, Muskogee, OK

Local News

April 17, 2010

Born to Irish immigrants, Patrick Hurley credited Bacone College for his success

In 1883, Patrick Hurley was born to Irish immigrant parents Pierce and Mary Kelley Hurley near Coalgate in the Choctaw Nation. He was orphaned by age 13 and assumed the responsibility of caring for his younger siblings by working in the coal mines.

Tall and gangly, with a quick mind, Hurley almost succeeded in joining the Rough Riders in the Spanish American War in Cuba. He made it through training in Texas and traveled with the volunteer cavalry to Tampa, Fla., before it was discovered that he was only 15 years old. He was discharged and sent home.

Back in Indian Territory, Hurley found work on the ranch belonging to Muskogee businessman H.B. Spaulding. He spent the next few years working on various ranches in the area. During this time he met another working cowboy famous for his fancy roping named Will Rogers. They became good friends.

Another friend, Tom Maddin, urged Hurley to attend Indian University (now Bacone College), but Pat felt this was impossible. He could not afford the tuition and because he was not Indian he thought he couldn’t qualify for admission.

But Maddin arranged for him to meet with the college president J.H. Scott. After interviewing the young man, Scott offered him a job driving the mail and grocery hack for the school to help cover tuition. With additional weekend and summer jobs Hurley managed to attend college.

While at Indian University, Hurley was very involved in student activities. He was on the debate team, was a staff member of the campus newspaper and served as captain of the football team. He graduated from Indian University in 1905. From Muskogee, he then attended the National University Law School and completed his law degree.

Hurley applied for a position in Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, hoping his status as an “almost” Rough Rider would help him win a position in government. But he was denied his request, so he returned to Oklahoma and set up a law practice in Tulsa. Shortly afterward, an old friend from the Choctaw Nation, Chief Dick Locke, appointed Hurley as national attorney for the tribe.

Hurley got his opportunity to serve his country as a soldier in both World War I and World War II. He eventually rose to the rank of brigadier general. Between stints in the military, Hurley continued to practice law and was involved in Republican politics. President Herbert Hoover appointed him to the War Department in 1929, and in time, Hurley held the position of Secretary of War.

Patrick Hurley would over the next several years serve four presidents in various capacities in government including minister to New Zealand and ambassador to China. When once asked about his diplomatic philosophy, Hurley replied that he had learned what he needed to know from “an Indian College in Oklahoma.” He credited Bacone with teaching him four basic principals: individual liberty, regulated free enterprise, self-government and justice.

Hurley spent his latter years living in New Mexico and died there in 1963. He was a true statesman, soldier and diplomat, well trained for service during his college years in Muskogee.

Reach Jonita Mullins at

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