Walter S. Hunsaker Records

Identifier: 94-43

Scope and Contents

The Hunsaker collection consists of some of Hunsaker's personal papers and those of his wife but a major part of the collection contains the Las Vegas business records of Leigh Hunt and his family. This collection is important because it documents the twentieth century development of Las Vegas as a resort town and illustrates the long-term impact of the construction of Hoover Dam. It also serves to illustrate the formation of a multi-business, family-held corporate structure.

Walter Hunsaker was responsible for the creation of many of the documents in the collection in his role as resident agent and executive secretary for the Hunt Family businesses. Although extensive, the corporate records are not complete. A letter from Walter Hunsaker to Leigh L. Hunt, nephew of Leigh S.J. Hunt, June 27, 1973 (G2/SG3/Box 2/Folder 3) states that "almost everything from the [Leigh S.J. Hunt] office was turned over to Mrs. [Jessie] Hunt and I understand most of it went to George Rives in the hopes it would be available for a biography." Another letter from Hunsaker (Sept. 20, 1972) confirms that Hunt's personal papers went to Helen Hunt Rives who in turn gave some to her son George. Most of what survives in this collection was originally part of Hunsaker's working files. Hunsaker made several copies of his outgoing and incoming correspondence. One set was kept in chronological order. Other sets were filed by the name of the correspondent, such as Helen Hunt Rives. Occasionally personal news was exchanged in these letters but generally these were business letters reporting on the activities and financial status of the business.

Much of the Hunt business centered around real estate acquisition and management and these activities are well documented, especially in the McDonald Mines Company series. These files also provide insight into the procedures for dissolving a corporation and also into the process of transferring assets from one company to another.

The best documentation for each company is in the minutes of the boards of directors for each company and in financial ledgers for several of the corporations. Ledgers for specific companies often contain information about other Hunt companies in their listings of accounts payable and receivable. Several ledgers have a typed summary providing the date when the company incorporated and listing initial assets and liabilities.

This collection was received after the death of Walter Hunsaker. The papers had been stored in cardboard boxes for some time but aside from some dirt, were in good condition. However, many of the papers were not in folders and some of the existing folders did not have labels, making identification somewhat difficult.

Because of the disruption to Hunsaker's original order, the collection has been arranged by the Manuscript Curator of the Special Collections Department to reflect the various Hunt Family corporations. Two subgroups were created; one which includes papers of Walter Hunsaker, his wife, and his own personal business interests, and a second subgroup representing the Leigh Hunt family and their corporations. Within the second subgroup, series represent individual family members and named corporations. Again, because of the interlocking nature of these corporations, information about one or more companies will be found in several series. For example, the "General [financial] record" for the Colorado River Exploration Company includes financial documentation for the Vegas Valley Development Company and the Overton Syndicate. Some attempt has been made to cite such cross references in the series descriptions for individual corporations but the researcher should examine all of the series to ensure completeness.

A few photographs also accompanied the collection; they have been transferred to the Special Collections photographic archives.

Processed by: Susan Searcy Date: September 29, 1994 Guide updated: July 2014


  • 1884-1988
  • Majority of material found within 1924-1980


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.

Biographical Notes and Administrative History

Walter S. Hunsaker, Jr. was born on October 14, 1906 in Sac County, Iowa to Walter Scott and Mary Ethel Perry Hunsaker. He graduated from Riverside High School (California) in 1923 and Pomona College in 1928. He met Leigh S.J. Hunt in California and was invited to become Hunt's private secretary in 1929. Hunsaker moved to Las Vegas and worked for the Hunt family until the last of their corporations was dissolved in 1980.

Hunsaker was an officer and director of all the associated Hunt companies and served as secretary and resident agent of the McDonald Mines Company from 1931 to 1980. He provided office space and facilities for the company and was active in the transactions of company business, initially under the supervision of Leigh Hunt, and later Henry Leigh Hunt and Helen Hunt Rives. The relationship was a close one, with mutual respect and admiration on the part of both the family and Hunsaker.

