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The Mason County "Hoo Doo" War, 1874-1902

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Post-Reconstruction Texas in the mid-1870s was still relatively primitive, with communities isolated from each other in a largely open-range environment. Cattlemen owned herds of cattle in numerous counties while brand laws remained local. Friction arose when the nonresident stockmen attempted to gather their cattle, and mavericking was common. Law enforcement at the local level could cope with handling local drunks, collecting taxes, and attending the courts when in session, but when an outrageous crime occurred, or depredations in a community were at a level that severely taxed or overwhelmed the local sheriff, there was seldom any other recourse except a vigilante movement. With such a fragile hold on civilization in these communities, it is not difficult to understand how a "blood feud" could occur. During 1874 the Hoo Doo War erupted in the Texas Hill Country of Mason County, and for the remainder of the century violence and fear ruled the region in a rising tide of hatred and revenge. It is widely considered the most bitter feud in Texas history. Traditionally the feud is said to have begun with the intention of protecting the families, property and livelihood of the largely agrarian settlers in Mason and Llano counties. The truth is far more sinister. Evidence shows that the mob was contaminated from the outset by a criminal element, a fact the participants failed to recognize. They believed they were above the law. They were not above vengeance. The feud began in 1874 with the rise of the mob under Sheriff John Clark, but it was not until the premeditated murder of rancher Timothy Williamson in the spring of 1875, a murder orchestrated by Sheriff Clark, that the violence escalated out of control. His death drew former Texas Ranger Scott Cooley to the region seeking justice, and when the courts failed, he began a vendetta to avenge his friend. In the ensuing months, Sheriff Clark used the mob to secure his political position by ambushing ranchers George Gladden and Moses Baird, which drew gunfighters such as John Ringo into the violence. As more men were killed, new forces joined the spiral of death. Local and state officials proved powerless, and it was not until the early 1900s that the feud burned itself out. Johnson has proven a diligent researcher in locating information concerning the Hoo Doo War. Using contemporary newspaper accounts, letters, diaries, and official reports, he analyzes the myths and legends surrounding the feud and presents the unvarnished truth of what happened in Mason County. This book is the definitive account of the Hoo Doo War, as well as a case study in frontier violence of the bloodiest kind.

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22 Chapters

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Chapter 1: “Murderous Passions Unleashed”


chapter 1

“Murderous Passions Unleashed”

Arriving in Texas during the 1840s, German immigrants left behind them a land composed of a patchwork of kingdoms, duchies, and principalities steeped in feudal tradition and dominated by Austria and Prussia. Following Napoleon’s defeat of the German states, social reform had come with the abolition of hereditary serfdom and the establishment of municipal rights for cities for the first time. A system of elementary and secondary education was created, and citizens could now stand for civil offices.1 The impact of these reforms was apparent to the German colonists. Older members of the families could recall serfdom or knew of it from their parents. Most were the first generation to receive a public education. All of them knew how disunity in

Germany had led to defeat and humiliation by the French.

Social reforms notwithstanding, the living conditions in Germany were harsh. Lich writes that “Jobs were scarce, and laborers were poorly paid. Taxes were oppressive, and few people had more money than was required to buy the most essential necessities.”


Chapter 2: “Enough Money to Burn a Wet Dog”


chapter 2

“Enough Money to Burn a Wet Dog”

Texas is considered by many the original home of large-scale ranching. In part this is confirmed by the 1860 census that reported

3,533,768 domestic cattle.1 Factoring in wild cattle, the actual total was far greater. Cattleman George W. Saunders recalled: “At the close of the Civil War the soldiers came home broke and our state was in a deplorable condition. The old men, small boys and negroes had taken care of the stock on the ranges and the state was overstocked, but there was no market for their stock . . . .”2

While Texas had been left unravaged by the war, the state was impoverished. Money was in short supply, and the cattle trade was largely unprofitable.

But the year 1866 was, taking all things into consideration, one of great disaster to Southern drovers.

