Great State: An Unsolved Murder on the Prairie is Now One Oklahoma Town’s Unique Celebration

 

HENNESSEY, OKLAHOMA — Poor Pat Hennessey was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

He was an Irishman and a freighter who was taking supplies down the Chisholm Trail from Wichita on the Fourth of July, 1874.

On that afternoon he and his men met a brutal end, their mutilated, burned corpses only found hours later.

“This is basically the study of the Buffalo War,” says librarian and historian Mary Haney, who often conducts tours of Hennessey’s history museum. Library and museum share the same building.

Official accounts of the massacre blamed off-reservation Indians.

However, a man who was nearby at the time blamed horse thieves known to have frequented the same area.

Haney adds, “He swore that it was the horse thieves dressed up as Indians.”

Pat Hennessey was buried in a shallow grave near the scene of the crime. Haney told us that scene is now the 4-way stop at the intersection of Oklahoma Highways 81 and 51.

His grave and small memorial still stand just a few blocks south on a quiet street in the town that now bears the Hennessey name.

A museum visitor asks, “So the grave became a sort of landmark?”

“It did.” she replies. “As other freighters came along they would drop a rock on the grave in memory of Pat Hennessey and it came to be called ‘Hennessey’s Place’.”

In 1889 former Chisholm Trail cow hands knew the stake their claims on the good grassland around the old grave.

Generations grew up with the story and the old marker on the plains.

Eventually the town’s namesake got his own day.

Beginning in the 1930’s, citizens of Hennessey started celebrating their unique history with parades and a pageant that, strangely, recreated their namesake’s tragic end.

“You have to die to be memorialized,” chuckles Mary.

For years Pat Hennessey Day was a big town party.

Then it kind of fizzled out for lack of volunteer support.

It had been 22 years since the last one until Fred Petrolia and Sandy Tarrant helped get things going again.

“We called a meeting and asked if anyone would be interested in helping out,” says Fred. “And we had a great turnout.”

Highway 81 travelers often mistake Pat Hennessey’s grave with former ‘Roughrider’ Roy Cashion’s statue at Memorial Park.

These days, on his day, Pat Hennessey is making a comeback.

City leaders have several days of activities planned. A rodeo and town parade will take place Saturday, August 16.

The pageant that tells the Pat Hennessey story will take place Sunday evening.

For more information about the festivities go to http://www.pathennesseyday.org