The Story of Pat Hennessy

An edited version of this article also appeared in the Cork Holly Bough Christmas 2021 Edition.

In Kingfisher County, near the center of the US state of Oklahoma lies the town of Hennessey. With a population of approximately 2,000, Hennessey lies to the north of Kingfisher County along the historic Chisholm Trail, which was used for decades following the US Civil War for driving cattle from Texas to Kansas.

Location of Hennessey, in the US State of Oklahoma

It is fascinating to consider that this town in Oklahoma was named after a man born in Ballymacoda, Pat Hennessy, albeit with the town name adding an extra ‘e‘ at the end of its name for which no explanation is obvious.

Pat Hennessy

Patrick Hennessy was born in Ballymakeigh, Ballymacoda on March 10th 1837, the son of John and Honora (Norry) Hennessy. According to the Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge Catholic Parish Register, he was baptized two days later.

Barely legible baptismal record for Pat Hennessy, March 12th, 1837

John & Norry Hennessy had six other children in addition to Pat. Next in line after Pat were his brothers Martin (born 1839), and John (born 1841). Next was sister Margaret (born 1843), followed by another sister Johanna (born 1847), followed by brother Maurice (born 1849), and finally Thomas (born 1851).

After school, and a brief stint at St. Colman’s College in Fermoy during which Pat considered joining the priesthood, he emigrated to Canada in 1860. By 1862, he was in the United States. Pat saw action in the American Civil War, enlisting in the Union Army, and serving in the 22nd Regiment, Illinois Infantry. After the war ended, Pat became a freight hauler. In an age before the railroads were built, most freight was hauled across long distances by wagon trains. The job of a ‘muleskinner‘ as those who worked on the wagon trains pulled by mules were called, was to drive the wagon and guard the freight. This was not an easy life, with the average muleskinner making a paltry $25 per month.

Purported photograph of Pat Hennessy’s freight wagon, from the US Army Artillery and Missile Museum, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

On July 4th, 1874 Pat Hennessy was travelling with George Fand, Thomas Caloway and Ed Cook, hauling coffee and sugar south from Wichita, Kansas, to the Darlington Indian Agency. After stopping at Buffalo Springs, a popular stage station and rest stop along the Chisolm Trail, Pat and his company were warned of Indian activity in the area, and advised not to proceed along their planned route. Ignoring this advice, sometime later Pat and his men were moving in a three-wagon train down the Chisholm Trail when they were attacked. Hopelessly outnumbered, Pat and his men fought back but ultimately all four were killed in the battle.

Reports indicated that all four men were scalped, and Pat Hennessy was found tied to a wagon wheel with his body badly burnt. There was also a report of the attack being witnessed by a man on horseback travelling behind the convey of wagons. This man purportedly rode back to Buffalo Springs to report the attack, with a group from there being first on the scene to witness the horrific outcome. The body of Pat Hennessy was buried nearby, but later moved to a park in the town founded in 1889 which was named after him.

Plaque commemorating the massacre, located in Memorial Park on the north side of the town of Hennessey.

The mainly accepted story is that the convoy was attacked by Cheyanne Indians, but there is disagreement between historians on this, with some suggesting that the attack was carried out by a group of white outlaws posing as Indian warriors.

Pat Hennessy was only 37 when he died, having never made it back to Ballymacoda. Interestingly, a May 2013 article carried in the ‘Hennessey Clipper‘ reported that Noel Hennessy from Ballycotton, a great-great-great nephew of Pat Hennessy, stopped to visit the town of Hennessey whilst on a tour of Route 66.

Whatever the true story of the events that led to the demise of Pat Hennessy on Independence Day 1874, the man from Ballymacoda is forever immortalized by the town in Oklahoma that bears his name.

Pat Hennessy Park in the town of Hennessey, there is some dispute as to where his body actually lays
Pat Hennessy Memorial Garden located in Hennessey

References & Further Information

Historical Remains of Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge, Ballymacoda / Ladysbridge Community Council Historical Society

The Hennessey Clipper Archives, 100th Anniversary of the Pat Hennessy Massacre, July 4th 1974

The Hennessey Clipper Archives, Great Nephew Stops to Visit Hennessy Namesake, May 9th 2013

The Hennessey Clipper Archives, Pat Hennessy Celebration Starts Tonight, August 27th 1981

Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915

Civil War Soldier Details, US National Park Service

Old West Teamsters and Freighters