Dead Man's Hole

Adolph Hoppe desperately pushed his horse to race faster through the dry and unforgiving underbrush of the Texas Hill Country. With his eyes set on the horizon, towards home, he could feel the bloodthirsty bushwhackers closing in on him. 

Texas Hill Country
Texas Hill Country. Cacti in a field along Park Road 4S, east of Longhorn State Park, near Burnet, Texas. Original image courtesy of Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress Collection.

It was 1863, and the United States was at war with itself. While the Texas Hill Country—a geographic region of Central and South Texas—remained relatively unscathed by the fighting between the waring armies, it could not escape the violence spurred on by the strong differences in the political and ideological views of its people.

Bushwhackers & Unionists

In 1861, Adolph Hoppe, a German immigrant, voted against secession from the Union, as did most of his neighbors. In Burnet County, where Hoppe lived, those who voted for Texas to remain in the Union far outnumbered those that wished for secession; 248 to 159.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Civil War in Vivid Color

The secessionists were not relegated to defeat, however. Instead, they vowed to rid the area of Unionists by any means necessary. Those with hardened ideological and political beliefs formed lawless gangs, known as bushwhackers and fire-eaters, to harass, rob, and murder their opposition; perceived or otherwise. And when Hoppe was alleged to have helped a field hand elude Confederate conscription, he drew the ire of the ever-observant bushwhackers.

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Bushwhackers Bloody Bill Anderson and Jesse James.
(Left) “Bloody” Bill Anderson led a band of volunteer partisan rangers who targeted Union loyalists and federal soldiers in the states of Missouri and Kansas. (Right) Jesse James rode with Anderson’s bushwhackers throughout Missouri.

Now, as Hoppe fled for the safety of his home, he knew all too well what his fate would be if the bushwhackers outpaced him: Dead Man’s Hole.

Dead Man’s Hole

Dead Man’s Hole, as it would come to be called, was discovered in 1821 by Ferdinand Leuders, an entomologist observing nocturnal insects. Located in Burnet County, the cavity was formed by natural gas pressure and boasts a cavernous depth of 155 ft. Unbeknownst to Leuders at the time, he had discovered what would later become the burial ground for vengeance-filled bushwhackers. 

Dead Man's Hole
Dead Man’s Hole, located in Burnet County, Texas.

Union loyalists feared Dead Man’s Hole; and like Adolph Hoppe, did everything in their power to avoid a one-way trip to the bottom of it. Many failed however, including the first Burnet County Judge, John R. Scott.  

Judge John R. Scott

Judge Scott had made his fortune in the California gold rush in the years prior to becoming one of the first permanent settlers in the area. Born in New York and raised in New Jersey, he held pro-Union views. Notwithstanding his personal sentiments, it is believed that he had four sons serving in the Confederate Army while he himself was providing much needed supplies to the beleaguered Rebels.  

Despite his outward support of the Confederates, Judge Scott was labeled a Union sympathizer. Once labeled as a Unionist, the Judge’s days among the living were numbered. Those closest to him suggested he flee to Mexico to avoid any trouble with the roaming bushwhacker squads terrorizing the Texas Hill Country.

Bidding goodbye to his family, he saddled up with another known Union sympathizer, Mr. McMasters, and they headed south.

Fast on their trail, a group of fire-eaters ambushed the men. McMasters was hung and the Judge shot dead. Both were then robbed of their cash and valuables, and their lifeless bodies thrown into the bowels of Dead Man’s Hole.

Bushwhacker Justice

On his frantically galloping horse, Hoppe continued cutting, slashing, and crashing through the brush, dust, and trees of the rugged Texas landscape. He was a man running scared; and quite literally, a man running for his life. If he merely slowed the stride of his horse, he was bound to meet the same fate as his friend, who had been hung dead just a few moments prior.  

Like Hoppe, Henry Flaugher held pro-Union beliefs, albeit quietly. Many of Flaugher’s relatives had already fled the area, but Henry remained.    

RELATED ARTICLE: War Between Civil War Beards

Earlier in the day, Hoppe joined Flaugher to cut and gather wood for fence posts. As they worked, a group of men approached, one of which claimed to be a “ranger.” The men accused Flaugher and Hoppe of attending meetings in support of the Union and swiftly “tried” the men, finding Flaugher guilty.

As prescribed by bushwhacker law, the sentence for treason was death. As Hoppe helplessly looked on, the vigilantes hung Flaugher from a rope scarred oak tree that ominously towered over Dead Man’s Hole. After the sentence was carried out, Flaugher’s body was unceremoniously dropped into the hole. 

The End of Hoppe

Having been found not guilty, the ranger told Hoppe he was free to go. The ranger mounted his horse, turned, and rode off. Hoppe mounted his horse, and took off in the opposite direction, leaving the vigilantes behind.

Believing justice had not been adequately served, the remaining bushwhackers decided to give chase.

When Hoppe’s horse returned home without its master, Hoppe’s family feared for the worst. And for good reason. The search party made its way to Dead Man’s Hole, where they found what they believed to be pieces of horse tack belonging to Hoppe. His body was likely 15 stories beneath their feet.

Adolph Hoppe and the Dead Man's Hole.
(Left) Adolph Hoppe. Source. (Right) Dead Man’s Hole.

Dead Man’s Hole Today

Dead Man’s Hole is believed to have claimed the bodies of 17 men during the Civil War, and in the years that followed during Reconstruction.

Dead Man's Hole, Texas
Information plaque marks the site of Dead Man’s Hole.

The burial pit remained on private property until 1999, when the late owner deeded a 6.25-acre tract of property that included the hole to the county. Today, you can visit Dead Man’s Hole, now marked with plaque that tells some, but not all of its stories.

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