The Five Most Famous Irishmen in Wyoming History
Irish immigrants were among the first European settlers here in the Cowboy State. They first came as Army soldiers in the 1840s, assigned to protect wagon trains travelling on the Oregon Trail. When the railroad arrived in the 1860s, more Irish workers followed.
Like other immigrants, they encountered discrimination. In spite of their struggles, many Irishmen were instrumental in the growth of the Cowboy State.
Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a look back at five of the most influential Irishmen in Wyoming history.
Fightin’ Philip Sheridan – Both the town and county of Sheridan are named for this man, who first gained fame as a Union Major General in the Civil War. Following the war, Sheridan famously fought several Native American tribes across the plains.
Sheridan was later charged with protecting Yellowstone National Park. Mount Sheridan, which overlooks Yellowstone’s Heart Lake, was named in his honor in 1871.
Patrick Sullivan – After landing in New York in the late 1880s, Sullivan quickly made his way to Wyoming and established a sheep farm near Rawlins. He moved to Casper in 1892 and became one of the city’s wealthiest businessmen.
In 1894, Sullivan was elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives. He later served as the Mayor of Casper from 1897 to 1899. In 1929, he was appointed to replace Francis W. Warren in the United States Senate.
Joseph O’Mahoney – The son of Irish immigrants, O’Mahoney was hired in 1916 as the editor for Cheyenne’s largest newspaper, The State Leader. The newspaper was owned by then-Wyoming Governor John B. Kendrick.
When Kendrick was elected to the United State Senate one year later, O’Mahoney followed him to Washington, D.C., and earned his law degree from Georgetown University.
O’Mahoney returned to Cheyenne in 1920, setting up a law practice that would help to expose the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal.
Following the death of Kendrick, O’Mahoney was appointed as his successor in the United States Senate. He went on to serve in the Senate for nearly 30 years.
Frank Barrett – Born to an Irish family from Nebraska, Barrett moved to Lusk, Wyoming, in 1919, where he established a law practice.
He served as the Niobrara County attorney before being elected to the Wyoming Senate. He later served as a member of the United States House of Representatives before being elected as the Governor of Wyoming in 1951.
Barrett resigned during his first term as Governor after being elected to the United States Senate.
Maurice Burke – As Irish immigrants arrived in Wyoming to build the railroads in the 1860s, they brought their Catholic faith with them. Burke helped established the church in Cheyenne, and served as this first Bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne from 1887 to 1893.
At the time, Catholics in Wyoming faced discrimination. Burke even unsuccessfully urged the Vatican to abandon the Cowboy State after threats chased Sister Perfecta Shanahan and her parish from Laramie.