It was brief, the glory day of that dirt track from Texas to
the railhead in Kansas. It was the stuff
of legend: difficult terrain, wild men, wild cattle, and a road headed
north. And it was mythic, leaving us
with a defining ethos that frames the way we see our best selves, and our
worst. To drive the Chisholm Trail
Byway is to follow the journey that gave us the American West.
Hennessey’s place in that story is defined by the cowboys,
the Buffalo War, the Land Run of 1889, and the grass.
How does a point on a trail become fixed in the mind of the
drovers who traverse it? Maybe it has
water or perhaps there is an outpost offering supplies, entertainment, or the
ubiquitous tobacco. In the case of
Hennessey, it was location, the narrowing of the trail along the western
bluffs, and a historic event, the death of an Irish wagon master freighting supplies
from Wichita into Indian Territory in the 1870s. It was one of the final scenes
of the Buffalo War, the beginning of the final act of the dramatic
confrontation between the native tribes and the invading whites.
The grave of Pat
Hennessey, a well-liked immigrant, became a marked site along the trail with
cowboys and freighters adding a stone to the cairn that covered his shallow
grave each time they passed. His story
was told and retold around the campfires and when the land was opened for
settlement and the boys who had driven the cattle down the trail determined to
win good grazing land for themselves, the talk was all of running for
“Hennessey’s place,” that lonely grave along the bluffs where the grass was
The Route—from the north
Of all the towns that have sprung up along the Trail,
Hennessey is unique in that, here, Highway 81 was built on the Trail, not
parallel to it. The route of the Byway
through Hennessey is very simple to traverse—it is Highway 81.
Located 2 miles south of Hennessey on the west side of Highway 81, this
marker gives the location of Baker’s Ranch, a watering place on the Trail that
gained notoriety from the outlaws that visited there. The ranch, set up by J. W. Baker in 1872, was a trading station
serving the drovers on the cattle trail, and it later became a stage stop along
It was also the rest stop of
choice for a gang of horse thieves that hid in the blackjacks on the creek and
stole Indian ponies, creating much difficulty for John Miles, the
Cheyenne-Arapaho agent and a contributing factor in the Buffalo War. The ranch buildings are gone, but the
blackjacks still grow thick on Turkey Creek and give a glimpse of the terrain
in the closing days of the trail.
Bullfoot Park is
located inside the Hennessey town limits on Highway 81, just west of the site
of Bullfoot Station, a watering station known for its well and the indentation
in the ground resembling the imprint of a large bull’s foot.
The park has many
amenities for travelers. Anglers are
seen regularly on the shores of the pond.
There is playground equipment for the youngsters and picnic tables for a leisurely lunch. And care has been taken to meet the needs of mobility impaired travelers. The newly built public restrooms and the walking path are handicapped accessible.
The walking path
provides an opportunity for travelers to experience the environment of the
Chisholm Trail on a concrete surfaced walkway just over one half mile in length and all 2,750 feet accessible to the mobility
Early mornings on the path are
characterized by the plaintive call of the Mourning Dove and the appearance of
an occasional coyote, slipping in to drink from the lake—sights and sounds
familiar to drovers along the Trail.
The Ima Wilson House
36° 6' 8.21" N 97° 53'
It is appropriate that the first marker for
the Trail in the town limits is placed at 722 S. Main, the home of Ima Wilson,
Hennessey’s Centennial Centegenarian. There have been many changes along the
trail in the century that has passed since its closing in 1884. As of 2008, Ima witnessed 104 of them before her death.
When Bob Klemme was setting markers along the trail, he asked Ima for permission to place a marker in her yard. She was very resistant, but after a few years determined that the marker would be just fine. She insisted that Bob come in for a visit when in the area and, today, Bob Klemme has his Ima Wilson stories. The house itself is now gone, but Ima's spirit is still strong on that historic corner.
Sam and Burla Snyder History Center
36° 6'16.08"N, 97°53'56.50"W
Located in the Hennessey Public Library at 525 S. Main, The
Snyder Center is an archival collection point for local history, photos, letters,
newspapers and other historical documents unique to the Chisholm Trail
Visitors will find information on Pat Hennessey and his
connection with the Buffalo War, and restored film of the 1940s Pat Hennessey
Pageant. Other Hennessey historical
persons profiled in the Snyder Center include Roy Cashion, the first Oklahoman
to die in a foreign war; Annette Ehler, Oklahoma Hall of Fame honoree, and Dr.
H. Violet Sturgeon, the first woman to serve as an officer in the Oklahoma
In the History and Hospitality wing of the library, visitors
may connect to high speed Internet via the library’s wireless connection,
browse the historical documents, and bring in lunch to eat at The Brick, the
library’s cyber-café bookstore.
The Library and History Center are open Monday-Friday from
9am to 6pm and from 9am to noon on Saturdays.
More information may be accessed at the website: www.hennessey.lib.ok.us
GPS Coordinates: 36° 6'39.76"N, 97°53'59.12"W
In the multiplicity of memorials and historical markers at
Memorial park located on the southwest corner of Indiana and Main (Highway 81),
is what may be the first public sculpture erected outdoors in Oklahoma. The Roy Cashion monument was authorized by
the Territorial Legislature in 1899 to commemorate the bravery of the first
Oklahoman to die in a foreign war.
Information on Roy Cashion, the Rough Riders, the Spanish-American War,
and President Theodore Roosevelt may be accessed in the public library’s
history collection. Research on the
monument is ongoing.
