I moved to the Dallas area and became a business writer in the late 1980s, so I missed the oil boom of the early 1980s and the swagger that came with it. No one personified the audacity of the era more than Nelson Bunker Hunt and his brothers. Heir to one of the world’s great oil fortunes, Hunt died on Oct. 21 at the age of 88. My obituary of Hunt appears in the latest Texas Monthly.
By the time I got to the Dallas Times Herald, the Hunts were in bankruptcy, and the boom had turned to bust, serving as a referendum on the free-spending excess that defined Dallas. My only top-of-the-front-page byline was about the bankruptcy trustees suing extended members of the Hunt family to recover $100 million in assets.
But at one time, Hunt owned millions of acres of Australian ranch land, more than 1,000 racehorses and a collection of ancient coins. He and his brothers invested so heavily in commodity markets for soybeans and sugar beets that they influenced prices worldwide. But it was silver for which they became famous. Their notorious effort to corner the silver market ultimately cost them their fortune. Long before anyone coined the term “too big to fail,” Bunker and his brothers were. Their collapsed threatened a consortium of large banks, and a bailout plan was put together by other banks and blessed by the Federal Reserve.
Hunt and his brothers once defined an era upon which many Texas stereotypes were built. Ultimately, though, history may remember Bunker Hunt as the son who squandered one of the world’s greatest fortunes.