All of the great prospects of marketing, profitably, the immense surplus live stock of Texas, faded away, or worse, proved to those who tried branding a serious

financial loss. So the last great hope of the Southern cattle man, for an outlet and market for his livestock, proved but bitter disappointment. Never, perhaps in the history of Texas, was the business of cattle ranching at so low estate as about the close of the year


Chapter 3: “Stock War!”


chapter 3

“Stock War!”

Records from the early 1870s illustrate the growing animosity over cattle once the trade became profitable. Mason County’s problems began during Reconstruction. The successful removal of Franz

Kettner as Hide and Cattle Inspector for Mason County during 1872 was an early attempt to dominate the cattle trade by Ben Gooch, a rancher with widespread cattle interests. In this, Mason County was not unique in either the state or the region. As early as 1871, Llano

County stockmen petitioned the government for prohibitions on mavericking, noting in part that “We would further represent that there are many persons Killing Calves in the woods and Marking & Branding calves & yearlings who are known to own no Cattle of any description whatever.”1 In San Saba County, county officers asked Richard

Coke “for an organization of some kind of armed force” for protection against “hostile Indians & other marauding parties” who were “continually depredating” on the property and lives of the citizens.2


Chapter 4: “The Fright Hangs Over Us”


chapter 4

“The Fright Hangs Over Us”

1875 dawned with deceptive calm in Mason County. Even then ample opportunity remained for matters to be resolved peacefully, but no one stepped forward as a peacemaker. In later years Ranger

Daniel Webster Roberts would recall that “the men supporting civil authority, needed no arrest, and those opposing it, urged equal claims of being right, but would not submit their grievances to law.”1 This is not true. During 1874, both sides had submitted their grievances to the law. The law had failed them. In Mason County, nonresident cattlemen such as Jim Trainer were met with hostility. The German element controlled the law, as represented by John Clark, who did nothing to curb the cattle theft going on in the county by Mexican bandits, Indians, and Anglo outlaws. Likewise the law failed to protect the interests of nonresident cattlemen. A. G. Roberts had submitted his grievances to the Llano courts, and the resulting indictments and arrests served to intensify the animosities between the factions.


Chapter 5: “Another Horrible Murder”


chapter 5

“Another Horrible Murder”

The lynchings in Mason County inaugurated the violence of 1875.

Writing from Camp Saline, Lieutenant Dan Roberts reported on March

1, “The mob has been operating some in Llano County lately. Killed one man named Wages—ordered several more to leave the county.

As yet they’v[e] harmed no good man.”1

The man killed in late February was William Wages. Like many others involved in the feud, little is known of Wages’ background. In late 1874 he had been charged with killing cattle in Mason County.

Ironically, Wages was defended by George W. Todd, who only weeks previously had prosecuted A. G. Roberts and his men. He was convicted and fined twenty dollars, twice the amount of the cows’ value.2

Beyond this, virtually nothing is known of the man.

What criteria Roberts used for determining who was a “good man” is unknown, but from the existing correspondence Roberts appears to have given tacit support to the mob during his involvement in the feud. An eyewitness to the lynching, Roberts made no move to investigate the incident or arrest any of the mob. There is also an ominous silence in the official reports filed by Lieutenant Roberts during this time regarding both the Baccus lynching and the killing of


Chapter 6: “Rance and Co.’s Band of Freebooters”


chapter 6

“Rance and Co.’s Band of Freebooters”

On July 12 the summer term of District Court opened in Mason

County. Although no one realized it at the time, the summer session was a pivotal moment in the feud. Three separate murder cases and the Baccus cattle theft case were all on the books to be heard. All of these cases were critical to ending mob law, and trouble was anticipated by legal authorities not involved with the mob. Dan Roberts recalled that he received a note from the judge instructing him not to turn Johnson over to any sheriff, undoubtedly to prevent another lynching. When the time came, Roberts brought Johnson into Mason under heavy guard.1

