Scott Cooley was an honorable man for the first 30 years of his life and served as a Texas Ranger but, would later change when he got involved in the Mason County War and befriended notorious outlaw, Johnny Ringo.
Born in Texas in 1845*, Cooley was orphaned early in life after his parents were killed by Native Americans. Later, he was unofficially adopted and raised by a rancher named Tim Williamson, who, along with his wife, nursed him through Typhoid as a child. Cooley grew up to have tremendous respect for the couple, which would later come into play at the eruption of the Mason County War.
As a young man, he joined the Texas Rangers, serving in Captain Cicero R. Perry’s Company D, and earned recognition for his relentless pursuit of outlaws. However, by 1875, he had resigned his position and was farming and ranching near Maynardville, Texas. During this time, he and his benefactor, Tim Williamson, made two cattle drives to Kansas.
Cooley’s life changed on May 13, 1875, when Tim Williamson was arrested by Deputy Sheriff John Worley on the suspicion of cattle rustling. While Worley escorted Williamson to jail, an angry mob of German cattlemen abducted the prisoner and shot him to death. This incident marked the beginning of the Mason County War in Texas, which pitted the German cattlemen against the native-born Texans. Scott Cooley blamed Worley for Williamson’s death, believing him to have been in collusion with the German ambushers. However, he waited for the ambushers to be arrested, but, when no indictments were made against them, he took matters into his own hands.
He soon recruited several men to help him, including John and Mose Beard, George Gladden, and Johnny Ringo, and began to avenge the death of Tim Williamson. Cooley and his “posse” first went to Worley’s home where he found the deputy working on his well with an assistant, who had been lowered over the side. Cooley shot Worley dead, and the well worker, clinging to the rope, tumbled to the bottom of the well. Cooley then scalped Worley, proudly displaying his prize to the Germans. They then killed Peter Bader, who was believed to have been Williamson’s killer, before tracking down murdering another man named Daniel Hoerster, whom they suspected of having been part of the ambush group.
The Germans retaliated when a posse led by Sheriff John Clark, ambushed Mose Beard and George Gladden, killing Beard and seriously wounding Gladden. The posse included Charles Bader, brother to Cooley’s second victim, Peter Bader. Cooley and his allies then began to kill a number of the ambushers, which was retaliated by the hanging of two of Cooley’s confederates. The killing continued in both directions for the next several months and the Texas Rangers did little, as many of them were friends of Cooleys.
Finally, in December 1875, Scott Cooley and Johnny Ringo were arrested by Sheriff A. J. Strickland, but, they later escaped from the Lampasas County, Texas jail, with the help of friends.
Cooley escaped from a posse at the Llano River and was thought to have fled into Blanco County where he was sheltered by friends and died a short time later, supposedly of brain fever. Only a few minor gunmen were ever charged, one of which was Johnny Ringo, but he was acquitted. He would turn up later in Tombstone, Arizona to tangle with the likes of Wyatt Earp.
*Editor Note: Find A Grave shows Cooley’s Birth Date as 1852, while other sources indicate 1845.