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1 Lying north and west of Austin, the Texas Hill Country is a rugged, hilly area encompassing roughly thirty-six counties. The area features high plateaus and deep gorges cut by streams and rivers. Much of it is semiarid. One early settler described a part of the Hill Country as having “vast cedar brakes, the abode of wild animals innumerable. . . .”1 It was a harsh land, and it bred hard men. During the late nineteenth century it was the scene of the most bitter feud in Texas history. The Hoo Doo War occupies a unique place in feud history. It began in the early 1870s with the intention of protecting the families, property , and livelihood of the largely agrarian settlers in Mason and Llano Counties. These ideals quickly degenerated into a bloody vendetta of personal vengeance. The feud grew and spread like a cancer, and as it spread it evolved taking on new forms and causes long after the original warriors had withdrawn from the field. The final cases were not dismissed until the early 1900s. By then many of the fighters were either dead or too old to maintain the violence, but the prejudice and ethnic hatred that it spawned in the region lingered long after the feud had burned itself out. On the national stage, the feud itself had no significant impact. Unlike the vicious Lincoln County War in New Mexico, no federal investigator was dispatched to investigate the wrongs, real and imagined, that fueled the violence.2 It did not have the international ramifications that Leander H. McNelly’s invasion of Mexico in the 1870s brought with it.3 Nor was it rife with partisan politics like the infamous SuttonTaylor War.4 There were little, if any, undercurrents of Reconstruction animosities. Both Mason and Burnet Counties had voted to remain in the Union, and Llano voted to secede by only a narrow margin. Most Introduction “A War of Extermination” 2 Introduction of the men involved were too young to have fought in the Civil War. Those who had had all fought for the Confederacy. Yet the feud remains unique in Texas history, one characterized by the reluctance of the “law and order” forces to discuss their role in the feud while the so-called “outlaws” made no claims to secrecy in their identities or actions. During the 1870s vigilante groups were common throughout Texas. In this, Mason and Llano Counties were no exception. Following the Civil War, cattle represented money to a cash-poor South, but the industry far outpaced the laws governing it. The law was inadequate to deal with cattle thieves, particularly on the frontier, and Mason County was the frontier. When the feud began Anglo outlaws were not the only problem. Indian raiders struck the area along with Mexican bandits from south of the border. When the mob formed, the intention was to protect their livelihood. Had it remained so the feud might well have burned itself out and provided only an interesting footnote to Texas history. That it did not was due to the underlying ethnic prejudice that existed among the German settlers of eastern Mason County and those ranchers whom they dealt with. At the outbreak of the feud the Mason mob was comprised almost exclusively of German settlers, commonly referred to at the time as the “Dutch,” a corruption of Deutsch, German, that made up the bulk of the “mob” or “law and order” faction.5 On the other side were the “Americans,” or “outlaws” as they are still referred to in Mason County.6 While anti-German sentiment flourished following the Civil War, this ethnic prejudice separated Mason County from other counties with a large German population. No other Texas county having a large German population was involved in a feud along ethnic lines. Only the El Paso Salt War of 1877 involved ethnic hatreds as intense. The conflict was the most bitter feud in Texas history, and the animosity in the area persisted until well after World War II. Dr. C. L. Sonnichsen, the first historian to seriously study and record Texas feuds, understood clearly that they are complex, living things that evolve over time. They are, as Sonnichsen states, “really a return to the oldest code known to man—the law of private vengeance .” It is a concept as old as man summed up in Mosaic law as “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Feuds do not suddenly flare up...


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