Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sheriff Clark & The Mason County War, 1874

The Mason County War was also called the Hoodoo War.

Records say the Mason County War took place between 1875 and 1876, but in reality, it started much sooner when Sheriff John Clark took office in 1874.

While the Mason County War in Texas did include feuding, unlike the politics and betrayal, or the climactic shootout that would result at the OK Corral a few years later in Tombstone, Arizona, what took place in Mason County was a fairly uncomplicated affair.

It was simply feuding and cattle rustling between German-American settlers and the non-German ranchers in Mason County, Texas, that resulted in men getting killed one after the other in retaliation.

You killed my friend, my bother, my kin, were all reasons to strap on your six guns and start out after someone. And yes, it was just that simple.

It's said that the Mason County War was really a result of a clash of cultures - that it was brought on mostly due to neither culture understanding the other, with neither making much effort to do so, in addition to political and social disagreements.

While some say that it would likely had not taken place or had resulted in violence if there had been better law enforcement in the area. 

Looking at the history of the Old West, law enforcement, especially corrupt law enforcement was present throughout the frontier in one form or another. 

I'm sure someone is going to write and say that "organized/formal/professional" law enforcement did not exist in the frontier. 

My contention is that wherever their are good men and women, there is law and order - even if that means that the golden rule and the ten commandments are the only guides to follow.  

Besides, as we see today, the presence of formal law enforcement does not stop criminal activity from taking place.

Granted it may stop some, but those who believe they are outside of the law act as they please no matter what. 

As for the Old West, look at the case of Montana Sheriff Henry Plummer who was hanged by the Montana Vigilantes on January 10th, 1864, when he was found out to be running the criminal gang in the area.

Most of us know about the very corrupt Sheriff John Behan who was in league with the Clanton gang in Arizona.

Fact is, whether we want to admit it or not, not all law enforcement passed the test when it came to being honest and above reproach at the time.

Back then, like it or not, there was always the possibility that they themselves were a part of or ran the criminal element.

Greed is a powerful thing, and not something exclusive to our time. It has made many a man and woman forsake their oath of office and simply side with the darker side of human nature.

It's an age old problem that goes beyond the Greeks. And yes, the Bible is replete with stories about the foibles of man.

A great example today, 2013, just look at the greed and self-indulgence of President Obama's extravagant vacations, or some of the members of Congress who allow their greed and struggle for power to steer their behavior.

So what took place in Mason County, Texas?

German settlers began settling in the Mason County area early on, and by the mid-1840s they had a considerable population.

Despite language barriers and getting used to cultural differences, the two groups at first cooperated fairly well - mostly due to there being a considerable Indian threat and a need for unity.

Yes, threats do unite peoples. 

In 1860, the county's first Sheriff, Thomas Milligan was killed by Indians, and the settlers, both Anglo and German, banded together to defend against the threat. Some say that they actually hunted down the hostiles who killed Milligan.

Then came the Civil War between 1861 and 1865, and Texas was not spared from the hardship of the war. And yes, sometimes the peace can almost be as bad.

Following the Civil War, with tensions high, there was little to no trouble because of Martial Law and the Union Army posting troops at Fort Mason.

After the United States Army closed the fort in 1869, law enforcement was left to the local population.

During the Reconstruction Period, many Germans held positions of authority over the Anglos - both as judges and as lawmen.
As stated earlier, in 1873, Sheriff John Clark was elected.

Having grievances, the German-American majority of the county was thus able to get into place law enforcement that they felt would protect their interests.

John E. Clark was a former Confederate officer. He was born in 1834 in Kentucky to German-American parents.

He is known to have worked as a deputy sheriff and county clerk from 1856 to 1857 in Ripley County, Missouri.

When the Civil War broke out, like many, he enlisted and during a battle was wounded in the leg. It was then that he was captured and taken prisoner of war.

After his release at the end of the war, its speculated that he traveled a while before heading to Texas to visit a friend who lived in Burnet County in 1870.

He landed in Mason County in 1871, and started working as a deputy sheriff under Sheriff M.V. Bridges in 1872.

It is apparent that he was immediately a controversial figure known to use his position to "persecute his enemies."

In 1873, when Clark was elected County Sheriff, his inauguration to his office started with problems when former County Sheriff Finney refused to yield his office to Clark.

It wasn't until Texas Governor Coke got involved and threatened to send troops to install the new sheriff that Finney stepped aside. 
Clark is said to have taken office around February 1874.

Once in, he enforced the law with an "iron fist", openly supporting the lynching or shooting of any suspected of cattle rustling, even when there was little to no evidence supporting the charge.

Clark being German himself, it is not too surprising that it was through Clark's administration that the German faction struck first - which eventually sparking the county conflict.

His Deputy was German descendant John Wohrle, known to have killed several cowboys during the next two years.

