History Friday: The Mason County Hoo-Doo War – Part Two

The Hoo-Doo war eventually became so bitter and vicious that all sides involved in it splintered into factions – even the company of Texas Rangers eventually dispatched to quell the range war split over it. The one survivor of the Baccus lynching still in custody, one Tom Turley, was returned to jail when he recovered, but very shortly, he was joined there by one of Sheriff Clark’s original cattle-thief hunting posse; Caleb Hall, now accused of being a cattle thief as well. A second posse member, Tom Gamel, now claimed that the notion of lynching the Baccus gang was first bruited about by the members of Clark’s posse – and he, for one, had been strongly against it. Rumors began flying around Mason that another lynching might be in the works – of Turley, Hall and Gamel themselves. Turley and Hall promptly escaped the jail and Mason County entirely, never to return. Tom Gamel stood his ground, recruiting about thirty friends – cattlemen and ranchers from the local area. He and his friends rode into Mason one day late in March. Not prepared for receiving so many presumably hostile guests, Sheriff Clark skedaddled. Gamel and his friends lingered in town for a couple of days, stewing for a fight … which nearly happened when Sheriff Clark returned with sixty well-armed local German friends. But the two sides declared a truce – and an end to mob justice.

Unfortunately, a previously-existing quarrel reignited the fire. In Llano County – the next county over – there was a German rancher named Carl Lehmberg, who ran a large spread near Castell. Earlier that spring, Lehmberg had hired a well-liked Anglo, one Tim Williamson, as a kind of ranch foreman, and to round up stray calves for him. Unfortunately, Williamson was caught right in the middle of of Sherriff Clark’s anti-rustler campaign, and arrested for possession of a stolen calf. The brand inspector, Dan Hoerster, posted bail for Williamson and he was let go. But Williamson had already quarreled with Sheriff Clark, a quarrel which nearly came to blows. Sherriff Clark was also the county tax collector, and Williamson owned a house in Loyal Valley, which Clark had appraised at a suspiciously high value. Williamson didn’t pay what he regarded as an unfair tax – and when Clark came to the house to discuss the matter, only Mrs. Williamson was there. Clark unleashed a volley of verbal abuse at Mrs. Williamson – and when Tim Williamson heard about how Clark had treated Mrs. Williamson, he nearly had it out with Clark on the streets of Mason right then and there.

In mid-May, Deputy-Sherriff Wohrle arrived at the Lehmberg ranch, telling Williamson that his bail bond had been revoked, and he would have to come with Wohrle to post a new bond – in Mason. Carl Lehmberg readily offered to accompany them to post the new bond, and Wohrle agreed. But before they departed, Deputy Sherriff Wohrle disarmed Williamson; a bad decision, as it turned out and for both of them. Before the three men had gone ten miles down the road towards Mason they were ambushed by a party of about a dozen masked men. Wohrle and Lehmberg spurred their horses and escaped, but Williamson’s horse may have gone down – and he was caught by the mob and shot through several times. The story was told that he recognized one of the men in the mob, a local German named Peter Bader who had been a friend. Williamson begged for mercy, but Bader shot him down in the road; no mercy for stock thieves.

Mason County was well-alight now. Anglo cattlemen armed themselves and talked of revenge, which was not long in coming. Three Germans camping near Willow Creek were ambushed; at first everyone thought it was an Indian raid, but cigarette butts and bootprints found nearby indicated otherwise. In a last-ditch attempt to preserve order, a grand jury was convened to look into the matter of who had been part of the various lynch mobs. But other people were intensely interested in the matter … and one of them was a young man, barely twenty years of age, who took particular interest in the murder of Tim Williamson. Scott Cooley was a former Ranger and who farmed in nearby Menardville. The Williamsons had been as parents to Cooley – and he took the news of Williamson’s murder very hard, bitterly swearing revenge on anyone who had a hand in it. Like practically everyone else involved in the matter, he recruited friends and allies; a pair of brothers from Burnet County with bad reputations, John and Mose Baird, George Gladdon who had a reputation as a gunslinger, and John Ringold, who would have an even more notorious reputation later on under the nickname of Johnny Ringo.

The first to call to Cooley’s six-gun was Deputy Sherriff Wohrle; Cooley was certain that the deputy had been in collusion with the men who had ambushed and murdered his friend Williamson. On a hot day in August, 1875, Wohrle was with two other men digging a well. Cooley rode up, and made quiet conversation for a few moments. Then they exchanged a courteous farewell; Cooley made as if to ride away and Wohrle turned to help one of his fellows pull the other from the bottom of the well at the end of a rope. In that instant, Cooley whipped out his pistol and shot Wohrle in the back of the head, killing him instantly. One of the well-diggers dove for shelter in the brush, the man in the well fell to the bottom of it, knocked unconscious by the fall. Cooley leaped from his horse and emptied his pistol into Worhle’s body; then he brought out a hunting knife and mutilated the body, before scalping the dead man. He rode away at a gallop, waving the bloody scalp – and for a good few months, Cooley and his friends were the new terror of Mason County.

(To be continued. Sorry – it’s gotten to be a complicated story. Also, crossposted at www.ncobrief, and at my book blog.)

4 thoughts on “History Friday: The Mason County Hoo-Doo War – Part Two”

  1. Sgt – I liked your description of the early Texas Rangers some time ago – an early motorcycle gang.

    But then Texas probably needed a motorcycle gang ;-)

    BTW I finally got a keyboard that I like – I am noticing with such a better key feel I seem to be way down o nthe “typos” – a Unicomp – making the old IBM PS/2 type keyboards (I think they made them for IBM) – based on the old Selectric typewriter I think.

    I can sure tell the difference with my old $15 Chinese keyboard.

  2. I also described them as a heavily armed and mounted Neighborhood Watch…
    Nice with the keyboard! I don’t notice much difference in any of the ones that I have ever used, but those fancy ergonomic curved keyboards usually made my hands hurt.

  3. Fascinating story. Led me to google “Hoo-Doo War” and read some other summaries (read “takes”) on the events. Also found the link to St Louis in Civil War very interesting. And humbling.

    So what conclusions do we reach? I’m willing (at least partly) to admit that while I view myself as a cattleman and not a rustler, others looking at the same data could conceivably reach the opposite evaluation. How do we get civil discourse that doesn’t end in people doing each other in? Especially a problem when some one or other of the others has a world view (egs, Islam, Planned nonParenthood) that specifically includes significant bias against getting along with folks unless they get their way.

  4. Roy, I’ll hold off on my own conclusions until the final installment – but my thinking is that there was a very real problem; of the German farmer/ranchers cows being casually taken by either rustlers, or by opportunistic ranchers who were mostly but not entirely Anglo.The situation would have been resolved fairly peacefully except for the towering resentment on the Anglo side over the Germans having come up with the best portion of land, and anger left over from the Civil War. The Hill Country Germans suffered horribly during the War at the hads of Confederate authorities – and they were not in the mood for being rolled over on again.

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