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46189Mason County War / ACW

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  • Carl Williams
    Mar 20, 2009
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      As promised.

      To stay on topic as best I can for something that occurs after the last surrenders of all Confederate forces, I'll limit the first part of this to the German-American connection. With your indulgence we'll consider this a continuation of the Civil War as I don't believe Texas ever officially conceded defeat [g]. And henceforth I will largely drop "German-American" for just "German" as other articles tend to; likewise, instead of "Anglo" I will use "ex-confederate" or similar, again asking for your indulgence.

      The story certainly can be primarily considered a "Western" like you might see in movies or novels of the genre; we have cattle rustling erupting into feuds, gunfights, lynchings, and vigilante justice. The element that connects it to the ACW is pro-Union German-Americans going up against unreconstructed ex-Confederates. Certainly at least some of my family that wound up in Texas at this time had been in the Confederate army, mustering in from North Carolina. Immediately after the end of hostilities in the Eastern Theater, a decision was made to move with their families to Texas. I think people forget now that CS soldiers were somewhat concerned that if in fact they weren't going to be tried as traitors, there was some question as to whether they were going to be able to enjoy full citizenship. As far as I know, there might have been thoughts about continuing on to Mexico if necessary.

      In any case, tensions existed all along between the Germans and Rebels over the secession vote and support for the Confederate cause. There seems to be a suggestion that a Union presence at Ft. Mason came to the aid of some grievances the Germans had, resulting in law enforcement that seemingly for the first time since Secession took an interest in protecting German interests. Unfortunately, the new sheriff and his subordinates proceeded to enforce such interests in a manner that was guaranteed to cause trouble. The way the story comes down to us (this is from only one side), a Sheriff John Clark just started arbitrarily arresting suspects, and, worse, saw to it that they were outright murdered instantly or allowed and encouraged masked gangs to come into the jail, kidnap the prisoners, and lynch them. This certainly suggests that the Germans had been worked up into a lather by being on the receiving end of some kind of similar treatment, guilty of escalation or not. If you expect me to launch now into that side of the story I'm afraid the fact is that as far as I know there are no records whatsoever to come into the hands of historians telling that side. So, the story is, these Germans and their elected law enforcement were just bringing in to play barbarian notions of justice.

      Ultimately, several men were killed in this manner, and two men, a Tim Williamson and a Mose Baird (a distant relative of mine) were killed even though they were well regarded by the community, and this brought particular outrage and lust for revenge. A recently retired Texas Ranger named Cooley got involved and exacted revenge in various gunfights, some of which were attended by John Baird, another relative of mine. Finally regular Texas Rangers came into the area to restore order, but it is clear to me from their initial lack of effectiveness that they sympathized with the ex-Confederate side, especially of course Cooley. He, a later-to-be-noted gunfighter "Ringo", and John Baird and others continued to hunt down and kill those that they felt were responsible for the outrages. It appears the Germans were startled to see larger and larger groups of men, 30 or more at times, bent on revenge and seeing through their own notions of vigilante justice. At the end, a German ringleader named Peter Bader (about the only German name that comes out in the story) is killed and Sheriff Clark is run out of the country. The Texas Rangers restore order at about this point, and the vigilantes disband, seeming to be satisfied now that they had settled the score.

      Perhaps we have another claim to what's "the last battle of the Civil War" [g]. What has struck me all along about this little addendum to that war is the dual silence of participants of either side. The story comes down to us from the viewpoint of one side, a case of the victors locally getting to write the history? Which side "won" anyway is still a question, so for me that isn't a good answer.

      Apparently historians have noted this too, as per my previous post a writer says:

      "No one in the first generation after it ended ever talked about it,"
      recalled Mason resident Julius DeVos, one of several independent historians who has spent a considerable amount of time trying to tie down the details of the bloody story. "If anyone asked about what happened, what they would hear was something like, 'The trouble's over, let it die.' "

      Interestingly, that website, Texas Escapes dot com, has just ditched the article, as if now also participating in the desire to "let it die".

