Wyoming Hero Died for Tragic Reasons

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Bill Sniffin
Bill Sniffin

 

The name Lester Hunt is not that prominent in Wyoming these days.

Oh, it can be found on a building at the Wyoming Life Resource Center in Lander.  Our local airport is named Hunt Field, although most folks think it was named after the world-renowned One Shot Antelope Hunt.

But Lester Hunt was a great citizen of our state.  At times, he was even heroic.

Thanks to Cheyenne’s Rodger McDaniel, Hunt’s story and his legacy will now be shared with a new generation of Wyoming folks. McDaniel has written a fantastic new book called Dying for Joe McCarthy’s Sins, the Suicide of Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt.  The book tells Hunt’s amazing story.

On Sunday, April 7, at 1 p.m. at the Hunt family’s old St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Cheyenne, McDaniel has organized a mock trial to help tell Hunt’s story and introduce his book. 

Famous Wyoming people portraying characters include former Gov. Dave Freudenthal as prosecuting attorney.  The judge is retired Supreme Court Justice Michael Golden.  State Public Defender Diane Lozano is defense counsel. A jury of local residents will issue a verdict.

It should also be mentioned that Rodger asked me to portray the famous muckraking newspaper columnist Drew Pearson who was a friend of Hunt’s and is a witness.  The script is entertaining, and the event is a must-see for political types and anyone else who has an interest in learning first hand some critical Wyoming history.

We are also going to do some kind of book recognition event in Lander later, and some of our local folks are hoping this whole trial thing could be reproduced again.  Maybe we should see how the first one comes off?  McDaniel has promised all of us much latitude when it comes to ad-libbing.  I can hardly wait to get cross-examined by Gov. Dave. 

Back to the book.

This is the definitive history of Hunt, who was a Lander dentist.  He gained early fame as a baseball player.  Born in Illinois, he was recruited by two Wyoming towns that fielded professional baseball teams.  The Lander manager won and Hunt found himself a new hometown.

Later, he served in the legislature and was elected to two terms as Secretary of State.  He was the creator of the ubiquitous Wyoming bucking horse logo that first appeared on the license plates he was charged with designing.

Hunt was elected governor twice and headed up our state during World War II.  Then he was elected to the U. S. Senate. 

The Senate was frustrating to him.  As a governor, he was used to getting things done.  All the back room deals in Washington, D. C., often strained his patience to the maximum.

He called himself “a political middle of the roader with liberal leanings.”  He was always proud to call himself a New Deal Democrat and he did not object to being called an “Eisenhower Democrat,” which revealed his basic Wyoming conservatism.

McDaniel writes: “Even as a freshman from a small, rural state, Hunt was more fully involved in issues of national interest than one might expect.  In the few years he served, Lester Hunt was in the eye of several of the most difficult storms of the day.  He was a major contributor to the early 1950s debates over Civil Rights, health care reform, organized crime, foreign policy, Communism and what to do about Joe McCarthy.

But then it ended.

He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his Senate office on June 9, 1954.   He had literally been hounded to death by the efforts of the famous commie-hunter Sen. McCarthy and his pals. 

With the nation dealing with gay rights issues today, McDaniel’s book comes out at an ideal time.

A key component of that pressure on Hunt was McCarthy’s efforts to expose Hunt’s son who was gay.  McCarthy and his team believed that gay people could not be in the military or work in important government service, because communists could blackmail them so easily. 

Hunt was the second U. S. Senator who killed himself while enduring the stress of McCarthy’s, blackmail, attacks and accusations.  The other was Sen. Robert La Follette Jr.

The Senate had 48 Democrats and 47 Republicans at the time of Hunt’s death.  It was believed if Hunt could be driven from office, the Wyoming governor, a Republican, would appoint a Republican successor.            The book is a very good read and offers a terrific history of our state during the post World War II years.  It is to McDaniel’s credit and Wyoming’s that it has been written and published and is now available.

       

Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns and blogs at www.billsniffin.com.  He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written four books. His most recent book is “Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders” which is available at www.wyomingwonders.com.

 

 

 

 

           

 

 

 

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