Maybe it was just a coincidence, but then again maybe not, Clark's mother's maiden name was Wohrle which had been Anglicized to Worley - so yes, there was the possibility that John Wohrle was a relation of some sort.

In August 1874, prominent Llano and Burnet County ranchers M.B. Thomas and Allen G. Roberts were arrested by a posse led by Clark, who accused them of rounding up cattle that belonged to other ranches.

Roberts and Thomas denied this, but in reality according to Texas state law at the time, it didn't matter because the law allowed cattlemen to roundup any cattle they wished as long as after the cattle were sold they turned the proceeds over to the true owners.

It was rounding up cattle using the honor system.  

Clark did not abide by this law, and imprisoned the cattlemen for one week, then released them after charging them a hefty fine.

The ranchers brought charges against Clark for false imprisonment and robbery, but little became of it.

On February 13, 1875, Sheriff Clark led a posse into McCulloch County, Texas, arresting nine cowboys he suspected of rustling, to include brothers Elijah and Pete Baccus.

Four of the cowboys made bail, while the other five remained in jail.  

While on bail, Clark made it known that he had no problems with the men being lynched.

A few days later, a 17-year-old cowboy named Allen Bolt was found shot to death by the roadside just outside Mason, Texas.

To his back was pinned a note saying "Here lies a noted cow thief".

On February 18, 1875, several masked men entered the house of Deputy Wohrle, demanding he turn over the keys to the jail to them.

He did so, and the men removed the five cowboys, took them outside of town, and lynched them.

Texas Ranger Dan Roberts arrived in town at the time.

It isn't known if Dan Roberts is related to rancher Allan Roberts, but what is known is Dan Roberts hatred for Sheriff Clark.

In fact, he hated Clark so much that Roberts is said to contemptuously refer to Clark as a "Blue Hen Chicken" because of Clark's cooperation with the Yankee administrators in Texas at the time during the Reconstruction Period.

He intervened, preventing the hanging of cowboy Tom Turley, while cowboy Charlie Johnson was able to break free during the chaos and flee into the night.

Sheriff Clark, realizing a Texas Ranger was present, also made an effort to intervene. But it was too late for brothers Elijah and Pete Baccus, who were both hanged.

The fifth cowboy, Abe Wiggins, was shot in the head by unknown parties, and died the next morning.

No arrests were ever made for the lynchings, and this fueled tensions that would eventually explode into violent retaliation by the Anglo settlers.

A few days after the lynchings, former posse member Caleb Hall was arrested, allegedly for rustling, but many believed it was due to his objections to the lynchings on February 18.

Placed in a cell with Turley, the two men tunneled their way out and fled town.

Former posse member Tom Gamel, who also had objected to the lynchings, received several death threats.

Instead of fleeing, it's said that Gamel gathered together a band of some thirty riders and return to Mason to confront Sheriff Clark.

The sheriff fled town, but on March 24, 1875, Sheriff Clark returned with some sixty riders to confront Gamel and his band.

Although it appeared the two factions would fight, eventually they reached a truce, and departed.

On May 13th, Sheriff Clark and Deputy Wohrle rode out to the ranch of Carl Lehmberg, to speak with foreman Tim Williamson.

Several months earlier, Williamson had been falsely arrested for possessing an alleged stolen calf. But because of pressure within the community, Williamson had been released.

However, Daniel Hoerster, the German owner of the calf, had since pressed Clark to arrest Williamson - and Clark had now decided to do it.

Williamson agreed to accompany the two lawmen, and rode toward town with them. But, after traveling some ten miles, the party was met by a band of masked men.

According to some reports, Williamson recognized Peter Bader, a member of the mob, and Bader shot him - killing Williamson instantly.

Williamson's murder would change the course of the Mason County War, as Williamson was a mentor and close friend to Texas Ranger Scott Cooley.

When Cooley received the news at the Texas Ranger camp where his Ranger Company was based, he broke into uncontrollable crying - then it turned to anger.

There is some confusion here. It's said that Cooley was spending much of his time in the company of the Rangers but was not officially working as a Ranger - and other account say that Cooley was indeed a Texas Ranger.

Either way, Cooley blamed deputy sheriff Wohrle for Williamson's death - believing that he was in cahoots with the Germans, as Wohrle was of German descent.

As angry as he was, Cooley is said to have waited for indictments to be passed down from the court against those responsible for Williamson's death - but when none came, Cooley took matters into his own hands.

On August 10, 1875, Cooley went to Wohrle's home where he found Worhle working on his well with a helper.

Without hesitation Cooley shot Wohrle several times - killing him on sight.

It is no wonder how the Old West can be looked at as a violent place, yet in reality is was a lot less violent than the nation is today. 

Reading what Cooley did after he shot Wohrle lends to the myth that the Old West was extremely violent.