From the mob’s perspective the charges against Charley Johnson for his role in the Baccus case were clearly important. They anticipated a conviction based upon the very evidence they had used in deciding to lynch the Baccuses. In this they were doomed to disappointment. Both Johnson and John Martin, if the latter were ever brought to trial, were acquitted. It was a clear indication that the charges against Baccus and his men could not have been sustained and served to tarnish the mob’s reputation in the minds of some as having lynched innocent men. Johnson was also called before the grand jury in an attempt to identify mob members involved in the


Chapter 7: “A Man of Large Connexions”


chapter 7

“A Man of Large Connexions”

In later years Tom Gamel recalled Cooley’s presence in Mason as the ex-Ranger observed the legal proceedings and began his investigation into Williamson’s murder. When the session closed, Cooley left Mason and was gone about a month although no reason for his absence has been determined. When he returned, his first call was on gunsmith Joseph Miller whom he informed that “he wanted his gun fixed” since he was about ready to use it. Cooley then informed

John Gamel “that he thought he had found the man that was responsible for Williamson’s death.”1 John Gamel immediately informed his brother of Cooley’s remarks. The brothers immediately began searching for Wohrle to warn him that Cooley was hunting him. It was a logical conclusion that took little guesswork, particularly if the claim that

Wohrle had killed Williamson’s horse had come out during court.2

Wohrle had resigned as deputy sheriff and was now earning his living as a handyman and carpenter. On August 10 he was working with Charles “Doc” Harcourt and a man identified by Gamel only as “Doc’s Little Yankee” either cleaning or digging a well. Possibly


Chapter 8: “A Most Horrible State of Affairs”


chapter 8

“A Most Horrible State of Affairs”

Holmes’ contention that Moses Baird was “a man of large connexions [sic]” was an understatement.1 This succinct phrase underscores the next phase of the feud as it escalated out of control. Baird was very popular in both Burnet and Llano Counties, and the brothers were connected by marriage, friendship, and business to a number of large families in the area who in turn had ties to others. These alliances provided a small army of fighting men, many of whom would have sought vengeance even had John Baird not. Prior to this, the feud had been a private vendetta, but it had now escalated into a full scale war. The opportunities for peace were gone.

The Baird family originated in Ireland, their grandfather William

Baird having settled in Missouri. One of his sons, Hartshorn, married “Arminty Eten” there on August 11, 1846.2 Census data indicates that Hartshorn “Beard” [sic: Baird], age twenty-eight was born in Missouri. Living in the household were his wife, Areminthy, age twenty-four, born in Tennessee, and two sons: John R., age three and Moses B., age one. Both of the brothers are noted as born in


Chapter 9: “Intervention Was Necessary”


chapter 9

“Intervention Was Necessary”

The terror that gripped Mason in the fall of 1875 is almost impossible to comprehend. On October 4 it was rumored that John Baird was in town. The rumor proved false, but it provides glimpses of rampant tales that spread fear in the community.1 At the same time, Clark and his men rode to Loyal Valley and proceeded to terrorize the community. One of the citizens harassed was John O. Meusebach. The mob stormed into his store and shots were fired that grazed his legs.

“He did not move a muscle but with a withering gaze looked directly into the faces of the attackers. After a moment his molesters dropped their eyes, turned sheepishly, and rode away.”2

Meusebach’s biographer believed that the attack was committed by the Baird faction during the feud. However, the only documented raid on Loyal Valley was perpetrated by John Clark and the Hoo

Doos. Additional insight into the incident is found in a petition to



The undersigned citizens of Loyal Valley are under the impression that you are in command of the State


Chapter 10: “Shooting Each Other With Renewed Energy”


chapter 10

“Shooting Each Other

With Renewed Energy”

On October 29 Lucia Holmes noted in her diary that “Old Man”

Miller was shot at dark.1 Writing from Fredericksburg one correspondent erroneously reported that “reliable information from Mason” told of the killing of a “Mr. Martin.”2 Two days later the same paper corrected itself, stating in part that “The Fredericksburg correspondent of the Freie Presse mentions the killing of a Mr. Mueller in Mason.”3

Gamel also recalled the man as Miller but provides no first name.