The park is in the area of early day brickworks that formed
many of the bricks used to construct the Hennessey downtown buildings. Hennessey brick was used also in Enid to
build the old courthouse building. A
brick pressed in territory days may be seen at the memorial plaza. Just as the sod houses made dwellings from
the soil, so red clay mud created the means for building commercial
buildings. Earth and wind and water,
the constant companions of drovers on the Trail, wind their way through
Other memorials commemorate the 1st Oklahoma
rural mail route which originated at Hennessey, early pioneers, ‘89ers, war
veterans, and local people, but the most important historical event
commemorated in Memorial Park is the death of Pat Hennessey on the Chisholm
Hennessey and The Buffalo War:
Frustrated by the failure of the U.S. government to fulfill its promise
to keep buffalo hunters from the plains, on June 27, 1874, a band of Comanche,
Cheyenne, and Kiowa warriors attacked a trading post in the Texas panhandle and
were severely defeated at the Battle of Adobe Walls. Frustrated by failure and infuriated by the hunger of their
families, a group of the younger men moved across Oklahoma killing white
Pat Hennessey was on the Chisholm Trail from Wichita,
bringing a wagon train of supplies for the Kiowa and Comanche Agency.
As Hennessy moved south, bands of Cheyenne and Arapaho were spotted near
Kingfisher Station, Red Fork Ranch, Baker Ranch and Bull Foot Ranch. Warning
reached him on July 3rd as he laid over at Buffalo Springs in Indian Territory
that Indians had killed a man named William Watkins just south of the Cimarron
River on July 2nd. Determined to get the much-needed supplies to their
destination, Hennessy decided to risk moving on.
On July 4th, Independence Day, Hennessy and his wagons moved directly into
the path of the renegades. A small band
of Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa and Osage had encamped near the present town of
Watonga and then, led by Bear Shield and Tall Meat, had moved north and east as
Hennessy's train was rolling south. Indian Agent John Miles later reported the
intersection of the two parties, 44 miles north of the Cheyenne and Arapaho
Agency and 70 miles south of Caldwell, Kansas near the south line of the
the wagons approached with the coveted cargo of supplies, the decision was made
to raid the train, and the braves hid themselves in the rough canyons of the
shale beds west of the present town to wait. The wagons had to move to the west
along the shale to skirt the dangerous swampy area where wheels would stick and
wagons would sink. They moved straight into the ambush.
Pat Hennessy was walking alongside the lead wagon when the attack was made,
and attempted to fight off the raiders while the others turned back toward
Buffalo Springs. However these wagons were overtaken within 200 yards of the
trail and all were killed.
Witnesses to the scene were few and unreliable and the story deciphered from
the physical evidence was embellished with disputed details; therefore, there
are many interesting but conflicting reports of the event. Two witnesses were
Hamp Meredith, a mail coach driver for the Southern Stage Co. between Caldwell
Kan. and Fort Sill, Indian Territory, and William Mattson, a worker. As the
stage followed the train at some distance, the men observed the attack, turned
the stage and ran for Buffalo Springs. Another witness was Howling Cloud, a
Cheyenne chief who participated in the raiding party. After the fact, Agent
John Miles, J. A. Covington, Covington's wife and daughter, J. S. Brink and
William Malaley came upon the scene July 6th.
men of Agent Miles' party buried the body as best they could in the hard earth,
piling stones over the grave to protect it from foraging animals. Later, at
Buffalo Springs, they met men named Mosier and Brooks who had buried the other
victims of the disaster. Mosier and Brooks claimed they had seen boot prints
around the bodies and that the men had not been scalped.
As time passed, the stories, the boot prints, and other
evidence incongruous with an Indian attack created a mystery unsolved to this
Trail Crossing Marker
At the intersection of Highways 81
and 51, turn back west on 51 and cross the railroad tracks. The marker on the south side of Highway 51
identifies the Trail crossing at this point.
Though the Trail was wide enough in
most places to accommodate multiple herds traveling side by side, the marshes
and bluffs at Hennessey formed a barrier on the west. The unique geologic features of this area can still be seen
along Highway 51 and Cemetery Road, which is the mile section road that is one
half mile west of the intersection of Highways 81 and 51 on Highway 51.
Bluffs and Geologic Features
At the intersection of Highway 51 and Cemetery Road, exposed
cross sections of earth provide a record of the geologic strata in the Hennessey
The Hennessey Shale is a red clay-shale named for the Town
of Hennessey where it may be readily seen in exposed outcroppings. This shale is very tight, impermeable, yet
provides water for domestic wells. It
is an orangish-brown to reddish-brown silty shale and siltstone from the
Permian period of the Paleozoic Era.
As one drives south on Cemetery Road, the terrain that
circumscribed the trail becomes obvious.
At Oklahoma Street, the traveler should turn back east and continue to
Arapaho Street and then turn north to arrive at the Pat Hennessey Gravesite.
Pat Hennessey Memorial Garden
36° 06'44.57"N, 97°54’071.8"W
Pat Hennessey’s body has been moved at least once and possibly
multiple times, but this final grave is reportedly fairly close to the actual
site somewhere under the concrete of Highway 81.
The lighthouse was featured in Lighthouse Digest in June of
The granite marker presents the alternate version of the
story of Hennessey’s death. In this version, white horse thieves dressed as warriors
take advantage of the tribal unrest to attack the wagon trail, kill the
drovers, and take the cargo to Wichita for sale.
Continuing north on Arapaho, the traveler comes almost
immediately to Osborn Drive on the west.
Following this loop will give a view of the valley from which the braves
emerged to attack the wagons.
route turns south at Arapaho to Highway 51, then east to the intersection of
Highways 51 and 81. At Highway 81, the
route turns north toward Bison and the Buffalo Springs Trail stop.
The final point on this route is at the Kingfisher/Garfield
County line where historical markers show the position of the starting lines
for both the Run of 1889 and the Cherokee Strip Land Run.