Saturday, December 16, 2023

Mining Investor and Idaho Governor Frank W. Hunt [otd 12/16]

Governor Hunt. J. H. Hawley photo.

Idaho Governor Frank W. Hunt was born December 16, 1861 in Newport, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio. His father was an officer in the U.S. Army, so the family relocated several times while Frank was growing up.

Frank held a variety of jobs before he took up mining in Montana around 1885. Three years later, he moved to a mining camp about 25 miles north of Salmon City, Idaho.

From his base in the camp, Hunt prospected extensively, and successfully. It is believed that he also invested in other mining properties. (The usual pattern is for the investor to “grubstake” another prospector, and thereby obtain a share of any later strikes.) Although Frank had no previous history in politics, in 1892 he was elected to a seat in the state Senate.

A Democrat, Hunt became part of a coalition with Populist members who opposed key measures proposed by Governor William McConnell, a Republican [blog, Sept 18]. Besides defeating a reduction in the property tax levy (the new state had collected a surplus under the old levy), the coalition voted down a reapportionment bill.

The legislature did create state Normal schools at Lewiston [blog, Jan 6] and Albion [blog, Mar 7]. Beyond that, Hunt “took a special interest in revising mining law.” He did not run for re-election.

In 1897, Frank explored some mining properties in Canada, but returned in time to join the First Idaho Volunteers when the regiment was mustered for the Spanish-American War. Entering as a lieutenant, Hunt was twice breveted to captain for bravery under fire. The rank was made permanent when the regiment mustered out.

The 1900 political campaign proved especially chaotic in Idaho. The Republicans had a slate, which included William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt at the national level. The Populists again chose to not make common cause with the Democratic Party; they selected their own candidates. The Prohibitionist Party also proposed a nearly full roster.

The Democrats assembled a Fusion Party with the Silver Republicans. The Fusion supported William Jennings Bryan for President. However, the coalition suffered from severe internal tensions at the state level. Most of this arose from conflicting positions on labor unrest and subsequent violence in the Coeur d’Alene mining districts [blog, Apr 29].
Miners  Held in “Bullpen” After Violent Strike Actions. Historic Wallace.
During a succession of eighteen convention ballots, war hero Frank Hunt’s stock rose as various hopefuls dropped by the wayside. Hunt won the state election by just 2,160 votes out of over 56 thousand cast. During his term of office, Hunt approved legislation that established the Academy of Idaho, precursor to Idaho State University, in Pocatello. He also took measures, with some success, to reduce tensions in the northern mining districts, and to resolve cattleman-sheepman conflicts in southern Idaho.

All too aware of the close election result, Hunt also selected leading Populist politicians to fill state boards and other appointive offices. (He even reportedly found a place for the man who ran against him for Governor.) That was not enough, however. His bid for re-election in 1902 failed and he retired from politics.

Hunt then homesteaded along the Payette and acquired shares in a canal company. He also returned to mining, with interests that included properties in Nevada. While in Goldfield, Nevada, he contracted pneumonia and died in November 1906. His body was returned to Boise for burial in the Masonic Cemetery there.
References: [Hawley]
“Ex-Gov. F. W. Hunt Dead,” The New York Times (November 26, 1906).
“Idaho Governor Frank W. Hunt,” National Governors Association.
Robert C. Sims, Hope A. Benedict (Eds.), Idaho’s Governors: Historical Essays on Their Administrations, Boise State University (1992).

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