Hunsaker was a Las Vegas distributor for Richfield Oil Company during the 1930s. In 1943 he enlisted in the Army where he spent three and one-half years on active duty, retiring as a Lt. Colonel. He received his real estate broker's license in 1941 and in the same year he also joined the Rotary Club in which he was active for many years. He was a member of the B.P.O. Elks Club and the Presbyterian Church, and President of the Nevada Knife and Fork Club. In 1938 he married Martha Morrison after a long courtship. Hunsaker died in Las Vegas on July 25, 1988.

Leigh S. J. Hunt was born in Indiana to Franklin and Martha Long Hunt. Hunt was an educator, president of Ames College in Iowa (1885), publisher of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, head of a Seattle Bank, gold mine operator in Korea, developer of Egypt's long staple cotton industry, personal advisor to President Theodore Roosevelt during the Russo-Japanese War, and mining developer in the Eldorado Canyon District in Clark County, Nevada. Hunt made and lost several fortunes but always recovered after each loss.

Hunt came to Las Vegas in 1923 in search of health. He became the largest single land-holder in the Las Vegas area and had plans for extensive development of those holdings stimulated by the growth made possible by the cheap power from the nearby Boulder Dam project. His holdings included both land for housing subdivisions and property along the downtown Las Vegas "strip." In 1929 he hired Walter S. Hunsaker as his confidential secretary and business agent.

Hunt was married to Jessie Noble in 1885. They had two children: Henry Leigh Hunt and Helen Hunt Rives (wife of Bayard Hunt). Hunt died in Las Vegas in 1933.

Martha Eleanor Morrison Hunsaker, born on November 30, 1905, grew up in Las Vegas and graduated from Las Vegas High School. Prior to her marriage she worked for the El Portal Theatre. Martha and Walter were married in Las Vegas in May 1938; they had no children. Martha died on June 16, 1982 in Las Vegas.

Jessie Noble Hunt was born about 1862. She graduated from Ames College in 1882 and married Leigh Hunt in 1885 while he was president of the college. Mrs. Hunt accompanied her husband on his trip to Korea and other parts of the Orient, at which time she disguised herself as a boy to ensure her personal safety. She accompanied him to Africa where she managed the large plantation home they established there. She also traveled with him on exploration trips into the upper Nile River country.

After Mr. Hunt's death Mrs. Hunt served as president of her husband's companies but was not in a financial position to carry out his dream of seeing Las Vegas develop as a resort town. Gradually the Hunt holdings were liquidated during her lifetime, with the exception of the McDonald Mines Company. Mrs. Hunt died in 1960 at age ninety-eight.

Henry Leigh Hunt was born in 1886 and was the oldest child of Leigh and Jessie Hunt. He was married to French author Louise de Vilmorin in about 1924 and divorced in 1936. They had three children: Jessie Bruce Wood, Alexandra Horsey, and Helena Baxter. Henry was active in the management of his father's business interests until his death in 1972. In 1955 he was appointed the Consul from Monaco with honorary status at Las Vegas.

Helen Hunt Rives was the youngest child of Leigh and Jessie Hunt and was born about 1893. She was married to prominent New York attorney Bayard [Baird] Hunt and had [two] children: Margaret Rives Kellam and George L. Rives. Helen and her brother Henry shared the estate of their parents. Although Mrs. Rives continued to rely on Walter Hunsaker after the death of her brother, she took an active interest in its management.