      I really think the reason for this is that the participants could have seen themselves arrested and tried, possibly executed, but for a number of reasons not excluding the problems of getting juries to convict, the decision was made to let these men go. Even the handful arrested were eventually let off. The one man who got prison time was later pardoned. What the Germans thought about that has to be imagined, but for that matter none of them were arrested either, even though some were guilty of outright murder, jailbreaking, and vigilante lynchings.

      As for my own family, we noticed the "old folks" wouldn't talk much about it. One reason has to be that John Baird was to be protected, I think. To some degree they felt they just had to shut up; they knew more, for one thing. John Baird could have done prison or been executed in a different set of circumstances, and at the very least could have gained some infamy (more about that below) and I'm sure the family didn't want that. It is a bit amusing to think our kin was still largely keeping it quiet until recent times, protecting a man long dead. But to some degree they also may have wanted to not really hand down the history of extra-legal behavior by one of their own. Also, back in my day a lot of attention was paid to influences on children, and there must have been a reluctance to make a hero out a man who participated in something that had to be hushed up.

      As far as the other issue, as much as I obviously do want to give the ex-Confederates great credibility, I just can't buy the idea that the Germans were so monstrous that they would start doing what they did, much of it clearly indefensible, without in their view being greatly provoked. Yet, why no records? Was the old Rebel community, presumably larger, so overpowering that they were able to destroy such records? There was a courthouse fire, and maybe some of it was lost then. But I have to think the real problem is just simply that they spoke a different language and lived in an isolated community. Folks, I really think that this other side of the story is recorded somewhere, maybe in letters and diaries. Potential authors and Phd candidates could take notice, there is a story here waiting to be written by somebody.


      The below most or all can skip: more details and some of it I wouldn't expect, necessarily, to carry much interest outside the family. And it's not too much 'on topic'.

      The best article I've found on this comes from:


      I'll quote it in snips and give my thoughts below the snips. I correct "Moses" to "Mose" without footnote. My comments will be preceded with an asterik.

      "Little is known of Sheriff John Clark's background... How an apparent stranger could be elected sheriff - for his name did not appear on any tax roll or census in Mason County before he was elected - is unclear."

      *This is one of the great mysteries. I would have to think it is possible that the Germans got this guy from the Union troops at Ft. Mason. It would fit: the troops were leaving and it was time to get their own sheriff. They evidently felt it should not be one of their own, so why not grab one of the soldiers who had shown he was an interested advocate of their interests? If so, our ex-Confederates would have viewed him as the worst sort of "yankee".

      "When Clark rode out of town two years later, nobody is sure where he went."

      *Our Great Great Grandfather A. H. Baird, a Major in the Confederate North Carolina Cavalry, living in Texas and kin to some participants, left us some notes in a book that had a chapter on these events. He claims to solve this mystery, and points to Clark as being a Northerner. More below.

      "One thing is clear, though: While sheriff of Mason County, Clark had no problems with lynching or shooting those accused of - or merely suspected of - livestock theft. Clark was no gunman, but he surrounded himself with armed men, including Deputy Sheriff John Wohrle, who were willing to do his dirty work."

      *Note that Clark is accused of being deeply involved in executing a violent vendetta right from the beginning, saying to me he was no newcomer to the situation. He also elevated himself above the dirty work; this to me suggests he had some kind of higher rank when in the Union army, assuming I am right about his coming from there.

      "Clark ... and his posse went into McCulloch County and arrested nine men... Almost immediately, the sheriff made it well known around town that he was in favor of lynching cattle thieves.... Only a few days later, a 17-year-old cowboy named Allen Bolt was killed and left beside the road near Mason... Bolt appears to have been the first man killed by vigilantes in Mason County."

      "On the night of February 18, a group of armed men broke into the house of Deputy Sheriff Wohrle [and] forced Wohrle to give them the keys to the jail. The mob then went to the jail... found a suitable tree and began to hang their prisoners. There are several versions of how Sheriff Clark ... tried to stop the lynchings... Other accounts suggest that Clark ... didn't do much of anything ... and nobody was arrested for the jailbreak or the murder of three prisoners."

      *Clark, in the story that comes down to us, is portrayed as the evil Sheriff. But the proof is in the pudding, either he was just that or he was run over by his subordinates in a spineless manner.

