Born in Huntsville, Missouri on November 1, 1859, George Wiley Paul Hunt was the son of George Washington Hunt and Sarah Elizabeth Yates. The family was well-to-do and Huntsville was named for George’s grandfather; however, all that changed after the American Civil War. The Hunt Plantation was laid waste when the guerilla war spread throughout Missouri. Though they recovered to some degree after the war, the family was left in ruin following the financial panic of 1873.
George was educated in both public and private schools; then ran away from home on March 3, 1878 to seek adventure in the mining camps of Colorado. Instead of informing his family of his intentions and destination(s), Hunt left them wondering for the next three years whether or not he had been killed by Indians. During that time-frame, the young explorer enjoyed an eye full of Kansas and Colorado, along with rafting down the Rio Grande.
In July of 1881, Hunt was infected with gold fever after having heard rumors of a lost gold mine in Arizona’s White Mountains. Packing the burros and heading west, Hunt and a companion prospected through the mountains of eastern Arizona until a hostile Apache outbreak threw a wrench into the plans of the determined argonauts. Hunt eventually arrived in Globe, Arizona, the town he would call home for the rest of his life, riding on the hurricane deck of a donkey with an Army escort.
During his search for the elusive madre de oro (mother of gold), he worked as a dishwasher and waiter in the Pasco Café. This led to a string of other odd jobs, such as mucking in a mine, hired hand on a cattle ranch and finally clerk in a general store. The store was later purchased by Old Dominion Commercial Company. In time, Hunt progressed up the corporate ladder to become president.
Politics began to tickle Hunt’s fancy in 1890, and he ran for the office of county recorder in Gila County. Though his efforts in the election were unsuccessful, he did find success in a different direction. Traveling northeast of Payson, Hunt paid a visit to the home of Col. Jesse Ellison, an influential local rancher. When Hunt was introduced to 23-year old Duett, the rancher’s daughter, Cupid’s arrow found its target. Hunt was only eight years younger than Jesse, but that did not seem to make a difference to either the rancher or his daughter. Hunt later penned a note in his diary which stated he considered his hosts to be “a very interesting family.” Being a rancher’s daughter, Duett was Dad’s “right-hand-man” and the equal to any cowboy when it came to roping a calf - and she did it wearing a skirt.
Not to be dissuaded by failure, Hunt tried a new direction and in 1892, succeeded in becoming a member of Arizona’s Territorial House of Representatives. His re-election campaign in 1894 was also successful. During his first term, Hunt sponsored legislation which authorized a reward of $5,000 for the capture of the Apache Kid.
Upon completing two terms in the lower house, Hunt’s first campaign for a seat in the state’s upper house (the Council) proved to be a success in 1896. In the legislative session of 1897, Hunt sponsored a bill requiring the Territory’s children who were 8-14 years of age to attend at least 12 weeks of school each year. In 1904, he left politics for a season.
Following a postponed wedding, an impatient Hunt voiced an ultimatum to his fiancée. In it, he stated he planned to be in Holbrook on February 24, 1904 and if she wanted to get married, she should be there too. On their wedding day, he was 44 and she was 36. One daughter, Virginia, was born in 1905. Duett (now known as ‘Helen’) died of appendicitis on April 18, 1931. Her life ended in the same hospital where Virginia was a patient in the maternity ward, having given birth to a son a short time earlier.
Hunt returned to politics and regained his seat on the Council, serving in the 1906 and 1908 sessions. When the 23rd Arizona Territorial Legislature met, Hunt was the council’s president. During that session, he presented a bill to create primary elections in an effort to nominate candidates. Though that bill failed, he was successful in securing a bill to outlaw gambling in the Arizona Territory. During his final year as President of the Council, Hunt’s bill for the creation of nominating primaries was passed.
After Arizona passed the Enabling Act in preparation for statehood, delegates were selected to attend the constitutional convention. One of five delegates selected from Gila County, Hunt was elected as president of the convention on opening day. Jacob Weinberger, another delegate at the convention, described Hunt as “a behind-the-scenes manipulator who presided in the manner of a stoic benign Buddha – if one can picture Buddha with a splendid handlebar mustache.”
In September 1911, Hunt proclaimed himself a candidate for governor in the new state of Arizona. Winning the Democratic primary, he just barely defeated Edmund W. Wells, his Republican opponent, to become Arizona’s first governor. He was sworn into office on February 14, 1912. During his first term of office, Hunt supported legislation which required newspapers to disclose the names of their owner(s), and created both old-age pensions and workers’ compensation.
