June 25, 1908
After two weeks' illness from uraemic poisoning, Lieutenant Colonel R. H. Hunt, a former mayor of Kansas City, died at the Soldiers' Home in Leavenworth yesterday morning. Colonel Hunt was 68 years old, and up until his last illness he had been a man of marked vitality.
About one year ago Colonel Hunt was appointed from private life to the post of Quartermaster at the Soldiers' Home, and he was serving in that capacity when he died. Colonel Hunt was a widower and is survived by two nieces. They are Mrs. John Stearns of Kansas City and Miss Mamie Hunt of St. Louis.
Funeral services will be held Friday morning in the chapel at the Soldiers' Home in Leavenworth. The burial in the national cemetery will be attended with regular military honors.
Special cars will be run to the Soldiers' Home tomorrow morning to carry friends to the funeral. The cars will start from Tenth and Main streets at 8 o'clock.
Robert H. Hunt was born in Shannon, Kerry County, Ireland, in 1839, and came to America at the age of 10 with his father. Kansas City was reached even in very early days, and the spirit of individuality which all his long life afterwards made him conspicuous, asserted itself in the father and son, for they left Kansas City for Western Kansas to get where they could not see slaves. The father soon went on about his business, leaving the boy to make a living for himself.
This he first did by carrying the water pail on a section for the construction of the railroad. Twenty years later, he was working 2,000 men himself, one of the big railroad contractors of the West. Between the time of his carrying the dipper and building part of the Rock Island, the Santa Fe and the Missouri Pacific, young Hunt went to a college. He worked his passage through it, and got out in time to go into the war to serve with Rosecranz, Thomas and Grant; to join Ewing and to become chief of staff under General Samuel R. Curtis.
Most of his service with the colors was on the border between Missouri and Kansas. Hereabouts, with General Curtis, he directed the artillery movements of the fights of the Little Blue, Big Blue, Westport, Osage, Newtonia and Mine Creek. It was at this last battle that General "Pap" Price was crushed and General Marmaduke was captured.
Colonel Hunt enlisted in a Kansas regiment, but left it during the war and became a staff officer. Afterwards he got back into a Kansas regiment, the Fifteenth cavalry, of which he was Major. The regiment had two colonels, C. R. Jennison and afterwards Colonel Cloud, while George W. Hoyt, afterwards a brigadier, was the lieutenant colonel. Robert H. Hunt was the senior major of the command.
There is a book published on "The Battle of Westport" by Rev. Paul B. Jenkins, formerly of this city, in which no mention whatever, in the slightest word, is made of Colonel Hunt.
"But he was there," said Colonel Van Horn yesterday, "and directed the artillery. I was related by marriage to General Curtis, commanding the Union forces here. He appointed me to his staff and directed me to prepare fortifications for the city. In that way I located and had the rifles ready and the encroachments dug. I saw a handsome young officer riding in and about, coming frequently to general headquarters for orders or with supports, and, struck by his magnificent bearing, asked his name. I was told it was the chief of staff, Colonel Hunt. What began as an acquaintance has lasted until now. As there is no battle in which the artillery is not the objective point, and as Colonel Hunt was commanding the artillery at the Battle of Westport, as I know from my own observations then, I know that he was in the fight; yet Mr. Jenkins made no mention whatever of him in what he declared to be a record of the battle."
The obscuring of Colonel Hunt by the Jenkins book is not unique. Other leaders in the engagement were similarly treated by the local historian.
The end of the war saw Colonel Hunt located in Kansas City, to engage in contracting. When first young Hunt landed in this country the priest of the parish they settled in took him up and began training him for service on the alter.
The good priest in this way taught him Latin. To the last days of his life Colonel Hunt kept his Latin fresh and, by means of a dictionary he would read Latin books. He regarded it as an accomplishment and was proud of it. But he never boasted of it. Reading Latin, born a Catholic and Republican in politics though an Irishman. Colonel Hunt made the acquaintance of the Rev. William J. Dalton, native of St. Louis, child of Irish parents, a Latin scholar and a clergyman of the church of Rome. The two remained friends to the last.
Father Dalton is a Republican in politics. Father Dalton came to Kansas City just as Colonel Hunt was closing his term as mayor, "but I was here early enough," said Father Dalton yesterday, "to hear the whole town commending him for his tremendous strides. Energy had marked every week of his administration, and today we have substantial evidence of it. With but little to do anything at all with, Mayor Hunt did much. He was at the very forefront of everything, calculating on the future warranting all his energy."
"At the very forefront of everything," says Father Dalton, and so it would appear. There walks about town today a little old man with a scar on the back of his neck. He built the retaining wall which keeps Bluff street from sliding into the Missouri river. There was trouble one Saturday afternoon about the pay, and the men undertook to lynch the contractor. They actually got a rope around his neck and started with him to throw him over his own retaining wall.