      "Five months later, in May 1875, the masked mob murdered Williamson, and Cooley declared that he would revenge his best friend in the world."

      *As discussed above, Williamson and Cooley are key characters.

      "Cooley ... learned that Clark.. [and] Williamson [had previously had confrontations over unrelated issues]. Shortly afterwards Williamson was charged with stealing a yearling and placed under arrest and gave bond. Cooley didn't need more evidence than that to become convinced that Sheriff Clark, Deputy Wohrle and their German mob were responsible for the death of his friend. He was further angered when the Mason County Grand Jury completed its inquiry into Williamson's death and filed no indictment.

      *Evidence here that the legal system had become ineffectual or corrupt, which had to be a factor in the decision of some to turn to vigilante actions.

      "Cooley rode to the Bader farm in Llano County, perhaps looking for Peter Bader, the farmer who had showed Williamson no mercy. Cooley found Peter's brother Carl working in a field and promptly rode over him and shot him... John Wohrle and Carl Bader were the sixth and seventh men to die in the Mason County War... Some writers have suggested that Cooley did not go to the Bader farm alone on August 19, but that he brought with him a number of drifters and desperadoes, including John Ringo, George Gladden, and Mose and John Baird."

      *The comments Major Baird left us also hints that John Baird was involved in all of this.

      "Mose Baird happened to be visiting Gladden when Mason County gambler Jim Cheney ... showed up at Gladden's door. Cheney, who had been hired by Clark, told Gladden and Baird that the sheriff wanted to see them in Mason... If Gladden or Moses Baird had been involved in the killing of Carl Bader, they certainly would not have agreed to casually ride in to meet with the sheriff. In any case, it did not prove to be a wise decision. When they arrived ... Clark appeared, and his mob, including Peter Bader, was close at hand. The sheriff's men were not there to talk; they opened fire, wounding the two riders, who stayed in the saddle and rode off. Their enemies gave chase. Moses Baird was found dead about a mile away, the eighth man murdered in the Mason County War."

      *Looks bad, but I'll remind you we are getting only one side of the story here IMO. It is easy to believe they were told they would be arrested and resisted.

      "John Baird, Mose's brother, now rode into Mason County with John Ringo and several others, first to recover Moses' body and later to even the score. Ringo, along with John Baird, was now joined with Cooley in the relentless search for revenge. And there were others, too. More than a dozen men from Burnet, Llano, Blanco and Bexar counties rode into Mason County to avenge the death of Moses Baird."

      *More escalation, this time from the non-German side.

      "Early on September 25, Ringo and another avenger rode to Cheney's home on Comanche Creek. Cheney must have been nervous, not knowing what to expect from the two strangers, but he soon found out. Ringo and the other man made Cheney the ninth victim of the feud..."

      *The comments Major Baird left us assert John Baird was the other "avenger."

      "Three days later, Major Jones and a Frontier Battalion command from Companies A and D arrived on the scene. They found Sheriff Clark and a dozen other men hiding in a store outside Mason."

      *Some evidence the Germans are getting outnumbered now. The Rangers are supposed to be restoring order, something that didn't immediately happen. I suspect their sympathies were not with the Germans.

      "Clark convinced the major that Cooley and his other lawbreakers were in Loyal Valley plotting to burn out the Dutch... Jones took his command to Mason ... September 29. Meanwhile, Cooley and three others - Gladden, John Baird and Bill Coke - were in Mason looking for Clark. They didn't shoot the sheriff, but they did ambush Dan Hoerster and two other members of the German faction, Peter Jordan and Henry Pluenneke. When the shooting was done, Hoerster was dead (the 10th man killed in the feud) and Jordan and Gladden wounded."

      "When the Rangers arrived at Mason, Cooley and company were long gone. For the next week, Major Jones and his Rangers accomplished little, with the probable exception of keeping Sheriff Clark alive until he resigned on about October 5. A few days after Clark rode away from Mason County, so did most of the [Rangers], except for some men from Company A. Then, in late December, came big news from Burnet, Texas, more than 50 miles to the east. On December 27, both John Ringo and Scott Cooley had been arrested for allegedly threatening to do bodily harm to [other law enforcement officials]. But the fact that Ringo and Cooley were behind bars didn't mean that all the violence had ended. On January 13, 1876, John Baird and Gladden tracked down Peter Bader in Llano County and killed him. That made 11 men killed in the Mason County War during the 12-month period from February 1875 to January 1876."

