There once was an Oklahoman who rose up from frontier poverty and heartbreak, cowboyed with Will Rogers, served and defended the Choctaw Nation as its National Attorney, saw combat and won the Silver Star in World War I, became the highest ranking Oklahoman ever in a Presidential administration as Secretary of War (now Defense), rose to the military rank of major general, served as ambassador to New Zealand and China during World War II, twice declined offers to become a candidate for vice president as well as ambassador to the Soviet Union, and personally represented President Franklin Roosevelt to twenty-two nations during the war.
Of the conservative Republican Oklahoman, the liberal Democrat Roosevelt declared: “Only two persons know how Pat and I get along. The other person is Pat himself.”
Other pages in this volume chronicle the tall redhead’s courageous sacrifice during the Tulsa Race War, World War II, and after the war on behalf of his beloved America against destructive forces from both within and without. This modest piece shares some of the charismatic Oklahoman’s earlier exploits.
Born of Irish immigrant parents in the old Choctaw Nation of nineteenth-century Indian Territory, Pat worked in its perilous coal mines by age eleven. At age thirteen, with his sainted mother—who taught him the primacy of God’s commandments, especially “Thou shalt not kill”—dead, and his father crushed by a horse and invalided, he supported his orphaned family.
Soon he lived among the Choctaws. While fishing with one of his closest friends, Choctaw Victor Locke, the latter told Hurley that he aimed to become Principal Chief of the tribe. “When you’re chief of the Choctaws, I want to be their National Attorney,” Hurley responded.
Years passed, and Hurley graduated as the only white boy attending Baptist Indian University (present-day Bacone College). He earned his law degree, rose to the rank of U.S. Army colonel in World War I, then flourished as a Tulsa lawyer, bank president, and president of the Tulsa Bar Association, all by age 28. In 1911, he received a wire from his boyhood friend Locke, now Principal Chief of the Choctaws. It appointed him as “National Attorney for the Choctaw Nation.”
Iconic Oklahoma historian Angie Debo praised few whites in her landmark story of the betrayal of the five Indian republics, And Still the Waters Run. However, she lauded “the enterprising” Pat Hurley. According to his biographer Don Lohbeck, Hurley “had learned to identify himself with the Indian point of view and to consider white-Indian relations from the side of the exploited rather than of the exploiter,” whilst living with the Choctaws as a boy.
Debo described his masterful thwarting before Congress of white speculators, Mississippi Choctaws, and the latter’s cunning white sponsors. These groups had conspired to steal the hard-won rights and funds of Oklahoma Choctaws descended from those who had suffered through the Trail of Tears.
David vs. Goliath
Hurley faced a far greater challenge when he opposed one of the most powerful cabals of 20th-century America. A brilliant Texas attorney, J. Frank Murray, had spent years building a consortium of government bureaucrats, both white and Indian leaders in Oklahoma, and a phalanx of powerful United States Senators. They aimed to wheedle from individual Choctaws and Chickasaws, for pittances, their fractional interests in the large unallotted tracts of land remaining in their tribes’ former sovereign domains.
If successful, McMurray would net millions of dollars. Many others among the afore-mentioned company would reap their own windfalls.
Allied with Oklahoma’s stalwart, blind, pioneer senator Thomas P. Gore (OKLAHOMANS 2, Chapter 1), Hurley led one of the great David vs. Goliath efforts in American legislative history. Year after year the battle royale raged in the halls of Congress and elsewhere around Washington. Agents for McMurray attempted to bribe both Hurley and Gore. Somehow, through Gore’s stubborn brilliance among his fellow solons, and Hurley’s intrepid righteous passion in representing the defenseless Choctaw (and Chickasaw) interests, they kept the issue in play.
Finally, Hurley appeared again before a hostile Indian Affairs Committee of the Senate. According to the observing Associated Press, “Hurley let forth such a flood of facts and figures designed to show that the McMurray contracts were against the best interests of the Indians, that the frigid atmosphere began to change.”
Hurley’s and the Oklahoma tribes’ greatest nemesis still blocked their path to victory: New Mexico Senator Albert S. Fall, a ruthless political kingpin and fellow Republican of Hurley’s. Later convicted and imprisoned in the Teapot Dome scandal, Fall wielded such power that few men even in Congress dared cross swords with him. But Pat Hurley was standing up for his own lifelong friends, including Chief Victor Locke. Fall savaged the Oklahoman as a “boy orator, taking up our time with his oratorical flights of fancy.”
According to the Associated Press, “pointing an accusing finger at the amazed Senator, Hurley charged that Fall had a personal interest in the contracts.” So explosive was the confrontation and such impact did it have on the previously-antagonistic committee that the meeting was adjourned. Numerous of the senators rushed to Hurley, shook his hand, and heartily praised him for his courage against the fearsome Fall on behalf of the tribes.
The tide had turned. The Indian Appropriations Bill, containing a key amendment of Gore’s that disallowed the McMurray scheme, passed the Senate. According to Hurley biographer Lohbeck, “The Choctaws looked upon their young defender, who had faced the Senators and defeated McMurray, as an invincible hero.”
“There is nothing more for me to do for the Choctaws,” Hurley declared following these epic triumphs.
“Oh yes there is,” his old trail buddy Will Rogers, with whom he had ridden the range from eastern Indian Territory to New Mexico, shot back. “You can stop the tide of Anglo-Saxon civilization at the borders of the Choctaw Nation.”
Summarizing his deepest motivations while serving that great people, he responded to Will: “I wasn’t trying to stop that great, beautiful, indefinable, cruel thing called Anglo-Saxon civilization in its march to conquest. I was just trying to retain a place within that civilization for the Choctaw people.”
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
View the inspiring 2-minute preview video HERE.