The city hall then was where it is now, only in a one-story brick that might have been a country feed store. Mayor Hunt got word of the crisis, picked up a pamphlet he had in his scant library, jumped into a saddle that was not his own and soon was in the ob. He literally rode into it and from the back of his horse read the riot act. That constitutional performance made him a summary marshal and there was no lynching. If there had been there would have been a wholesale killing by the force of twelve marshals Kansas City then had, old "Tom" Speer their chief.
During Colonel Hunt's administration Kansas City was the head of the Fenian movement. "No. 1," a mysterious Irish patriot, and Captain "Tom" Phelan, well remembered here and today alive in a home somewhere, were to fight a duel with broadswords over the troubles of Ireland. Colonel John Moore and Colonel John Edwards, both newspapermen, were to act as seconds. The principals went into training in rooms in a store on West Twelfth street. The morning the duel was to have been fought Colonel Hunt personally smashed in the doors of the training rooms and arrested the belligerents. There was an encounter, but he mayor, being a peace officer and a fighter himself, won. There was no duel.
The forum of Kansas City in those days was Turner hall, afterwards Kumpf's hall, standing as late as 1886 where Boley's clothing store now stands. A political row there sent Mayor Hunt to that place with his copy of the riot act. He would tolerate no mob law while he was mayor. He always asserted his authority to the utmost.
When the figures are all totaled up it will not be found that Colonel Hunt left much of an estate. He married a Miss Hoyne of Chicago. In the '70s Colonel Hunt was worth so much money that he was able to borrow $50,000 from the late Thomas Corrigan for a period of ten months. He was able to pay it back within two weeks. He might have been worth $200,000 or $500,000. Estimates made yesterday ran from one to the other of these figures. He built a mansion at Independence and Highland. The house is there now, a pastel in dull red of what it once was. The plot has been nibbled down to next to nothing.
Colonel Hunt's father had been a small farmer in Ireland. All of his days in this country had been spent in railroad camps or in the field with troops. When Colonel Hunt opened his mansion on Independence avenue he did so with the brilliance of an hereditary aristocrat. Handsome in person, he had handsome ways. There was a wine cellar where it ought to be, and the drawing room, and from one to the other of the Hunt mansion was complete. Kansas City has never seen brighter scenes than those witnessed while Colonel and Mrs. Hunt kept open house on Independence avenue.
Nobody knows where Colonel Hunt's fortune went. It went like the summer wind that sinks with the sun. There was no speculation, no wheat end to the story, no boom collapse, no expensive household bills. The fortune simply disappeared, though Colonel Hunt always, to his intimates, lately insisted that he held valuable securities which would in a few years put him on his feet. But he did not get on his feet.
Times did not prosper fast enough Colonel Hunt stood in need of a billet and Senator Warner gave it to him. He had him appointed quartermaster at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home, near Leavenworth, a position he held for about a year. Within a year of three score and ten, Colonel Hunt walked like a youth. Almost six feet in height, no man in his forties and of similar physique walked straighter, faster nor further. His hair and long beard were merely turning gray. He could pass for a man of 55. He lived as he moved, energetically. He liked young people; old people with old stories troubled him. The young people would not take him up because they did not know about the things he knew most of, and the old ones -- his own years -- were too old to take anybody up. So Colonel Hunt was neither here nor there. That was why he had to ask an asylum at the hands of his old military, political, professional and personal friend, Senator Warner.
"It killed him," said Father Dalton. "The life was too dull for him. He wanted to beat sixty times to the minute and he found himself in a clock which had a pendulum going twenty to the minute.
"Where he was accustomed to moving cannon, they set him buying buttons, and able to move troops all up and down the border with the celerity of Forest, they put him to watching veterans crawl across their parade ground. Mops and counting cases of blouses to the tune of a droning beat made Colonel Hunt settle back in a chair that most men look for at sixty, and conserve themselves till riper in years, and so he collapsed. I saw him on Monday, and then he showed he was going away.
"He entered the army at Leavenworth in his young life, left the Fort and the army in his middle age, and went back to Leavenworth and the army to die in his old age. May his soul rest in peace."
And so he is to be buried in Leavenworth, in the military grounds there. Only members of the home may be buried in the military cemetery, excepting by express permission, and that permission is granted sometimes in the instance of officers. Yesterday application was made to Senator Warner, one of the board of managers and it was promptly given. Internment is to be made on Friday, at ten o'clock. Those desiring to attend the funeral will have to leave Kansas City by the 8 o'clock trolley car. President C. F. Holmes has arranged to run a special car at 8:01 Friday for the accommodation of Senator Warner, Surveyor C. W. Clarke, General H. F. Devol, Brevet Brigadier General L. H. Waters and a number of other high officers of the civil war.
Labels: Bluff street, Chicago, Civil War, Colonel Van Horn, death, Father Dalton, Highland avenue, history, immigrants, Independence avenue, Leavenworth, Main street, ministers, railroad, Senator Warner, streetcar, Tenth street, Twelfth street, veterans