Contemporary records indicate that the man was J. P. Miller.4

Miller had been assigned the task of constructing the coffins for the men lynched in February but was never paid for his work. When

Charley Johnson was arrested, he had a “fine pearl handled 45 Colts sixshooter” that was taken from him. How Miller came into possession of the pistol is unknown, but he decided to keep it in payment for his work. When Johnson wanted the weapon back, he asked Tom

Gamel to get it for him. Miller refused, claiming that it was his payment for time and materials. Johnson worked for Gamel long enough to earn money for a new pistol, then rode to Miller’s and asked him if he had a good pistol available. Miller responded that he had had one but sold it.


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Chapter 11: “I Think There Is Some Trouble at Hand”


chapter 11

“I Think There Is Some

Trouble at Hand”

With the death of Peter Bader, John Baird and Scott Cooley had effectively completed their quest for revenge. Satisfied that justice had been meted out to those responsible for his brother’s murder, Baird began to withdraw from the feud. With him went the allies who had rallied to his cause. The Mason mob was broken, and John Clark had

fled to parts unknown. Baird had a new daughter, Edna, at home and realized that it was time to stop the conflict.1 Satisfied with the results,

Baird began preparations to leave Texas.

Even as Baird withdrew from the conflict, fate closed in on Ernst

Jordan. Since the beginning of the conflict he had gone armed.

Sometime during 1876 when the “troubles had hardly subsided”

Jordan was removing a pistol from his carriage when it slipped from his hand. The pistol dropped to the ground and discharged, the bullet shattering his knee. The accident left him bedridden during the remainder of 1876 and throughout 1877. A surgeon from San Antonio operated on the leg, but it never healed properly and required treatments for the rest of his life.2


Chapter 12: “More Blood”


chapter 12

“More Blood”

After reaching Loyal Valley, Ringo and Cooley separated. Ringo returned to Long Mountain in Llano County where the Farris family hid him for some time. Cooley went on to Fredericksburg where he stopped to eat at the Nimitz Hotel. Accounts from this point differ.

Gamel relates in his memoirs that Cooley was heading for Blanco

County where he had friends. After he finished eating at the hotel, he purchased a bottle of whiskey. When he got twelve miles out of Fredericksburg, he rode up to a fellow’s house by the name of Moore and got down off his horse and laid down and said, “Moore, I am an awful sick man,” and in a few minutes he was dead. It was supposed that there was poison in the whiskey he purchased . . . 1

Newspapers made no mention of poison. The Dallas Daily Herald reported simply that Cooley “died of congestion of the brain” near

Fredericksburg.2 The Houston Daily Telegraph provided additional details.

Blanco, June 10, 1876.

The notorious Scott Cooley died this morning about one o’clock, at the house of Esquire D. Maddox, nine miles north of Blanco, of brain fever.3


Chapter 13: “The Gladden Trial”


chapter 13

“The Gladden Trial”

As the mob’s attention turned to the Olneys and their family, they were aided, inadvertently or not, by the editor of the Burnet Bulletin.

Dean Swift Ogle made little attempt at remaining impartial. Having the opportunity to sway public opinion, Ogle used it. From the beginning Ogle was a staunch supporter of families who had ties to the mob, such as the Rountrees. When John J. Strickland, sheriff of Burnet

County, appointed another brother-in-law James Martin as deputy to replace his brother, the Bulletin reported: “Mr. James Martin, brother of the deceased S. B. Martin, will take the place of his brother as

Deputy Sheriff. He is a quiet man, sober and discreet, but is cool and brave, which is a characteristic of the family.”1

Martin may have been an excellent choice, but the appointment can hardly have been viewed with any degree of warmth by Olney supporters. Also on Strickland’s payroll was Joseph T. Bozarth, John

J. Bozarth’s brother. The Bozarth brothers had served under L. H.


Chapter 14: “A Thiefs Paradise”


chapter 14

“A Thiefs Paradise”

