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The Pioneer Ellison Family

Helen Duett Ellison Hunt

J. W. Ellison was born Sept. 22, 1841, in the Republic of Texas. At age 20, he was part of the Texas Rangers fighting marauding Indians. In 1861, he enlisted with the 6th Texas Volunteer Cavalry and fought against Sherman’s march through Georgia. Shortly after mustering out of the Confederate Army, he married Susan Smith on Feb. 14, 1864, and began cattle ranching in Texas.
After years of cattle ranching, in 1885, the “…urge to move further west overcame…” the Ellison family. They shipped more than 1,800 cattle to Bowie and then drove them more than 300 miles to a ranch in Pleasant Valley, northwest of Globe. The Ellisons witnessed the Pleasant Valley war between cattlemen and sheep men. Zane Grey based the novel “To the Last Man” upon this feud.
At one point, their ranch covered more than 25,000 acres. It was reported that “…the ranch home was famous in four states for the hospitality shown to strangers. At one time more travelers were entertained at the ranch home than at any hotel in the state.” The Ellisons had eight children, including a daughter named Helen Duett Ellison who was born in 1868. She eventually met and married George W. P. Hunt, who went on to become the seven-time governor of Arizona.
In 1915, J. W. and Susan Ellison disposed of their ranch and moved to Phoenix. They moved into a house next to the governor’s mansion at 1679 E. McDowell Road. In 1929, the Ellisons both came down with pneumonia. News reports indicated “…both refused to be separated during the illness and occupied the same bed at their home….the aged couple had expressed a hope that the end for both would come at the same time, so that neither would be left to mourn the other.”
However, their wish was not granted. Susan Ellison passed away on Feb. 3, 1929, at the age of 84. J. W. Ellison passed away nearly five years later on Jan. 22, 1934, at the age of 92.
In early April 1931, Phoenix was the home to the 11th Annual Pioneer Reunion that drew more than 2,000 pioneers to downtown Phoenix. President Herbert Hoover even sent his greetings to the group via a telegram that read: “My cordial greetings to the 11th annual reunion of Arizona pioneers and my deep appreciation of the inspiration of their service in laying the foundations of the present great state of Arizona.”
During this time Helen Hunt was stricken with a stomach ailment. Several days passed before a doctor was called. The doctor diagnosed the ailment as appendicitis and an emergency operation was performed at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Unfortunately, the appendix had burst and peritonitis had developed.
Ironically, Virginia Brannen, the Hunts’ only child, was at the hospital at the same time, having just given birth to the Hunts’ first grandchild. Brannen was taken to Helen Hunt’s room a few minutes before Helen Hunt died on April 18, 1931.
Funeral services were held at the governor’s mansion on McDowell Road. Press reports indicated: “Six stalwart Indians, all natives of Arizona and members of Company F of the Arizona National Guard, formed at the Phoenix Indian School and served as pallbearers. They were in full uniform.” The drawing room of the governor’s mansion was filled with flowers from people from around the state. “It would seem that the gardens of the state had yielded their choicest blooms to lend their fragrance and color to the services.”
The governor and his family received hundreds of letters and telegrams expressing condolences for their loss. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors closed the county courthouse during the funeral and passed a resolution that said in part: “…Arizona and Maricopa County have suffered a great loss in the passing of her whose admirable character and splendid womanhood had endeared her to all of the state.”
In 1946, the land that was the governor’s mansion was subdivided into the Governor Hunt Tract by Lena Ellison and Virginia Hunt Frund. Some of the land became a school for several years, but it now has been converted to commercial uses.
Lena Ellison, J. W. Ellison, Susan Ellison, Helen Hunt and Gov. George W. P. Hunt are buried in Hunt’s Tomb at Papago Park.
— Mike Miller. Photo courtesy of Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, Archives Division, Phoenix, #97-6618.

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