The Mason County War, commonly known as the Hoodoo War, was one of a number of feuds that developed over the stealing and killing of cattle. As early as June 25, 1874, Wilson Hey, presiding justice of Mason County, wrote Governor Richard Coke requesting that troops be stationed in the county to help deal with cattle rustling. Since many of the settlers of the county were Germans, there began to be a perception that they were pitted against the American-born residents, and neither group was able to get protection from the cattle thieves. The trouble began seriously when the sheriff, John Clark, jailed nine men on charges of stealing cattle. Before a trial was held, four of them escaped, but a mob of about forty men took the remaining five from the jail on February 18, 1875, led them to a place near Hick Springs, and hanged them. Daniel W. Roberts of the Texas Rangers, a few of his men, and a group of citizens followed the mob but were not in time to save the prisoners. Lige Baccus and his cousin were dead; Tom Turley was hanged but not dead; a man named Johnson escaped; and the fifth, Wiggins, was shot, and died the next day. Though a district court investigated the incident, nothing came of it. On May 13, 1875, Sheriff Clark sent Deputy Sheriff John Worley to Castell to bring Tim Williamson to Mason to make bond on a charge of cattle stealing. Worley and his prisoner were attacked by twelve men with blackened faces. Though Williamson was not armed, he and his horse were killed. No trial was held for this murder, and a real feud ensued. Scott Cooley, a former Ranger, swore revenge for the death of his friend Williamson. He collected the names of the men he thought responsible for Williamson's death, got together a following of his own-including John and Mose Beard, George Gladden, and John Ringgold-and began a ruthless retaliation that resulted in the killing of at least a dozen men.
One of his early victims was John Worley, who was killed on August 10, 1875, while he was working on his well. It was commonly agreed that Scott Cooley shot him through the head and took his scalp. A number of violent incidents followed Worley's death, and sources disagree over the names and dates. The citizens of Mason sent a petition to Governor Coke asking for protection. A week later John Ringgold and several others are said to have killed John Cheney (Cheyney) as he was preparing breakfast for some strangers at his home. The governor sent Maj. John B. Jones with twenty or thirty men from Company A and ten from Company D of the Texas Rangers to quiet the difficulties. On September 28, when they reached Cold Springs, they found Clark and fifteen to twenty followers, who said they had heard that the Cooley faction was heading that way to "burn out the Dutch." That day Daniel Hoerster was shot off his horse in broad daylight as he was passing the Southern Hotel, and Peter Jordan (a friend of Hoerster's) and Gladden were wounded. Jones made an investigation at Cold Springs before he joined Daniel Roberts to attempt to get to the source of the trouble. During a gunfight at Keller's store on the Llano River, Clark and Keller's son wounded Mose Beard and George Gladden. Beard died, but Gladden was sent to his home at Loyal Valley to recover. At some point during the feud, a mob appeared at John Gamel's ranch on Mill Creek looking for Gamel and William Coke. They arrested Coke and Gamel's foreman, Ike Beam, and Sheriff Clark sent them back to Mason under separate guard; Coke was never seen again. Johnson, one of the survivors of the February 1875 lynching, is said to have shot a man named Miller, reportedly the last person to have been seen with Coke; Johnson then fled the county. Clark was later investigated regarding the Coke incident, but the case against him could not be proven; he subsequently left Mason.
Meanwhile, Major Jones and his rangers continued to search for Cooley and his followers without success and with little cooperation from the community. Jones finally discovered that some of his rangers were former comrades-in-arms of Cooley and was forced to discharge some of them. A few people were eventually arrested, but most of the cases were dismissed. No trial in Mason County ever convicted any man of either faction for any of the murders, although some of the men involved were arrested and brought to trial elsewhere. George Gladden, after recovering from his wounds, is said to have killed Peter Barder in Llano County, although some sources say Barder was killed earlier by Scott Cooley. Barder's brother Charles was also killed at some point, supposedly because he was mistaken for Peter. Gladden was eventually tried for murder in Llano County and sentenced to ninety-nine years in the penitentiary, but he was later pardoned after serving some of his sentence. With his supporters among the rangers gone, Cooley fled into Blanco County where he was sheltered by friends; he died a short time later, supposedly of brain fever. After many months of violence, a strained peace returned to Mason County in the fall of 1876. Not until the next year did the county settle down to respectable peace, law, and order. On the night of January 21, 1877, the Mason County courthouse burned, destroying all records relating to the feud.
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Kathryn Burford Eilers, A History of Mason County, Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1939). James B. Gillett, Six Years with the Texas Rangers, 1875 to 1881 (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1921; rpt., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1976). Stella Gipson Polk, Mason and Mason County: A History (Austin: Pemberton Press, 1966; rev. ed., Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1980). Daniel Webster Roberts, Rangers and Sovereignty (San Antonio, 1914; rpt., Austin: State House Press, 1987). C. L. Sonnichsen, Ten Texas Feuds (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1957; rpt. 1971).
Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
Rebellions, Raids, and Wars
Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Mason County War,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 28, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
November 30, 2019