THE MASON COUNTY
HOO DOO WARS

by Glenn Hadeler

Part 2 of 2 Parts

 

The man then leaped from his horse and shot Wohrle five more times before taking out his knife, mutilating the body and finally taking his scalp. The fiend then remounted and rode off  waving the scalp in triumph.
This man was Scott Cooley.

Williamson had befriended Cooley when Cooley was a young boy and Mrs. Williamson had nursed him through a serious bout with Typhoid Fever. Cooley grew into a stout, powerful young man who had served with distinc-
tion in the Texas Rangers. He was known to suffer from fits, supposedly due to a snake bite, but was otherwise a well liked young man.

He was farming in nearby Menardville when word reached him of Williamson’s murder. Upon receiving the news, Cooley had reportedly burst into tears and vowed revenge on the parties responsible. After the killing of Wohrle, Cooley was never the same man. His presence unnerved people as he wore his hat down low over his eyes and would take notice of no one in particular. He even refused to shake hands with anyone for concern that his gun hand not be available for a second. As if Cooley weren’t enough, he surrounded himself with a band of other desperadoes. George Gladden was a known gunman in the area, Moses and John Baird were two cowboys of dubious reputation from Burnet County, and a drifter who sometimes called himself John Ringold but was better known as Johnny Ringo. The band made their headquarters at Gladden’s place in Loyal Valley and proceeded to terrify the surrounding area. They stopped off at a saloon operated by a man named Eckert one day, where Cooley ordered a round of drinks for his boys. When Eckert demanded payment Cooley reached into his pocket and tossed Wohrle’s scalp on the bar. The stunned bartender backed away and quickly acknowledged that the drinks were on the house. Later some of the gang barged into John Meusebach’s store and fired several shots at the feet of the dignified old German statesman, one of which grazed his leg.

The next target of Cooley’s gang was Carl Bader. Carl was Peter Bader’s brother and it is not certain whether his murder was an act of revenge or a case of mistaken identity. On August 19, Cooley’s band showed up at Bader’s farm in Llano County and found him working in the field. Before Bader had a chance to run Cooley and Ringo shot him down where he stood. In Mason, Clark and his allies were trying to determine what their next move should be, when word of Bader’s death reached town. It was decided that they could no longer wait to take action. Clark hired a local gambler named Jim Cheney to go to Gladden’s place and try to convince the band to come to Mason. Cheney succeeded in locating George Gladden and Moses Baird, and the two agreed to make the trip to Mason. Cheney left the two riders behind him and raced back up the road. As Gladden and Baird approached Keller’s Store on the Llano River east of Mason, they saw Sheriff John Clark standing outside. A gun battle developed and shots began pouring at Gladden and Baird from behind a stone wall. The two were badly wounded but managed to ride about a mile back up the road to Beaver Creek with Clark’s men pursuing them. There Moses Baird died and Gladden was found too badly wounded to fight. Peter Bader was ready to finish Gladden off but John Keller swore he’d kill anyone who attempted to shoot the wounded man. Bader then satisfied his vengeance by removing a gold ring from the finger of the dead Moses Baird, along with the finger itself.

The shoot-out at Keller’s Store was the breaking point for many of the citizens of Mason who had attempted not to take sides in the feud. Their desperation was displayed in a letter published in the San Antonio Herald which read "All Hell has broken out up here....We fear this is but the beginning of a bloody solution to the stock problems which have become so serious as of late." Petitions began circulating requesting that the Governor send state troops to restore order. In September of 1875 the call was answered as a company of Major John B. Jones Frontier Ranger Battalion was dispatched to Mason County. No sooner were the Rangers sent than the next wave of violence shook the streets of Mason.

Around September 24, Gladden had recovered from his wounds enough to ride again. Cooley’s band slipped into the town of Mason as Johnny Ringo and another man named Williams rode north to the home of Jim Cheney on Comanche Creek. Cheney greeted the men nervously uncertain of what they knew of his involvement in the Keller Store ambush. He invited the two to join him for breakfast and began to wash his face. When his face was covered with a towel, Ringo quietly pulled his gun and shot Cheney off the porch. Meanwhile Cooley and the others appeared that morning at a store owned by David Doole. Doole was an Irish merchant friendly with most of the Germans in the area. When Doole saw the men he met them with a rifle from inside the store and refused to come out. The party then rode to the west side of town and made themselves at home at Tom Gamel’s saloon. They had nothing to fear from the law; by now there was none.

On September 28, Major Jones arrived at Keller’s Store and was surprised to find Sheriff Clark and a large party of men had turned the store into a fort. Clark informed Jones that word had come from Loyal Valley that Cooley’s band was on it’s way to "Burn out the Dutch". Jones decided to go to Loyal Valley and investigate. On his arrival he found the whole town closed up and quiet as death. The few people he could find would tell him nothing despite the fact that everyone knew Cooley’s band was in Mason hunting for Dutchmen.

