O'Laughlin, Thomas (1844–1923)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

Updated: January 6, 2021

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Thomas O'Laughlin (O'Loughlin in many sources), the first White to settle his family permanently in the Texas Panhandle, was born in Ireland in 1844. He immigrated with his family to the American Midwest and during the Civil War worked as a government teamster at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. There he met Ellen Gilmore, whose parents had immigrated from Ireland to Dubuque, Iowa. They were married at her hometown in 1869. Soon afterward they moved to the Kansas frontier and started a small dugout store on the Santa Fe Railroad at Pierceville, Ellsworth County. There they had two children. In 1874 the O'Laughlins were compelled to flee their homestead after being warned of a party of Cheyennes coming north on a rampage. These disgruntled warriors destroyed the family's possessions and burned the dugout. After that the family went to Lakin, Kansas, where Tom's brother John ran a store. During a Christmas visit to Dubuque in December, while O'Laughlin was in Texas hunting buffalo, his wife gave birth to a third child. In the spring of 1875 the O'Laughlins moved from Dodge City to the Panhandle, following the troops sent to establish Fort Elliott. After camping with the troops on Cantonment Creek, they squatted on a section of land halfway between the new fort and the buffalo camp of Hidetown. Three months after they settled there, the O'Laughlins received word of the death of their daughter from rabies. Having been bitten by an infected skunk, she had been left behind in Lakin, where medical attention was available. When the town of Sweetwater, later Mobeetie, was founded on O'Laughlin's section, he was persuaded to trade it in for 100 lots in the new townsite.

The O'Laughlins built a restaurant and a boarding house out of pickets and sod in Mobeetie. Charles Goodnight was said to have passed the night there in 1876 when he first came to the Panhandle to establish the JA Ranch. A year later his wife, Mary Dyer Goodnight, reportedly spent her first night in the Panhandle with the O'Laughlins. The family saw their share of quarrels settled by guns; the fatal shooting of Granger Dyer by John McCabe occurred in front of O'Laughlin's restaurant. Once the buffalo were killed off, O'Laughlin started a cattle herd, while his wife continued to operate the boarding house. After Wheeler County was organized in 1879 he often served as a juror. In 1885 the O'Laughlins expanded their business into the frame Grand Central Hotel, one of the town's most ornate buildings. The O'Laughlins' younger son died in 1895. During this time, O'Laughlin began breeding Hereford and shorthorn cattle on land in Gray County. In 1901, after Mobeetie declined, the O'Laughlin family moved to Miami, in Roberts County. There Miles, the remaining son, subsequently became an outstanding citizen. In 1904 he married Annie Elizabeth Earl, who had worked in Mobeetie as a governess to the children of "Big Johnny" Jones. Miles O'Laughlin, who had three sons, took over the family's ranching operations after the death of his father in Miami on February 23, 1923. His mother died in Miami on January 18, 1931. Both are buried in the Miami cemetery. After Miles's death in 1942 successive generations of O'Laughlins continued to call Miami their home.

Ernest R. Archambeau, "The First Federal Census in the Panhandle, 1880," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 23 (1950). Sallie B. Harris, comp., Hide Town in the Texas Panhandle: 100 Years in Wheeler County and the Panhandle of Texas (Hereford, Texas: Pioneer, 1968). History of Miami and Roberts County (Miami, Texas: Roberts County Historical Committee, 1976). Millie Jones Porter, Memory Cups of Panhandle Pioneers (Clarendon, Texas: Clarendon Press, 1945). Glenn Shirley, Temple Houston (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980).


  • Peoples
  • Irish
  • Business

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “O'Laughlin, Thomas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 20, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/olaughlin-thomas.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995
January 6, 2021