Monday, Feb. 14 will mark 99 years of Arizona statehood. As the state nears its centennial, it is a good time to look at Gila County’s early contribution to the state in the form of Arizona’s first Governor and first First Lady, George W.P. Hunt and Duett Ellison.
Hunt was born in Huntsville, Mo. on Nov. 1, 1859. He left home in 1878, arriving in Globe and quickly becoming a part of the scene there. In the 1890s as Arizona steadily marched toward statehood, Hunt became a player on the political scene in Gila County, serving in the Arizona territorial legislature. He took a brief break from politics before becoming the first mayor of Globe in 1904. That same year he married Duett Ellison.
Duett Ellison was the daughter of Col. Jesse Ellison. She had come to Arizona with her family in the early 1880s. They first settled at what is known today as Ellison Creek, before moving to Pleasant Valley. Duett Ellison was a skilled pioneer woman who knew how to handle a gun and fend for herself.
The March 3, 1904 Arizona Silver Belt had the following to say about her marriage to Hunt, which occurred in Holbrook.
“The first intimation of Mr. Hunt’s marriage was received here last Friday morning in a brief telegram sent by him from Albuquerque, NM, to A.T. Hammons, bookkeeper for the Old Dominion Commercial company, but owing to Mr. Hunt’s reputation as a practical joker, some of his friends doubted the truth of the message. However, other telegrams followed, confirming the felicitous announcement. In a letter received on Monday, the groom stated that the nuptials were attended with the customary Arizona ‘send-off’ by a tin-can brigade, and that a shower of rice and an old shoe or two thrown for luck, marked the departure of the happy couple on the wedding journey.”
Hunt served again in the territorial legislature prior to statehood, helping set him on the path to eventually becoming governor. The Arizona Silver Belt had the following to say about Hunt when he ran in 1906.
“Mr. Hunt is the nominee for the legislative council. He will be chosen unanimously for this position, and will undoubtedly be the next president of the council, upon the assembling of the territorial legislature. He is the present head of the Old Dominion commercial company, and is personally known to every voter of Gila county.”
In 1910, the United States Congress passed the Enabling Act to authorize Arizona and New Mexico to frame a constitution, the step immediately prior to statehood. When Arizona Constitutional Convention opened on Oct. 10, 1910, Hunt was elected convention president. The state constitution was passed on Feb. 9, 1911, but it would be more than a year later when the constitution was approved and Arizona admitted to the union. The original constitution allowed for the popular election of judges, which caused President William Howard Taft to veto the constitution.
This item was changed by voters on Dec. 12, 1911 and Arizona was admitted to the union on February 14, 1912.
Hunt ran for governor in the fall of 1911, narrowly defeating Republican challenger Edmund W. Wells. He would go on to serve a total of seven terms as governor, his last term ending Jan. 2, 1933. He also served as United States Minister to Siam under President Woodrow Wilson in 1920 and 1921.
Hunt and his wife Duett Ellison Hunt became popular figures in the state and their deaths would be mourned. Duett Ellison Hunt died at the age of 63 in April of 1931, while George W.P. Hunt would pass away a little over three years later on Dec. 24, 1934. Schoolchildren of the Phoenix area know quite well where they are buried, as they are buried in a unique white pyramid in Papago Park in sight of the Phoenix Zoo.
Preparations are well under way for the celebration of Arizona’s Centennial. The principal Web site for the celebration is www.Arizona100.org. There is also an Arizona Centennial page on Facebook, which provides regular updates. Events will be taking place all over the state to celebrate the centennial.
One of the neat projects created for the event is a “copper chopper” produced by Paul Yaffe. This unique motorcycle utilizes copper throughout and has been on display all over the state. The bike is being raffled off, with the drawing to be held the week of Feb. 14, 2012.
There is also a penny drive going on to clean, reseal, and brighten the Copper Dome of the State Capitol. This campaign is targeting school children and starts Feb. 9, 2011 and continues for 48 days.