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Lester Callaway Hunt, Sr. Passes Away

Today in Masonic History Lester Callaway Hunt, Sr. passes away in 1954.

Lester Callaway Hunt, Sr. was an American politician.

Hunt was born on July 8th, 1892 in Isabel, Illinois. He played semi-professional baseball and had the opportunity with the team to visit Wyoming, where he would eventually move. While still in Illinois he graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University. He then went to work as a railroad switchman while he attended Dental School at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. After he graduated in 1917 he moved to Lander, Wyoming where he set up practice. He joined the United States Army Dental Corps when America entered World War I serving from 1917 to 1919. After the war he did postgraduate work at Northwestern University in 1920 before resuming his practice in Lander.

Hunt served as the President of the Wyoming State Dental Society. In 1924 he served in his first political position as the president of the Wyoming State Board of Dental Examiners. He served there until 1928.

In 1933, Hunt was elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives. He served only one term and during that time sponsored a eugenics bill that would have sterilized any inmates of Wyoming institutions if "afflicted with insanity, idiocy, imbecility, feeblemindedness, or epilepsy". The legislation matched laws that had already been passed in neighboring states. Later, Hunt would deeply regret sponsoring the bill. Starting in 1935 he served two four terms as Secretary of State for Wyoming. During that time he was responsible for commissioning muralist Allen Tupper True to create the Bucking Horse and Rider image that appears on Wyoming license plates and other places. It was also during his time as Secretary of State that some controversy arose. Through his office the Wyoming Guidebook was published. When the Governor and Legislature refused to register a copyright for the book and the iconic Bucking Horse and Rider, Hunt registered it in his own name. He was accused of keeping the royalties for himself. He was able to prove that he endorsed every royalty check over to the State Treasurer and that none of the money was kept by Hunt. In 1942 he transfered the copyright to the state.

In 1943, Hunt was the first person elected to two consecutive terms as the Governor of Wyoming. Hunt, a Democrat, faced a hostile legislature through both terms in office. While he was Governor he was accused of allowing Japanese-Americans, who were interned in Wyoming, to live a "pampered life" and that they were hoarding supplies. Hunt strongly refuted this claimed and toured the camps himself calling the living conditions in the camps "disgraceful." Hunt during his term established a retirement system for teachers in the state and attempted to create a similar system for state employees. He served as Governor until 1949.

In 1948, Hunt was elected to the United States Senate from Wyoming. He would serve only one term and it was largely marked by his conflict with Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. He was strongly critical of McCarthy and supported various legislation which was designed to dismantle the laws, rules and regulations associated with McCarthyism. In working against McCarthy, Hunt created several other enemies in the Senate.

In 1953, Hunt was rocked by personal scandal. His son, Lester Hunt Jr., more commonly known as Buddy was arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover male police officer. It was the common practice of the time to allow such a situation to go unprosecuted allowing the family to deal with the issue. When Hunt's enemies in the Senate found out about the arrest they attempted to blackmail (this writer's word) Hunt. Specifically Senators Styles Bridges and Herman Welker told Hunt that if he did not resign from the Senate and never run again for the United States Senate that they would see to it that his son was publicly tried. When Hunt refused it was alleged that the Senators threatened Inspector Roy Blick of the Morals Division to force him to try the case against Buddy Hunt. Blick would later sign an affidavit exonerating Bridges and Welker of coercing him to try the case.

Buddy Hunt was tried and convicted of the crime and there was minimal coverage of the actual trial. Once the conviction was in place, Welker and Bridges threated to have articles written and pamphlets distributed while Hunt was campaigning for re-election in the 1954 election. This was on top of health issues that Hunt Sr. was having , specifically relating to his kidneys.

With the mounting pressure in his life, on June 19th, 1954, Hunt brought a rifle from home into his Senate office and shot himself while sitting at his desk. His reason is somewhat clouded by the fact that he was having health issues, those close to him believe either that it was the blackmail that drove him to suicide or that it was the combination of his health issues and the blackmail. Regardless of what the full reason was, Senators Bridges and Welker eulogized Hunt in the Senate referring to him in glowing terms. Bridges stated that he was "a man who demonstrated the best qualities of an American. He was loyal and he served well."

On finding out about the eulogies, Hunt's cousin, the president of North American Car Corporation wrote to Welker stating about the eulogies:

I was shocked when I read this. It recalled to my mind so vividly the conversation with Senator Hunt a few weeks before he died, wherein he recited in great detail the diabolical part you played following the unfortunate and widely publicized episode in which his son was involved. Senator Hunt, a close personal friend of mine, told me without reservation the details of the tactics you used in endeavoring to induce him to withdraw from the Senate, or at least not to be a candidate again. It seems apparent that you took every advantage of the misery which the poor fellow was suffering at the time in your endeavor to turn it to political advantage. Such procedure is as low a blow as could be conceived. I understood, too, from Senator Hunt, that Senator Bridges had been consulted by you and approved of your action in the matter.

Hunt was a member of Wyoming Lodge No. 2 in Lander, Wyoming. He was also a member of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite and the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.