Texas Hill Country
has always attracted mavericks, nonconformists and eccentrics. Its
history is filled with more characters than the Chinese alphabet and
more drama than The Young and the Restless.
Judge A. O. Cooley felt the attraction of the
Hill Country the first time he saw it. He rode into Gillespie
County one day to do some prospecting, lost his horse in Fredericksburg,
stopped to hunt him and never left town.
Judge Cooley was born in New York in 1826. He attended college in
Tennessee. He was a frontier lawyer, land agent, politician and circuit
Cooley represented Gillespie
and surrounding counties in the state legislature between 1857 and
1870. The San Antonio Daily Express described him as a union
man and a republican "until the election of 1868 when he became a
Hamiltonian, and like so many others, after having passed through
the purgatory of liberal republicanism, landed safely in the harbor
of the democratic party."
He soon sailed out of that harbor and became a republican again.
Friends and foes alike respected and feared his quick wit and agile
mind. "As a lawyer he had few equals," a San
Antonio reporter wrote. "In any other sphere than the frontier
town he had chosen to make his home Judge Cooley would have made a
A colleague who admired the judge but didn't like him very much called
Judge Cooley "one of those creatures whom God Almighty put on this
earth for a purpose known only to himself."
On July 10, 1868 a rider shot and wounded Cooley as the judge stood
in the doorway of his house in Fredericksburg.
Sheriff Frank Young and Captain Alfred Hunter tracked the shooter
to Fayette County,
arrested him and delivered him to military authorities.
Radical republicans labeled the shooting an "attempted political assassination,"
but the truth was far less dramatic. The shooter, Tom Nixon, a "mere
boy," was angry at the judge for a ruling in a family matter.
While holding court on the frontier, Judge Cooley often had to improvise.
A reporter for the Mason News-Item wrote "Court met - not as
it did in lovely spring last on the verdant lawn under a bee tree
but in a blacksmith's shop (in Junction)
. . . His Honor and Judge occupied the anvil's place on an old live
oak stump in the center of the room . . . while the lawyers and the
jury roosted on sycamore poles that were especially provided for their
"On Friday night," the Mason
reporter continued, "the Indians paid us a visit and confiscated fourteen
horses belonging to natives of the county seat, besides Amos Coyote
Gray, a gallant steed belonging to Judge Cooley of Fredericksburg."
Judge Cooley's law office was upstairs in the Maier Building at the
corner of Main and Adams in Fredericksburg.
The Judge's law partner was A. W. Moursund, an immigrant from Norway.
Moursund's nephew was a member of Lyndon Johnson's inner circle.
On July 2, 1888 two men robbed the Bank of Fredericksburg located
on the first floor of the Maier Building. Judge Cooley and two bank
employees fired shots at the robbers from Cooley's second story window
as the thieves made a mad dash for Palo Alto Creek.
Judge Cooley married Samantha McKittrick in the 1860s. The judge maintained
a home in Austin for his
wife and family and a separate home and office for himself in Fredericksburg.
He never told his friends in Gillespie
County about his family in Austin.
On August 22, 1894, Judge Cooley, A. W. Moursund, L. Hagen and Louis
Priess formed the Greenwood Cemetery Association.
Judge Cooley died of natural causes in Fredericksburg
on September 26, 1899. He was the first person buried in Greenwood
He left no will. No one claimed his estate. Lawyers settled the matter
years later after selling the judge's property and depositing the
cash assets in the state treasury.
The Cooley family wasn't close. Judge Cooley's wife learned of his
death after reading his obituary in the Austin
| © Michael
July 10, 2018 Column
"Texas Items," Flake's Semi-Weekly Galveston Bulletin, July 22,
"The democratic ticket," San Antonio Daily Express, July 12, 1875.
"State News," Whitesboro News, July 13, 1888.
"Mortuary," San Antonio Daily Light, September 27, 1899.
Albert O. Cooley, The Handbook of Texas.
Mason News-Item, November 5, 1877, from Ancestry.com, A. O. Cooley.