Back in Mason, Cooley, Gladden, and Baird were watching the streets from Gamel’s saloon. They noticed three mounted men conversing with David Doole in front of his store. The horsemen were Dan Hoerster, County Brands Inspector, along with his brother-in-law, Peter Jordan, and Henry Pluenneke, all well known Germans.

Doubtless Doole warned Hoerster of the presence of Cooleys men, but Hoerster and Jordan were not men to be intimidated. They turned their horses up the street from Doole’s Store and began riding toward Gamel’s saloon. When Cooley saw this, he picked up another man named Bill Coke and with the rest of the gang left the saloon out the back door. The three mounted men continued up the street, past the Southern Hotel where a number of guests were on the porch taking in the morning sun unaware of what was about to erupt in their presence. As Hoerster, Jordan, and Pluenneke passed a barber shop across from the hotel the gunfight exploded. A blast from a shotgun struck Dan Hoerster in the neck knocking him from the saddle. The shot spooked Jordan’s greenbroke horse which reared making him a difficult target. A shot meant for him only grazed his head causing a deep gash above his left eye. Both Jordan and Pluenneke hit the ground and began returning fire. They took cover in the Southern Hotel where the guests had scattered like quail when the fight began. Jordan saw a figure carrying a box of cartridges run between two buildings. He fired and the cartridges "went everywhere" as the man stumbled. Several shots from Cooley’s gang hit the Hotel slightly wounding two of the guests.

When the shooting subsided Jordan and Pluenneke retrieved Dan Hoerster’s lifeless body from the street and took it into the hotel. Cooley’s gang rendezvoused at Gamel’s saloon where they had a quick drink and then went to their horses which had been brought around back by a black cowboy named Booker. The gang mounted and thundered up the street past the Southern Hotel where Jordan again exchanged shots with the riders, wounding George Gladden in the hand.

That afternoon Major Jones reached Mason. He found the town in chaos with no law and by now little order, as no one knew who they could trust. Jones set about trying to restore the faith of the citizens. He sent out three parties to pursue Cooley’s band. They each returned empty handed. The next day a posse headed by Sheriff Clark captured Bill Coke on Mill Creek. He was sent with six deputies including Miller, the gunsmith back to Mason. Coke was never heard from again. The deputies said he had escaped, but it was later said that he had suffered the mob justice that now replaced the law in Mason County.

Whether Coke was the victim of the mob or not, his disappearance along with another old grudge was enough to bring Charley Johnson back into the story. When Johnson was arrested with the Baccus boys, he had been relieved of a beautiful six-shooter. After he was acquitted of all charges he asked that it be returned, but Miller who had possession of the gun had sold it to pay for coffins for the Baccus brothers and Abe Wiggins. When word came of Coke’s disappearance, Johnson rode out to Miller’s place and ask if he still had his gun. Miller replied that he had sold the gun; with that Johnson pulled his pistol and said "well then I guess this one will work". Miller attempted to run but Johnson dropped him with his first shot. As the wounded Miller lay on the ground, Johnson closed in to finish the job when Miller’s wife ran to her stricken husband and covered him with her skirt. Johnson holstered his gun and rode away. Thus Miller’s wife saved him from becoming another victim of the war.

The affair had now truly become a war. A correspondent to the Austin Democratic Statesman indicated how divisive the conditions were: "there stands the situation at this time. No arrests have been made and every man about Mason is afraid to open his mouth one way or the other. Neighbors are afraid of each other, and will not travel the road in company with any man...Apprehension is that the worst has not yet come."

Major Jones himself was having difficulties in restoring order because as he wrote: "The national prejudice is so very bitter here; American against German and vice versa", that no one will cooperate. Neither was his ranger company immune to the divisiveness of the feud. As they continually returned to Mason without Cooley or any of his men the situation became apparent. Cooley had been a ranger and some of Jones men had known him. They were also Anglo-Texans and needless to say, had little sympathy for the Germans. Some of the rangers had reportedly even met face to face with Cooley and told him that they didn’t care if he killed every damned Dutchman in the county. Frustrated, Jones finally formed his company and told them that if any of them could not pursue Cooley for any reason he would grant them an honorable discharge. Seven men stepped forward, of these three accepted discharges rather than pursue Cooleys band.

To further add to Jones’s problems, letters were now being received by the Governor’s Office claiming that Jones was siding with the German element against the stockmen. All of this on top of claims and counter claims that Cooley’s band was making threats to wipe out their enemies, while Sheriff Clark’s men where molesting innocent people in their search for Cooley.