Arizona’s Supreme Court ruled in 1912 there would be no state official elections that year, so Hunt did not run for re-election until 1914, when he defeated Ralph H. Cameron. The focus of this term was situated almost totally on the US/Mexico border. Governor Hunt gave thought to deploying Arizona’s National Guard to protect the lives of his state’s citizens; however, Secretary of War Lindley M. Garrison convinced him to let the US Army handle the situation.
1916’s gubernatorial election results proved to be a forerunner to the Bush-Gore election of 2000. When the election results were tabulated, Thomas E. Campbell, Hunt’s opponent, was declared the winner by 30 votes. Hunt challenged the results due to claiming a number of precincts experienced fraudulent voting. Refusing to leave office until the challenge was satisfied, the Arizona Supreme Court informed Hunt it had ruled Campbell the de facto governor on January 27, 1917 and stating Hunt must leave office. Though temporarily down for the count, Hunt was not giving up and going home. Instead, Christmas came a few days early for him when he was declared the winner of the 1916 election by 43 votes on December 22, 1917. On Christmas Day, Hunt regained the title of governor.
Following entry of the United States into World War I, Governor Hunt demonstrated to his state the fact knitting needles were now the new patriotic standard. Knitting scarves for soldiers, he stated he wished he could serve in the US Marines. There were those, however, who questioned the governor’s sincerity about being a Marine, due to his association with the Industrial Workers of the World. When a resident in Flagstaff later challenged the governor’s loyalties, the governor filed a lawsuit, claiming libel. He won, and was awarded 1¢ in damages.
Governor Hunt left office in January 1919, choosing not to seek reelection. Retirement, however, did not set well with him. In an effort to conquer a new challenge, Hunt set out in an effort to learn how to drive an automobile. Introducing himself to a number of ditches in his efforts, Hunt’s response to the challenge he undertook was, “One started out in the morning with exhilaration and by nightfall was towed home in shame.”
Thoughts were running strong in the direction of Hunt campaigning for Arizona’s seat in the US Senate, currently occupied by Mark Smith. Rumors later surfaced to say Smith, along with friend Henry F. Ashurst, had a meeting with US President Woodrow Wilson. In an effort to hold on to his seat, Smith requested Wilson give Hunt a diplomatic position some distance away from Arizona. The rumor continued that Wilson spun the globe, placed his finger on it and asked, “Would this be far enough?” Apparently it was, because on May 18, 1920, Hunt was confirmed as the U.S. Minister to Siam (Thailand).
Though on the other side of the world, Hunt maintained contact with Arizona through the use of postcards. On October 4, 1921, President Warren G. Harding replaced Hunt as minister and he returned to Arizona, brandishing numerous artifacts from Siam as gifts to his supporters. Once he was back, he began to speak to groups in Arizona about the experiences he had overseas. He talked about his travels for awhile, then Hunt’s conversation topics slowly returned to politics. In 1922, he was campaigning for his fourth term as Governor of Arizona.
In 1923, Governor Hunt was back at work leading Arizona, and did so for the next six years. During this timeframe, the most important political issue was ratifying the Colorado River Compact. The compact would appropriate water rights for the Colorado River to seven states. As remarks surfaced regarding California receiving an unfair amount of “Arizona’s birthright,” Arizonans were heard to comment of how Jesus had walked on water, but Governor Hunt ran on the Colorado River.
As Governor Hunt continued in his career, he gained new titles from his political opponents. First referred to as the sobriquet “George V”, the title was updated to “George VI” when Hunt won the next election. In 1928, he met with Will Rogers at the Phoenix Airport. Rogers asked Hunt if he would adopt the comedian so that one day Rogers would succeed to Hunt’s “hereditary governorship.”
In 1928, Hunt was defeated in a reelection bid due to a landslide by the Republican Party; then began his seventh term in 1930, but lost his party’s nomination in 1932. His attempt in 1934 would be his last. He lost this election as well, then died on December 24, 1934 due to heart failure. He and his wife are interred atop a hill in Papago Park in a white pyramid.
- - - - -
“I have always taken an interest in the Museum because one of the first bills I introduced in the legislature was a bill to creat(e) the Museum of which you now have charge. I hope I may live to see the day that we have a Museum housed in a magnificent building in which to store the things of interest which we find in Arizona which is a prolific field.”
Gov. Hunt to Dr. Byron Cummings, director of Arizona State Museum
October 19, 1925