Mason County War

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Mason County War
Date 1875–1876
Location Mason County, Texas, US
Deaths 12 killed (including those who were lynched)

The Mason County War, sometime called the Hoodoo War in reference to a masked vigilante member of a vigilance committee,[1]:89 was a period of lawlessness in 1875-1876 during a "tidal wave of rustling".[1]:90 The violence resulted in a climate of bitter "National prejudice"[1]:102 between the "Americans" and "Dutch" or "Germans"s[2]:46 in Mason County, Texas. The war took the lives of 12 men.


Organized bands stole livestock but the spring trail bosses were also "indifferent to whose cows they drove", picking up mavericks and even other brands, though the understanding was they were supposed to return the profits to the rightful owner.[1]:90–91

Germans had settled in Mason and Gillespie counties, "loyal to their adopted country and government when undisturbed" but "were sorely tried by the rustlers and Indians, who committed many depredations upon their cattle."[2]:46 In 1860 the county's first Sheriff, Thomas Milligan,[3] was killed by Indians. In 1872, the Germans elected Sheriff John Clark and Cattle Inspector Dan Hoerster.[1]:91

Clark and Hoerster organized a posse to reclaim lost cattle and soon came across a herd stolen by the Backus brothers gang and eight others, capturing five of them, who were taken back to the Mason jail.[1]:92 The captives included Lige Backus, Pete Backus, Charley Johnson, Abe Wiggins and Tom Turley.[1]:88


A posse member, Tom Gamel, later claimed that Sheriff Clark and Dan Hoerster suggested lynching their captives.[1]:92 In any case, a mob of forty attempted to break into the jail on the night of 18 February 1875 with a battering ram after failing to get the keys from the jailer, Deputy John Wohrle.[1]:87–88 Both Sheriff Clark and the visiting Texas Ranger Lt. Dan W. Roberts were prevented from interfering with a warning they would be shot.[1]:88 Clark did gather a posse of about six citizens and, with Roberts, pursued the mob to the south edge of town where they were hanging the prisoners from a large post oak.[1]:89 By the time the posse reached the mob, Lige and Pete Backus, plus Abe Wiggins, were dead, but they managed to save Tom Turley while Charley Johnson had escaped.[1]:89

This was the beginning activity of the vigilance committee, or Hoodoos, who used "ambushes and midnight hangings, to get rid of the thieves and outlaws who had been holding a "carnival of lawlessness in Mason County".[1]:89

Reign of Terror Intensifies[edit]

Tom Gamel learned he was the target of the vigilance committee on 25 March prompting him to gather his friends and proceed into town in an effort to confront the threat, but Sheriff Clark immediately left.[1]:93 Gamel's group left after a couple of days, but returned after Sheriff Clark returned with sixty-two men, all Germans, and both groups agreed to peace with "no more mobs or hanging".[1]:93

However, in May, Deputy Wohrle arrested the "prominent and popular American" Tim Williamson, after Dan Hoerster revoked his year old bond for stealing a yearling.[1]:95 Williamson worked for Charley Lehmberg in Loyal Valley, known for paying five dollars a head for unbranded cattle.[1]:94 Wohrle and Williamson were confronted a short distance from the ranch by a dozen men led by the German rancher Peter Bader, who shot Williamson dead.[1]:96 This murder increased the tension between the American and German factions enormously, especially after the Grand Jury of 12 May did nothing.[1]:96 Among those now involved was Scott Cooley, the orphan raised by Williamson, who vowed "he would get the men who did it".[1]:98

Cooley's Actions[edit]

Cooley had been carried off by Indians after they killed his parents, but later raised by the Williamsons.[1]:94 Cooley served in Texas Rangers Company D under Captain Perry before taking up farming near Menardville.[2]:47 After Williamson's murder, Cooley came to Mason, learning as much as he could about the circumstances and the names of those involved.[1]:97[2]:48 His first act of revenge occurred on August 10, when Cooley shot Worhle in the back of the head while he helped Doc Charley Harcourt dig a well, taking Worhle's scalp as would an Indian.[1]:98[2]:48

Cooley formed a gang whose members included George Gladden, John and Mose Beard and Johnny Ringo.[1]:98 Mose Beard and Gladden were ambushed south of Mason by sixty men led by Peter Bader, Dan Hoerster and Sheriff Clark, resulting in the death of Beard.[1]:99 Cooley's men, including Johnny Ringo, then killed Cheney at his home, the individual who had led Beard and Gladden into the ambush.[1]:100 Hoerster was killed as he rode past the Mason barber shop by Scott Cooley, Gladden and Bill Coke.[1]:101 Coke was captured and killed by a Mason posse the next day at John Gamel's.[1]:101

Texas Rangers Arrive[edit]

Under orders from the governor, Major Jones of the Texas Rangers arrived on 28 September,[1]:102 with ten men from Company D (Cooley's old unit) and thirty men from Company A, his escort under Captain Ira Long.[2]:49 Major Jones promptly sent scouts out looking for Cooley but without result after two weeks.[2]:49

The remaining justice of the Peace, Wilson Hey, issued warrants for Sheriff Clark and others, who were arrested, and although the charges did not stick, Sheriff Clark did resign his office and was never seen again.[1]:102–103

Major Jones' scouts continued to seek Cooley and his gang to no avail which prompted Jones to confront his Rangers with the opportunity for those in sympathy with Cooley to "step out of the ranks", which fifteen did.[2]:50 The remaining Rangers captured Gladden and Ringo.[2]:51

In November, Scott Cooley's gang killed Charley Bader at his place[1]:104[1]:102–103 and Peter Bader soon followed the same fate.[1]:105[2]:48

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.[1]:104 They later escaped from the Lampasas County, Texas jail with the help of forty "Helping Hands".[1]:105


The summer of 1876 was another period of terror and lawlessness before Cooley left Mason County for good, either by poison after dining at the Nimitz Hotel in Fredericksburg or by "brain fever".[2]:51

Johnny Ringo left the state for Arizona and Gladden headed for the penitentiary for the murder of Peter Bader.[1]:106 On January 21, 1877, the Mason County Courthouse was burned to the ground and with it the official records of the Mason County War.[1]:107[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak Sonnichsen, C.L., 1957, 10 Texas Feuds, University of New Mexico Press, ISBN 9780826322999
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Gillett, J.B., 1921, Six Years with the Texas Rangers, 1875-1881, Yale University Press, ISBN 0803258445
  3. ^ The Officer Down Memorial Page.
  4. ^ "Mason County Courthouse". Texas Escapes. Texas Escapes - Blueprints For Travel, LLC. Retrieved 3 January 2011. 

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