McDonald Mines Company and Related Hunt Businesses

Several associated corporations were organized by Leigh Hunt in the 1920s. All were similar in operation and under the same management. These companies were:

• Colorado River Exploration Company - Organized as a Nevada corporation in 1924 as the largest of the Hunt corporations; it was liquidated between 1955-1960. • Huntco - No information is available on this organization. It appears to have focused on the Hunts' Las Vegas holdings. • McDonald Mines Company - a Nevada corporation organized in 1929 and dissolved in 1980. • New York and Las Vegas Investment Company - organized in 1929 and liquidated between 1949-1954. The company's residual assets were taken over by the Colorado River Exploration Company. • Overton Syndicate, Ltd. - organized as an unincorporated syndicate in the 1920s and incorporated in 1934 after Leigh Hunt's death. Liquidated between 1952-1954. • Vegas Valley Development Company - Originally organized as the Potts Syndicate by George H. Potts, J. Orange, Roger Moncrieff, and H.F. Meserve. On December 22, 1925 it was incorporated as the Vegas Valley Development Company by its original founders; later control was acquired by the Hunts. From the records available it appears that the company was devoted to developing and managing Hunt's property in the City of Las Vegas, some of which was located on the "Strip." • Ridgeview Estates, Ltd. - a company which both owned and managed Las Vegas rental properties.

Leigh Hunt foresaw that the availability of water and power from the Boulder Canyon Project, the natural resources of the Las Vegas area, and the almost unlimited land suitable for development, presented an irresistible opportunity. The corporations listed above were formed for specific ventures. Over the years, slow appreciation in the value of various investments resulted in a selling program. Gradual liquidation was followed by substantial distributions by the various corporations until, in the 1950s all residual assets were transferred to McDonald Mines Company.

McDonald Mines Company was organized in 1929 to acquire a series of mining claims containing an estimated 50,000,000 tons of high grade gypsum. The deposits were located in an undeveloped area east of the Virgin River and close to the proposed location of Lake Mead. On the opposite side of the lake site was Overton, Nevada, on the railhead of a branch line of the Union Pacific Railroad.

The company planned to move the ore from the mine to the lake by a gravity operated tramway and ship by barge across the lake to the railhead. Significant changes in the Bureau of Reclamation's plans for the Colorado River Project would have substantially increased operating costs so this development plan was abandoned. The goal of the corporation then became to continue until the mining claims and other assets could be disposed of favorably. As other Hunt family corporations were liquidated many of their assets were transferred to McDonald Mines Company.

Gradually the company redeemed outstanding shares of stock until 1977 when ownership was concentrated in the hands of the Hunt family and Walter Hunsaker. At that time, it was apparent that only Helen Hunt Rives and Hunsaker had real knowledge or interest in the management of McDonald Mines Company and both were of considerable age. Therefore the decision was made to sell the company's assets and liquidate the corporation. All assets were converted to cash and liquidating distributions of $202.00 per share were made during 1979, for a total payout of $297,142.00. The certificate of dissolution was filed on June 2, 1980.

The following sources were consulted in the writing of these notes: Letter from Hunsaker to Helen Hunt Rives, Oct. 27, 1977; Statement to the Board of Directors of the McDonald Mines Company, "McDonald Mines Company," Undated but probably after Aug. 28, 1978; Statement to the Board of Directors of the McDonald Mines Company, "McDonald Mines Company, A Leigh Hunt Enterprise, Las Vegas, Nevada," June 30, 1980; and

Entries in various of the "General [financial] Records" ledgers for individual companies.


7.5 Linear Feet (7 boxes, 10 volumes)

Language of Materials



The Hunsaker collection consists of some of Hunsaker's personal papers and those of his wife but a major part of the collection contains the Las Vegas business records of Leigh Hunt and his family. This collection is important because it documents the twentieth century development of Las Vegas as a resort town and illustrates the long-term impact of the construction of Hoover Dam. It also serves to illustrate the formation of a multi-business, family-held corporate structure. Dates range from 1884-1988 with majority of material found within 1924-1980.


Arranged into the following series: 1) Walter S. Hunsaker; 2) The Hunt Family

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Walter S. Hunsaker papers were donated to the Special Collections Department in 1994 by Jack Leavitt.

Separated Materials

Photographs have been transferred to the Special Collections Department photo archive as collection number UNRS-P1995-45.

Guide to the Records of Walter S. Hunsaker
Susan Searcy
September 29, 1994
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)