By 1877 the Llano mob remained the only organized force of the original factions. While a number of Baird’s allies remained in the area, he had long since departed. Cooley was dead. Both Gladden and Ringo had remained behind to salvage what they could of their property. Gladden had a wife and daughter in Mason but was unable to get them away from the area before he was captured and imprisoned. Ringo had three younger sisters to support in California, and abandoning the Hill Country meant starting over. Their determination had cost them their freedom. Only Joe Olney remained at large, and the frustration of the mob was echoed by the Burnet Bulletin: “Several unsuccessful attempts have been made lately to catch Joe Olney, who has been hanging around his father’s in this county. The supposition now is that he has left the country.”1

The Rangers remained in Llano County, and on January 8, Henry

Hoy, charged with theft of cattle, was arrested by Private Maltimore and five other Rangers.2 To this point the Hoy family had been only peripherally involved in the feud. John Kelly was killed in 1875 while attempting to reach safety at the Hoy household. Hoy’s arrest was followed by the burning of the Mason courthouse by arsonists on


Chapter 15: “Casting Out Devils”


chapter 15

“Casting Out Devils”

As the Reddings and Olneys fled Texas for the safety of New

Mexico, the sheriff of Coleman County arrested some of their party.

Details of the arrest are lacking, but the sheriff lodged them in the jail at Brownwood due to its greater security. It was a futile effort. On

May 11, 1877, a number of men rode into Brownwood and calmly ate lunch. One paper reported that “immediately after dinner” a number of horses were hitched outside the front of the jail and others on the west side. Around three thirty in the afternoon four men entered the sheriff’s office and asked if the County Clerk was present. “They then asked to see the ‘record of Marks and Brands,’ which Mr. Ford very politely placed before them for their inspection.”1

Having gained access to the sheriff’s office, one of the men suddenly drew two pistols and demanded the keys to the jail. At the same time two sentinels posted on the outside of the jail told their comrades to “Hurry up, boys, we are in danger.” The sheriff was forced to release the prisoners they had come for. The men immediately armed themselves, then fled the jail.


Chapter 16: “A Shocking and Lamentable Sequel”


chapter 16

“A Shocking and Lamentable Sequel”

As 1877 drew to a close, those involved in the feud continued to make news. Caleb Hall, having liberated himself from the jail at

Menard, was seen in Mason County in early September.1 A. G. Roberts, accused by Barler of starting the feud, was now serving as a deputy sheriff in Burnet County. In late September, he and J. J. Strickland were in San Antonio “bearing papers for the conveyance of Isbell, charged with murder in Arkansas, to the authorities of that State.”2

In Burnet, the men who had helped free Ringo and Cooley proved equally capable of liberating themselves. On September 23 James

Polk Mason and Ed Brown escaped from the Burnet jail. Some believed that the guard allowed the men to escape.3 John Baird was also in the news, having reportedly been arrested in Shackelford County by the Rangers.4 The man proved to be one Crusoe Beard who was wanted in another county.5 John C. Sparks reported in October:

On Oct. 11th Sergt. T. M. Sparks with 17 Privates


Conclusion: “A Bitter Cup of Suffering”



“A Bitter Cup of Suffering”

In his biography of Texas Ranger Ira Aten, historian Harold Preece wrote of the feud, “Corpses had dangled from pecan trees. Men were called to their doors at night and gunned to death before their families. Ranchers and cowboys were butchered on rocky roads, then dumped like the carcasses of wild goats into mountain gulches and creek bottoms.”1

Aten recalled that in 1884 the feud again threatened to erupt, this time in McCulloch County “right next door to Mason County—scarcely an omen of peace.”2 The Rangers hustled to the area, all too familiar with the passions that governed the Hill Country. Another upsurge in the feud was avoided, and in time the violent passions of the region began to cool. Age was overtaking the fighters, and death came for them all in time.

Among the Germans charged with organizing the mob, Ernst

Jordan was the first to die. Crippled for life from the gunshot wound to his leg, Jordan was unable to enjoy the active life that he once had.


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