      "Cooley and Ringo were taken to the more secure Travis County jail and then back to the Burnet County jail. In early February, their case was removed to nearby Lampasas County in a change of venue. After the initial hearing in March, Ringo and Cooley remained in the Lampasas County jail. In May, on a second attempt to spring the two gunmen, a group that included John Baird and Joe Olney succeeded in freeing Ringo and Cooley. As far as John Baird was concerned, and Ringo, too, the vendetta had ended with Baird's killing of Peter Bader."

      *The record shows John Baird is getting named as a perpetrator.

      "John Ringo and George Gladden were arrested in Llano County, near the Mason County line, in October 1876. Gladden was tried in Llano County for the murder of Peter Bader and sentenced to 99 years in the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. In 1884 he was pardoned."

      *Note that John Baird would presumably be getting 99 years if caught, and any possible pardon was not something to be foreseen. Gladden sure seemed hapless compared to everyone else; perhaps he had a previous record. He was wounded, so that worked against him.

      "Ringo was jailed in Mason County and indicted for the murder of Jim Cheney. In January 1877, the Mason County courthouse burned to the ground (arson was suspected) and all the court records went with it. That May, though, Ringo was indicted a second time for the murder, and he remained in jail for another seven months, finally being released in January 1878 on a writ of habeas corpus. In May 1878, the case against Ringo was finally dismissed, because testimony [could] not be procured to make out the case."

      *I'm sure the Germans were finding various events quite frustrating.

      "Once Ringo, Cooley, Gladden and John Baird were out of the picture, the feuding in the Mason area stopped. The terror in Hill Country had ended. The hate, however, was said to linger for another two decades, and several more men lost their lives in killings that some have linked to the Mason County War. Texas is famous for its feuds, but none of the others can quite equal the one in 1875 when it comes to corrupt and shameful motives and the number of men killed in such a short period. Although murder ran rampant during those violent 12 months from February 1875 to January 1876, the only individual convicted of murder was George Gladden. Furthermore, none of the men killed and very few others in Mason County were ever convicted of cattle theft.

      *That goes for both sides.


      "He had killed every one of the mob that had killed his brother Mose" - Major Baird.

      Finding new articles on the internet has really made me compare what is known to what the family seemed to know. Now I can see the comments my GGF [Major] Baird contain some assertions that indicate he had knowledge of some things that historians today feel they do not know. He says John Baird wound up as a Sheriff in El Paso; a study of the Old West finds other examples of "outlaw to lawman " BTW. As noted above, Baird is implicated in Cheney's death by my GGF, whereas the internet article claims that second gunman is unknown. Also, there is his assertion that the despicable Sheriff Clark was indeed a Northerner, a fact unknown to historians. And now I realize there is one big bombshell assertion: that Baird tracked down this Clark and killed him as well!

      GGF Major Baird is quite credible when describing Cheney's demise, giving some details about recovering Mose Baird's stolen hat. There are no similar details about the death of Clark, who is a real puzzle to the historians. They seem to ask "where did he come from, where did he go"? Indeed, if the Sheriff got killed in some remote location, with not even a body to be found, you might expect today we'd have little information about him, so it almost explains this riddle. On the issue of credibility, GGF Major Baird was always held up to us as a paragon of integrity, so it would seem to me quite unlikely he would manufacture anything out of whole cloth. If any of these assertions: that John Baird was a sheriff in El Paso, that he was the mystery man in some of the killings, and that he was the man who knocked off and sent into oblivian Sheriff Clark ... if any prove to be incorrect in any manner, I would still have to say someone had told Major Baird these things were factual. Realistically, it wouldn't be too unusual to find that, say, John Baird had some other law enforcement role in El Paso; and things like that.

      At the very least, looks like the family knew a lot more than they were telling in those days when it came to John Baird. No doubt like other families at the time, it was time to shut up, explaining the historic reticence of that side IMO.

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