29. March 2013 · Comments Off on The Mason County Hoodoo War – Part 3 · Categories: Old West · Tags: , ,

Scott Cooley, who lived for revenge on those who had a part in the murder of his foster-father, Tim Williamson, made a kind of headquarters with his violent and disreputable friends in Loyal Valley. George Gladden had a place there – he, like many other participants in the feud – was a small rancher with a reputation as being handy with a gun. A few weeks after the murder of Deputy Whorle, Cooley’s gang targeted Peter Bader, who was reported to have been in the lynch mob who ambushed Tim Williamson on the road between the Lehmburg ranch and Mason, and had fired the final shot killing Tim Williamson. Unfortunately, Cooley and Johnny Ringo hit Peter Bader’s brother Carl, instead – gunning him down in his own field where he had been working. Whether this was deliberate or a case of mistaken identity is a matter undecided – but by committing this murder, Cooley had thrown a rock into a hornets’ nest. The Clark faction responded by attempting to draw out the Cooley gang to Mason. Sheriff Clark convinced – or hired – a local gambler named Jim Cheney to try and talk the Cooley gang into coming to Mason.

Cheney was only able to find George Gladden and Mose Baird; whatever he said to them convinced them to set out on the road between Loyal Valley and Mason. The two of them had just reached John Keller’s general store on the river-crossing just east of Mason – and there they spotted Sheriff Clark waiting, just outside the store. Clark’s men opened fire on the two from behind a stone wall. Both of them badly wounded, they still managed to escape a little way up the road, with the ambushers in hot pursuit. But Mose Baird died of his wounds and Peter Bader – whose brother had been murdered by Cooley and Johnny Ringo – wanted to finish off George Gladden. John Keller, the storekeeper, refused to countenance this, and store he’d kill anyone who’d shoot the wounded man. Peter Bader contented himself by merely cutting a gold ring from the hand of the dead Mose Baird. Perhaps this brief incident best illuminates the bitterness of the Hoodoo war; that some men on either side fully embraced savagery, while others drew back, horrified.

By late September, the situation had degenerated to the point where a company of Rangers was dispatched to Mason, under the command of Major John B. Jones, to restore order. By that time, there was none to speak of in Mason County. Sheriff Clark and a good number of his allies had forted up in Keller’s store, after rumors that Cooley’s band was intent on burning out the German settlers of Mason. Cooley and his band were already in Mason, too. They had tried to intimidate an Irish storekeeper, David Doole, into helping him. Armed with a shotgun, Doole refused; he was on good terms with many of the local Germans. Rebuffed, Cooley and his friends holed up a short distance down the street in Tom Gamel’s saloon on the west side of town – that Tom Gamel, who had been part of that first rustler-hunting posse early in the year, and who had broken with Clark and recruited friends of his own. In the meantime, Johnny Ringo and another of Cooley’s band paid a visit on Jim Cheney, who had led George Gladden and Mose Baird into the ambush at Keller’s store. Cheney invited them to share breakfast with him, apparently certain that his part in the matter wasn’t known. Johnny Ringo shot him down.

Gunfire also erupted in the streets of Mason: Dan Hoerster, the elected brands inspector, his brother-in-law, and third man were shot at, while riding down Main Street towards Gamel’s saloon, although they had been warned of the presence of the Cooley gang. Dan Hoerster fell, and the other two took refuge in the local hotel and fired back, to the horror of guests. Major Jones and his Ranger company arrived in the aftermath of this latest outrage, and began searching for Cooley and his friends. The major had his own problems; he had no cooperation from either side, with Anglo against German, each convinced that he was sympathetic to the other side. Worse still, a number of his own Rangers were former comrades of Scott Cooley – and finally the major called them to order and issued an ultimatum. Any who couldn’t find it in themselves to hunt for Cooley would be granted an honorable discharge from service. Three of the Rangers accepted the offer. The hunt for Cooley and the others continued – and in December, Cooley and Johnny Ringo were taken captive by the sheriff of neighboring Burnet County. Hearing that friends of theirs might break them out of the Burnet County Jail, the sheriff wisely sent them to custody in another and more secure jurisdiction.

With the apprehension of Cooley, the violence tapered off, although there was one last vengeance murder; that of Peter Bader. He had been hiding out in Llano County, but early in January of 1876, George Gladden and John Baird ambushed him on the road between Llano and Castell. With grim satisfaction, John Baird cut his brother Mose’s gold ring off Peter Bader’s hand.

By the end of that year, the Hoodoo War was over, save in memories and nightmares for those who had participated in it or were merely witnesses. Those participants with the bloodiest hands found it expedient to leave Mason County for good. Sherriff Clark, indicted on charges of complicity in the disappearance of suspected Cooley gang members, resigned his position after the charges were dropped and vanished without a trace. Johnny Ringo, charged and acquitted in the murder of Jim Cheney, and John Baird also both departed at speed, and turned up in New Mexico, where they both came to violent and unhappy ends. Scott Cooley, who had suffered a mysterious and chronic illness which medical authorities of the time called ‘brain fever’ died very suddenly from a bout of it, in the fall of that year. The only man convicted by a court of law in any of the Hoodoo War murders was George Gladden, sentenced to prison for the murder of Peter Bader.

And there it all ended, although many prominent and otherwise respectable men had doubtless been part of the masked lynch mobs. The Mason County courthouse burned, early in 1877, destroying just about all the written records associated with the feud. A long-time Mason resident and descendent of early settlers told me that upon the burning of all the records, the city fathers decided mutually to draw a line under the whole matter and call it a day. I am fairly certain, though – that no rustler or honest rancher – took a casual attitude towards absconding with Mason County cattle for a long time afterwards.

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