The Mason County War (1875)
John Ringo became involved in a blood feud that is referred to as the Mason County War. The war was between two factions of men; German descendants from Mason County and American born cowboys. The term Hoodoo War was also used to describe the conflict.
The Germans in the area had supported the North during the Civil War, and there was still a great deal of hostility in the area as a result of this. The situation was worsened by constant allegations made by the Germans that the American cowboys from the surrounding area were stealing their cattle. The cowboys maintained that they owned stock in the area and that they were simply gathering their own property. After a series of violent confrontations the trouble soon escalated into a situation similar to a blood feud.
Around May 1875, an American named Tim Williamson was brutally murdered by a mob while being escorted to the town of Mason by Deputy Sheriff John Wohrle. The deputy refused to aid Williamson. Instead, when Williamson attempted to escape as the mob descended on him, Wohrle shot his horse. This event angered an ex-Texas Ranger named Scott Cooley, who vowed revenge. The San Antonio Herald reported the following:"The Day the news of Williamson's murder came to the Ranger camp, to which force Cooley at one time belonged, he sat down and cried for grief for the loss of one he said was his best friend in the world and declared then that he would have revenge."1Cooley learned about Wohrle's treachery and killed him. He shot the Deputy several times before scalping him.
All Hell Breaks Loose (September 1875)
On September 7, 1875, Moses Baird and George Gladden were ambushed by Germans led by Sheriff John Clark of Mason. Baird is killed but Gladden survives.2 The attack brings John Ringo, who was a close friend of these men, and several other cowboys in the area into the conflict. They aligned themselves with Scott Cooley.
John Ringo kills James Chaney (September 25, 1875)
On September 25, 1875, John Ringo and a man named Bill Williams revenged Moses Baird's death. The two men rode into the town of Mason with Scott Cooley and several other men. They then broke from the pack and headed to James Chaney's house. Chaney, a known gambler, was thought to have been the person who lured Baird and Gladden into the ambush about two weeks earlier. Without warning, Ringo and Williams killed Chaney. They then rode over to Dave Doole's house, another man believed responsible for the ambush. When they arrived at Doole's home they yell out for him to come out. The man exits his house carrying a shotgun. After seeing that Doole is obviously prepared for them, Ringo and Williams decided to ride to Mason and join their friends. There they boast about what they had done. The following Texas Ranger report describes the killing of Chaney:
"About a week before Hoester was killed John Ringgold and another man of the Gladden-Cooley party killed Cheyney in the presence of his family while he was arranging breakfast for them, then Gladden, Cooley, Ringold and others of the party rode into town and ate their breakfast at the hotel and boasted publically at the table of what they had done, telling those present that they had 'made beef of Cheyney and if someone did not bury him he would stink'. They remained in town some time and one of them, Gladden, had an interview with Justice Hey during this time. The fact of their having done the killing is of public notoriety, and yet no warrants was or has been issued for their arrest. I asked the Justice why no warrants had been issued for their arrest, his reply was , no complaint had been made against them, though he held the inquest."3
Arrested on the disturbing the peace charge (December 1875)
During December John Ringo was arrested based on the disturbing the peace indictment, which was filed in April, by the Burnet County Sheriff. On December 6, 1875, after posting a $150 bond, Ringo was released from the jail. His sureties were J. R. Baird and George Gladden -active participants in the Mason County War.4
Threatens Burnet Sheriff and his Deputy (December 27, 1875)
At the end of December, John Ringo and Scott Cooley were arrested for threatening the lives of the Burnet County Sheriff and his deputy, John J. Strickland.5 Their arrest caused serious concern that their friends will try to bust them out of Burnet jail. To prevent any attempt to free the men, the authorities decided to take the men to Austin, to be placed in the jail. While en route to Austin, the men received a great deal of attention in the newspapers. The Austin Statesman on January 4, 1876, made the following comments about Ringo:"Ringgold, who is taller and perhaps older than Cooley, is said to have taken an active part in the Mason County war . . . ."
Ringo or Ringgold?
Ringo's name was publicly reported in newpapers in the area as "Ringgold." These articles provided the genesis for the confusion over his true identity, which last throughout his life. Exactly, how his name was reported as Ringgold is not known. It's possible that it was based on a German newspapers translation of Ringo's name. However, family records and court records clearly indicate that his name was John Ringo.6
Indicted for threatening Sheriff and Deputy (February 1, 1876)
The news that Ringo and Cooley had been arrested was reported throughout Texas. The two men were held in the Travis County jail until late January 1876, when they were then brought by ten men to Burnet to appear before the Grand Jury.7 On February 1, 1876 the two Mason County gunman were indicted for threatening the Sheriff and his Deputy. Two days later, on February 3, 1876, Ringo and Cooley made an application for a change in venue to have their court case transferred to another county. After pleading not guilty, their case was transferred to near-by Lampasas County. They were release on bond on February 4, 1876, and ordered to appear at the next session of the Lampasas court.8 Ringo and Cooley surrendered to Burnet authorities in March 1876. they were brought to Lampasas County. The Lampasas Dispatch commented:"Quite an excitement was raised among our citizens last sunday by the arrival in town of the notorious Mason county outlaws Scott Cooley and John Ringgold, who were brought here from Burnet under heavy guard. These are the same men who killed and scalped the Deputy Sheriff of Mason county a few months ago."9Ringo was publicly linked to the death of Deputy John Wohrle of Mason County, though it appears that he was not involved in the incident. In March 1876, John Ringo was tried and convicted in Lampasas County for threatening the Burnet sheriff and his deputy. An appeal of the conviction was filed and the conviction is later reversed.10 However, the case was not heard until 1877, and Ringo remained in custody waiting for the result of the appeal.
But not for long . . .
During May 1876, several men freed John Ringo and Scott Cooley from the Lampasas jail. News of their escape spread quickly in the Texas newspapers.11 Though the Mason County War was essentially over, antagonism continued for several years in the area. Over the next several months newspaper published several reports concerning John Ringo, establishing for him a notorious reputation.
Notes1. San Antonio Herald, August 30, 1875.
2. San Antonio Herald, September 14, 1875.
3. Letter from Texas Ranger Major John B. Jones to William Steele, Adjutant General for the State of Texas, dated September 28, 1875. University of Texas.
4. Bond signed by John R. Baird and George Gladden for $150.00 on December 6, 1875. The bond also has John Ringo's signature on it. District Court Clerk's Office, Burnet County, Burnet, Texas.
5. District Court Clerk's Office, Burnet County, Burnet, Texas.
6. While it is not known why Ringo's name was reported as Ringold or Ringgold, it does not appear that he used the name as an alias.
7. Austin Statesman, February 1, 1876.
8. District Court Clerk's Office, Burnet County, Burnet, Texas. Cases 925 and 926. Ringo and Cooley were released on $500.00 bond.
9. Dallas Herald, March 18, 1876.
10. John Ringo and Scott Cooley were convicted in March 1876. The conviction was reversed on July 27, 1877. 2 (Texas) Appeals Court 290 (1877).
11. San Antonio Herald, May 19, 1876. John Ringo and Scott Cooley were busted out of the Lampasas County jail on May 5, 1876.
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