You see, it's said that after shooting Wohrle, Cooley then scalped him and dumped Wohrle in that well.

Texas Ranger Cooley then displayed the scalp as a prize to the Germans. But he wasn't finished with Wohrle, Cooley then killed German cattleman Carl Bader.

Cooley is then joined by friend and gunman Johnny Ringo, along with several others who are there to retaliate against Sheriff Clark and the German faction.

Mose Baird and George Gladden were ambushed shortly afterward by a posse led by Sheriff John Clark, during which Baird was killed and Gladden seriously wounded.

That posse included Peter Bader, brother to Cooley's second victim, Carl Bader.

Johnny Ringo and a friend named Bill Williams rode boldly into Mason, Texas, on September 25, 1875, riding up in front of the house of James Cheyney, the man who led Gladden and Baird into the ambush.

As Cheyney came out, both Ringo and Williams shot and killed him.

The two then rode to the house of Dave Doole, and called him outside, but when he came out with a gun, Ringo and Williams fled back into town.

Four days later, Scott Cooley and John Baird, brother to Mose Baird, then killed German cowboy Daniel Hoerster, and wounded Germans Peter Jordan and Henry Plueneke.

The German cattlemen then retaliated, hanging two men they suspected had assisted Cooley.

The next day Texas Rangers arrived, finding the town in chaos, and Cooley and his faction gone.

Major John B. Jones of the Texas Rangers dispatched three parties to pursue Cooley and his followers.

The next day local Sheriff John Clark dispatched a posse of deputies to arrest Bill Coke, suspected of assisting Cooley.

Coke was located and arrested, but allegedly "escaped" while on the way to town.

By this time, killings were said to be almost random because there was no local law enforcement to speak of - as the sheriff was obviously supporting the German cattlemen.

And no, no arrests had been made against either side short of the arrest of Bill Coke.

Since Coke was never seen again, it is suspected that the posse simply executed him.

Charley Johnson, a friend to Bill Coke, then appeared in town looking for blacksmith William Miller, who had been a member of the posse that arrested Coke.

Johnson found Miller at his workplace, and shot him down.

Badly wounded, Miller was saved only by his wife running outside and throwing herself toward him - at which point it's said that Johnson simply walked away.

On October 5, 1875, Sheriff John Clark, who had been in hiding from Cooley, resigned his position.

Yes, this all took place since February of 1874.

The Texas Rangers finally charged former Sheriff Clark and nine men in his "faction" with minor offenses stemming from the initial arrests.

All the defendants, except Clark were found innocent. Clark posted a bond, but then left Mason and was never seen or heard from again.

During this time, the legendary Texas Rangers did almost nothing to help matters. Some say it was because many were friends to Scott Cooley, while others say they took the side fighting the German faction.

So frustrated was Texas Ranger Major Jones that at one point he asked his Texas Rangers if any of them felt they could not perform their duty by pursuing Cooley? And if they did feel that way, that they should step forward.

Seven of them did so, willing to accept discharges rather than to pursue Cooley.

The Texas Governors office was by this time receiving letters in support of Cooley, stating the local sheriff was in support of the German cattlemen, which was filtering down on Major Jones, prompting him to act swiftly.

At the end of December, 1875, Cooley and Ringo were arrested by Burnet County Sheriff A. J. Strickland for threatening the life of deputy sheriff John J. Strickland.

They later escaped from the Lampasas County, Texas jail, with the help of friends, but their arrests essentially stopped the violence.

Cooley later escaped a posse near the Llano River, fleeing into Blanco County, Texas, and was never officially seen again.

He is believed to have either been wounded by that posse and died shortly afterwards, or to have died due to what was referred to as "brain fever" shortly afterwards.

Cooley is believed to have been hiding out at the Nimitz Hotel in Fredericksburg, Texas at the time. However, neither of the reported death scenarios has ever been confirmed.
The last victim is said to have been a stockman who was killed in his home in Llano County.

The last act of the Hoo Doo War was when someone set fire to the Mason County Court House in January 21, 1877, probably to destroy any evidence that was to be used against those involved.

The Courthouse burned to the ground.

While no one was brought to justice for the fire, with the fire went the official records of the Mason County War.

All in all, cattle rustling and general lawlessness prevailed along the entire Texas frontier during and shortly after the Reconstruction period.

For a while even the state troopers were part of the problem having become a very corrupt organization.

But nowhere on the frontier did the problems reach the proportions that they did in Mason County in 1875.

Compared to today's violence, especially if measured by the amount of lawlessness and killings in Chicago where they record almost a killing a day, the Mason County War was not all that bad.

But by Old West standards, with the official death toll for the Mason County War of ten killed - the whole thing was a bloody affair for those days.

For the Old West, the Mason County War was a truly bloody affair.

Mason, Texas, 1876

by Tom Correa

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment.