Saturday, July 20, 2013

Wool Grower, Banker, and Public Servant Ralph Hunt [otd 07/20]

R. S. Hunt. Hawley photo.
Rancher, banker, and state legislator Ralph Stephen Hunt was born July 20, 1869 in Weber, Utah. To the age of about 25, he worked as a ranch hand at various locations in Utah.

He moved to southeast Idaho in 1894. There, he herded stock, both cattle and sheep. Over the next five or six years, he worked at ranches across much of southern Idaho.

Then, in 1900, Ralph's parents, Ralph H. and Sarah, moved to the Rexburg area. At that point, the Mormon population in eastern Idaho had grown substantially. Thus, in August 1898, church leaders split Fremont Stake off from Bannock Stake. With headquarters in Rexburg, the new unit stretched from roughly the South Fork of the Snake River north to the Montana border. The Hunt’s were part of the continued growth of the Mormon community and its stake.

Within a year or so, Ralph S. also settled there. Soon he and his older brother John organized a farm and ranch operation. In addition to livestock, the brothers ran what Hawley called "the largest irrigated farm in the district.” Over the next ten to fifteen years, developers like the Hunts put perhaps 150 thousand acres under irrigation in what was to become Madison County.

During that same period, the Hunt brothers expanded their livestock holdings, and made a transition to raising mostly sheep. (Unfortunately, the brother died during the "Spanish" flu epidemic of 1918.) The sheep operation ran "about six thousand ewes" by 1919-1920. Ralph was a member of the Idaho Wool Growers Association and also of the National Wool Growers Association.

Although Ralph spent much of his time on the ranch, he also had interests in Rexburg, to which is parents had retired. He helped organize the Rexburg State Bank and became its second President, a position he held until at least 1922. He was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Madison County Commission, and served on the Rexburg City Council for five years.
Rexburg parade, ca 1907. Brigham Young University-Idaho Archives.
By around 1915, locals felt the need for a street to connect downtown Rexburg with Ricks Academy (now Brigham Young University-Idaho) [blog, Nov 12]. When the City Council declined to finance a project, the Commercial Club took up the issue. Hunt served on the committee that raised the necessary funds, and the extension was completed in June, 1916.

In 1913-1920, Hunt spent three terms in the state House of Representatives. During his first term, he submitted a bill to create Madison County from the southern portion of Fremont County. Although similar bills proposed during the previous decade had failed, Hunt’s act passed easily. Ralph did not run in 1914, but then served two consecutive terms. He was next elected to the state Senate in 1921. Ralph chaired the state Livestock Committee for a time and sat on several related committees.

A member in good standing of the LDS Church, Ralph apparently took no active part in that organization's governance. Hunt never married, and pass away in April 1929.
References: [Blue], [French], [Hawley]
David L. Crowder, The Spirit of Ricks, Ricks College Press, Rexburg, Idaho (1997).

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