Dougherty Oklahoma – small town matters – Red Dirt Report

DOUGHERTY, Okla. – About 60 miles southeast off of exit 51 on Interstate-35 is a small town on the south side of the Arbuckle Lake that I know I had never heard of in my seven years of being an Oklahoman.

“There are so many stories; I don’t know which one’s right,” Kathy Tidwell said, a born, raised and returned resident of Dougherty. “Every family’s got a different story about how Dougherty got its name.”

According to, it was first known as Henderson Flats and in about 1887 the community became Dougherty. A certain story of how it got is name is that a railroad man by the name of Dougherty got off the train running on the Santa Fe Railroad that cuts straight through the town and fell in the mud wherein somebody said, “There lies Dougherty.” A more plausible one is the story that the town was named for early day Texas settler, Bill Dougherty. Yet another story says the town was named for a banker from Gainesville, Texas.

A view of downtown from the railroad tracks.

However the name came about, one thing is certain, history plays a big role in its roots.

Tidwell’s grandparents transplanted from Tennessee in 1898 and her mother was born in Dougherty in 1910.

“She loved Dougherty and all of us do,” Tidwell said. “We take good care of our cemetery, we do what we can for our town, we’ve all got deep roots here, but we can’t shake the reputation no matter what we do.”

Dougherty’s mayor of 12 years, Judy Hale said it was a rough town in the beginning.

Mayor Judy Hale standing outside of the town hall and old jail.

“It was one of the first settlements,” Hale said. “There’s not but three organized towns in Murray County anyway – Davis, Dougherty and Sulphur make a triangle with the Arbuckle Lake in the middle.”

Tidwell said most of the trouble that occurs in town comes from people who come from somewhere else “and as the reputation of an outlaw town and anybody that wants to hide in Murray County, they come to Dougherty.”

“We have a very good fire department, a good town hall, a very good budget, we do the things we’re supposed to do, we have a good post office, we’ve got two churches,” Hale said. “We try to live like we’re supposed to live and anything bad comes from outsiders.”

That being said, they didn’t always have a fire department and town hall, neither a jail.

The old jail.

It wasn’t until 1950, 20 years after the town was leaderless, that it was reconstructed and put back together.

The last graduating class from the high school was 1960, the junior high phased out after then and in the early 1990s the elementary school closed. Now Murray County is an open school district.

One of the biggest claims to fame the residents informed Red Dirt Report of during lunch at the Senior Center was that Kay Starr was born in Dougherty in 1922.

A street was named after their town star.

Her two songs that became number one hits in the 1950s were “Wheel of Fortune” and “The Rock and Roll Waltz.”

Hanging in the center is an autographed poster of her primetime in Los Angeles.

Between Tidwell, Hale and artist Don Pinkston who hangs out with his friends in front of The Dougherty Store every weekday morning, you’re sure to find a comforting welcome if you find yourself passing through.

Don Pinkston stands by an old truck that he painted “Dougherty Police” on.

Photos by Red Dirt Report’s Sarah Hussain

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