The Hoodoo War of Mason County

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Tony Maples Photography


In 1851, Mason, Texas was established as a fort, known as Fort Mason. Initially, settlers were attracted to the safety the fort had to offer from Indian raids. German settlers moved into the area shortly after, and many soldiers would settle down here after their discharge from service. The history of Fort Mason remained fairly uneventful, and by 1868, the fort was converted to a city. Who knew that a few short years later Mason would become the center of a violent feud between German settlers and Anglo ranchers? Known as the Hoodoo War, or the Mason County War, this feud began over accusations of stolen cattle, a feud that would last for two and a half years.

It was common practice for stockman to herd stray cattle when driving cattle for sale. Cattlemen seemed to have an understanding that “if you brand some of my calves, I’ll brand some of yours.” However, the German settlers did not agree with this practice. They maintained small herds, and the loss of one calf meant the loss of much needed money. Adding to the tension was a group of wanderers that came to Texas after the Civil War ended. These men were outlaws through and through, and seemed to especially focus on cattle rustling.

Hoodoo WarPhoto: Petticoats and Pistols

In June of 1874, the presiding justice of Mason County, Wilson Hey, wrote to then Texas Governor Richard Coke requesting for troops to be sent to the countryside to help combat the growing trend of cattle rustling, however, the request seemed to fall on deaf ears. In February of 1875, German elected Sheriff John Clark formed a posse in an effort to put a stop to the thefts. In doing a sweep just northwest of Mason, the posse found a large group of cattle that had everyone else’s brand on them but their own. Nine men were arrested and taken to jail. Four of those men escaped before a trial could be held. Soon after, a mob of 40 some-odd men kidnapped the remaining prisoners and took them to be hanged. Texas Ranger Daniel W. Roberts pursued the mob with a few of his men and some local citizens, but they arrived too late. Three of the five men died. Two from hanging and one from a gunshot wound. Out of the survivors, one was hanged but did not die, the other escaped. An investigation ensued but nothing came of it.

Not long after, a man by the name of Tim Williamson was arrested for the theft of a yearling. Williamson was a young cowboy who, ironically, drove cattle for a German man named Carl Lehmberg. Lehmberg owned a pretty good size cattle operation and had offered $5.00 per head Williamson drove in. Williamson later posted bail and was released from jail. Upon his release, Sheriff Clark made a visit to Williamson’s home to collect on unpaid taxes. Williamson was not home, but Sheriff Clark took it upon himself to abuse Williamson’s wife. When Williamson discovered what had happened, he challenged Sheriff Clark to settle the issue man-to-man, but Sheriff Clark refused.

On May 13, 1875, Sheriff Clark sent one of his men, Deputy Sheriff John Worley, to retrieve Williamson. Deputy Worley arrived at Lehmberg’s ranch and informed him Williamson’s bond was withdrawn. Worley took Williamson into custody, and during the ride back to Mason, the two men were ambushed by 12 men who had blackened their faces. Williamson and his horse were shot and killed, however, Worley escaped. No trial was ever held for his murder. This is where the real feud begins.

CooleyandgangPhoto: ancestraldata.com

A friend of Williamson and former Texas Ranger, Scott Cooley, declared to seek revenge for Williamson’s death. He gathered a group of vigilantes and rode up on Worley while he was working on his well. Cooley shot Worley in the back of the head and scalped him. Violence engulfed the city of Mason after Worley was murdered, so much so the citizens again wrote to Governor Coke for protection. Governor Coke sent a group of Texas Rangers to Mason to quell the feud. Several more men died and many were wounded during the Rangers’ pursuit of Cooley, some at the hand of the infamous Johnny Ringo. Cooley eventually fled Mason County and lived under the protection of friends in Blanco County where he later fell ill with “brain fever” and passed away.

Peace slowly returned to Mason, TX. Sheriff Clark was investigated for his part in the feud, but charges were later dismissed. A total of 14 men died and many were injured. None of the trials held in regards to the conflict were ever convicted in Mason County. On January 21, 1877, the Mason County Courthouse burned down as a result of arson. All records of the feud burned with it, and the citizens of Mason remained silent for the entirety of the first generation who survived. The only response anyone would receive when inquiring about the Hoodoo War was “The trouble’s over, let it die.”



Texas State Historical Association