It seemed more and more that Scott Cooley was invincible, then in December of 1875, he and Johnny Ringo were captured by Sheriff A. J. Strickland of Burnet County. Word soon spread that Cooley’s many friends in the area were on their way to break him out. Strickland transferred Cooley and Ringo to Austin where the two were received as celebrities by the townspeople and the press.

With Cooley and Ringo locked up, and the Rangers on the hunt for the others it appeared as if the violence was at an end, but one more slaying was to come. Peter Bader had been hiding out on San Fernando Creek in Llano County. When Gladden and John Baird found out where he was, they prepared an ambush on the road between the town of Llano and Castell. As Bader traveled up the road one evening in January of 1876, the two waited behind a granite outcrop and Baird got his revenge for his brother’s death. He later proudly displayed the gold ring Bader had taken from his dead brother saying" Bader cut my brother’s finger off to get it, and I cut Pete’s finger off to get it back."

Although Cooley and Ringo would eventually break out of jail in Lampasas, the worst of the violence was over. The terror in the hills, however, remained. In the Summer of 1876 Cooley’s band was again reported stealing livestock in the Mason area and many residents remembered he had made a vow to kill Sheriff Clark. Cooley had missed his chance. While Cooley and Ringo were incarcerated, Sheriff John Clark had been indicted for complicity in the disappearance of Bill Coke. After the charges fell through, Clark resigned his position and vanished from Mason County as mysteriously as he had arrived.

The rampage came to an end in the fall of 1876. Scott Cooley had eaten dinner at the Nimitz Hotel in Fredericksburg when he suddenly fell ill. For a time it was believed he had been poisoned by sympathetic Germans, but it is more likely that the "Brain Fever" that had plagued him most of his life, had now ended it. It also may explain many of his actions in the latter days of his life. William Scott Cooley died at about 21 years of age and was buried in Blanco County. A granite tombstone, today adorns his grave, giving testimony to his better deeds. It reads simply "Scott Cooley - Texas Ranger".

The remainder of Cooley’s gang also soon disappeared from the scene. John Baird fled Texas to Lincoln County, New Mexico, where he met with a violent end. George Gladden and Johnny Ringo were both captured at the Mosely Ranch near Castell, in November of 1876. Gladden was the only member of the gang to be brought to trial for his crimes. He was convicted of the murder of Peter Bader and sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison. He was pardoned in 1884, after which he left the state.

John Peters (Johnny) Ringo, a.k.a. John Ringold was held for the murder of Jim Cheney until late in 1878, but was eventually acquitted. He then left Texas and drifted to Cochise County, Arizona, where he embroiled himself in another feud with the famous Earp Brothers in Tombstone. On July 13, 1882 he was found in Morse’s Canyon leaning against a tree with a bullet wound in his head. Some historians believe he was slain by the notorious gunman Buckskin Frank Leslie, but other stories hold that Ringo was haunted by violent flash-backs of the deeds he had seen in Texas. These caused him to drink excessively, and when he could no longer drown his demons, he took his own life. If this is true, than Johnny Ringo was the last man to die as a result of the Mason County War.

The members of the Hoodoo mob were never known with certainty, though it is doubtless that many prominent Germans were participants. They did not escape punishment, for the war also left victims among the living. The venom it had brewed was not easily vanquished from the memories of the survivors. Jane Hoerster recalls that as late as the 1920’s when she was a girl, no one dared talk about the matter. She well remembers Peter Jordan as "the nice old man with the bullet scar over his eye", though no one would explain how he had come by it. Jordan perhaps suffered the longest from the feud. In his old age he lived with his children and would rouse the house with his nightmares when he would awaken frantically crying "the band!, the band is on their way!". He could only be coaxed back to sleep after his children reassured him" it’s all right Papa, we have men standing guard." The terror, for him and perhaps others like him, ended only with his death in 1942.

By the time I had completed my interview with Jane Hoerster, the Mason Library had long since closed. I stepped out on the front porch as Jane locked the door. A steady rain had begun to fall and I commented that " a rain in late June is a real blessing in this area." "Yes, she said, " you know it seems like it rained more here when I was a girl." "Well," I replied, "things change." I climbed into my truck and drove down to the town square, where a stately sandstone courthouse has replaced the one dating from the feud. I circled to the southwest corner of the square and I looked up the rain slick street, to where Dan Hoerster had been gunned down, and Jordan, and Pluenneke had made a desperate fight for their lives. Then I turned east and headed up Highway 29 toward Llano. It occured to me that what I had discovered that day was a true tale of Texas. A story of desperation, prejudice, murder, and revenge. The story had been played out many times before in the history of the State and would be again. I looked out my window as I drove past ranches owned by Hoersters, Kothmans, and Jordans, and thought how the rain made the country seem greener and more peaceful than ever. Things change, and sometimes for the better. Long gone is the terror in the hills, along with the memories of the "Hoodoo" War.

Copyright Glenn Hadeler 1998, All rights reserved