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 final resting place 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 rich.
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 Turkey Creek.
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 impaired.
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
Chisholm Trail Marker #1
GPS Coordinates: 36° 6' 8.21" N 97° 53' 58.64" W
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.
The Sam and Burla Snyder Memorial History Center
GPS Coordinates: 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 historical area.
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; Clarence Karcher, Father of the reflection seismograph; and Dr. H. Violet Sturgeon, the first woman to serve as an officer in the Oklahoma Medical Association.
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 Hennessey’s soul.
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 Trail.
Pat Hennessey and The Buffalo War:
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 Cherokee Strip.
As 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.
The 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 day.
Chisholm Trail Crossing Marker
36° 06'47.83"N, 97°54’12.09"W
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.
Hennessey Bluffs and Geologic Features
36° 07'00.45"N, 97°54’27.85"W
At the intersection of Highway 51 and Cemetery Road, exposed cross sections of earth provide a record of the geologic strata in the Hennessey area.
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 2000.
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.
The 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.