding the town in chaos, and Cooley and his faction gone.

Major John B. Jones of the Texas Rangers dispatched three parties to pursue Cooley and his followers. The next day local Sheriff John Clark dispatched a posse of deputies to arrest Bill Coke, suspected of assisting Cooley. Coke was located and arrested, but allegedly "escaped" while on the way to town. Coke was never seen again, and it is suspected that the posse executed him. Charley Johnson, a friend to Bill Coke, then appeared in town looking for blacksmith William Miller, who had been a member of the posse that arrested Coke. He found Miller at his workplace, and shot him down. Badly wounded, Miller was saved only by his wife running outside and throwing herself toward him, at which point Johnson simply walked away. On October 5, 1875, Sheriff John Clark, who had been in hiding from Cooley, resigned his position and fled Mason, disappearing.

By this time, killings were almost random. There was no local law enforcement to speak of, as the sheriff was obviously supporting the German cattlemen, and no arrests had been made against either side short of the arrest of Bill Coke. The Texas Rangers were also doing little to help matters, as many were friends to Scott Cooley. Frustrated, Major Jones asked that if any of them felt they could not perform their duty by pursuing Cooley, they should step forward. Seven of them did so, willing to accept discharges rather than to pursue Cooley. The Texas Governors office was by this time receiving letters in support of Cooley, stating the local sheriff was in support of the German cattlemen, which was filtering down on Major Jones, prompting him to act swiftly.

At the end of December, 1875, Cooley and Ringo were arrested by Sheriff A. J. Strickland for threatening the life of Burnet County, Texas Deputy Sheriff John J. Strickland. They later escaped from the Lampasas County, Texas jail, with the help of friends, but their arrests essentially stopped the violence. Cooley later escaped a posse near the Llano River, fleeing into Blanco County, Texas, and was never officially seen again. He is believed to have either been wounded by that posse and died shortly afterwards, or to have died due to what was referred to as "brain fever" shortly afterwards. He is believed to have been hiding out at the Nimitz Hotel in Fredericksburg, Texas at the time. However, neither of the reported death scenarios has ever been confirmed.

On January 21, 1877, the Mason County Courthouse was burned to the ground. With the fire, the official records of the Mason County War burned.[2] The official death count for the war is ten killed.


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