In the Winter of 1980, the notorious billionaires Nelson Bunker and William Herbert Hunt conspired to deprive me and my wife of our household silver. It was an outrageous act. Katie and I were engaged to be married that year and had registered our pattern at various department stores, hoping to get lucky with five or six place settings. At the time, silver was going for about $6 an ounce, and a decent dessert spoon cost about $10. It was not too much to hope for, we thought.

Then the Hunt brothers, in perhaps the single most astounding, not to mention pigheaded, financial maneuver of the twentieth century, decided to try to corner the global silver market. They bought up 200 million ounces—more than half the world’s deliverable silver. In January 1980 the price of silver rocketed to $50 an ounce. By March, when we got married, that dessert spoon was going for $60. We received no silver at all for our wedding. We barely even got any silver plate. We still have one of those pieces—an ugly little butter dish—and every time I look at it, I think of Bunker and Herbert Hunt.

That was the first time I had heard of the Dallas Hunts, and it was a measure of their staggering financial power that they could not only rock world markets but also affect a small wedding in northeastern Ohio. Bunker and Herbert, who still live in Dallas, are two of the fourteen children of H. L. Hunt, Texas’ most famous oilman and one of the richest men in the world. His other offspring include Dallas oil baron Ray Hunt, philanthropists Caroline Rose Hunt and Margaret Hunt Hill, radio evangelist June Hunt, former U.S. ambassador Swanee Hunt, and Kansas City Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt. They tend, like Bunker and Herbert, to be driven, extremely successful prominent workaholics who have refused to coast on their fabulous wealth.

They are also inseparable from another H.L. legacy: They are part of one of the most scandalous familial relationships in American history. H.L. had three families, and two of them were a secret, at least for a while. Over one eight-year period in the late twenties and early thirties, he had seven children by two wives, none of whom knew of the others’ existence. As if that weren’t enough, he later had a third secret family.

H. L. Hunt was born in 1889 in Illinois, the son of a prosperous farmer-entrepreneur. A peerless poker player who could dominate no-limit games with the country’s best card players, H.L. nonetheless tried to settle down as a cotton farmer. He got rich, lost a small fortune gambling in cotton futures, then turned his attention to the booming oil fields of East Texas. In 1930, in the most famous deal in the history of the Texas oil business, he bought leases on five thousand acres owned by Columbus Marion “Dad” Joiner. The leases turned out to be part of the largest oil field in the world at that time. They soon made him $100 million in the middle of the Great Depression. 

Yet just as interesting was what was happening in his private life. Though he had married Lyda Bunker in 1914 (with whom he had six children, including Bunker and Herbert), in 1925 H.L. secretly married a 21-year-old Florida real estate broker named Frania Tye, with whom he had four children. In 1942 he severed that relationship, paying Frania $300,000, setting up small trusts for the children, and agreeing to pay her $2,000 a month for life. But that same year, he acquired a new mistress, a 25-year-old Hunt Oil Company secretary named Ruth Ray, with whom he had four more children— unbeknownst to either of his other two families. In 1957, two years after Lyda’s death, he married Ruth, whose children had been going by a fictitious name. (Ruth died in 1999.)

Bunker Hunt and Herbert Hunt are the best known of H.L.’s “first” family. They started out in the oil business with their father in the forties—a time of phenomenal prosperity for Hunt Oil—and eventually went out on their own. In 1961 Bunker acquired the rights to an oil field in Libya that turned out to contain most of that country’s oil. For a while, that deal made him the richest man in the world, worth $16 billion. He lost a lot of that when Colonel Qaddafi nationalized Libya’s oil fields in 1973.

But their biggest play by far was the silver market. In the seventies they gradually accumulated large amounts of silver. By 1979, they had nearly cornered the global market. Then it all came crashing down. After peaking in January 1980, the price of silver began to fall precipitously. They incurred huge losses, which they covered by mortgaging their oil properties. When the price of oil crashed during the bust of the eighties, the brothers were nearly wiped out, a loss that has been widely estimated at $5 billion. They declared corporate bankruptcy in 1986 and personal bankruptcy in 1988. What followed was a legal proceeding worthy of Charles Dickens’ Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Creditors pounced on Bunker and Herbert, who brought their own lawsuit against the banks for trying to run them out of business. Bankruptcy trustees sued one hundred defendants, mostly members of the Hunt family; the legal bill alone was $20 million. In 1994 the brothers paid some $160 million, mostly to the IRS. A New York jury also found them guilty of conspiring to manipulate the price of silver, for which they paid a fine.

But they’re still rich. That’s because of the personal trusts their father set up for them in 1936 that were untouched by the litigation. As of 1995 Bunker still had a personal trust worth $175 million; Herbert’s is thought to be on the same scale. Those two trusts hold the oil companies that the brothers now run. Herbert’s Petro-Hunt does mostly domestic exploration in East Texas and the Gulf Coast. Bunker’s Hunt Exploration and Mining has interests in Pakistan, Australia, the Philippines, Nicaragua, and elsewhere.

After being in the public eye for so long, the two brothers have lived quieter lives in the nineties. “The bottom line is that I came out of it with very little, from a personal standpoint,” says Herbert, who is now 72. (Like all the Hunts, he distinguishes between his personal wealth and his trust estate.) “After the January 1, 1990, settlement, I walked away with an IRS overhang for ten years. I survived all that, and I’m in the oil and gas business.” He has paid back all the money he owes, he says, and is now free to concentrate on Petro-Hunt, which he runs with his three sons (his two daughters share in ownership). He goes to the office every day and travels frequently. “My hobby is work,” he says. “It always has been.” Though he and Bunker, who is now 75, remain close, they are no longer in business together. “Bunker and I split up,” he says. “It seemed like every time one of us got sued, the other got sued too, and we had to hire twice as many lawyers.”

Bunker has had similar financial problems. In 1995 it was reported that he owed the IRS more than 70 percent of $6 million that he had gotten from his trust since 1990. In 1999 he felt flush enough to return to one of his passions: horse racing. One of the most famous moments of the Hunt bankruptcy was the day in 1988 that he sold 580 Thoroughbreds for $46,912,000. Eleven years later, after being completely absent from a sport he once dominated, he stunned the racing community when he showed up at a sale of two-year-old horses at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie. Wearing his trademark rumpled suit and black-frame glasses, he purchased 13 horses for $359,000. Since then he has purchased 67 more and is now a regular, with his wife, Caroline, at Lone Star Park. “Whenever he goes to a sale, he can’t help himself,” his wife told a Dallas Morning News reporter in June—an oddly apt summary of a man who was once the richest person on earth.

We know what became of Herbert and Bunker Hunt, but where are the rest of H.L. Hunt’s children? Three—Helen Lee Cartledge, Haroldina Franch, and Howard Lee—are dead. Hugh Hunt’s whereabouts are unknown. H. L. “Hassie” Hunt III, who was diagnosed as a schizophrenic in the early forties and later had a prefrontal lobotomy, lives quietly in Dallas; the 83-year-old co-owns Hunt Petroleum with his sister Margaret Hunt Hill, 85, one of Dallas’ leading philanthropists. Caroline Rose Hunt, 78, owns a chain of chic hotels, including the Mansion on Turtle Creek and the Hotel Crescent Court, both in Dallas; Forbes estimates her net worth to be $600 million. Lamar Hunt has focused his energy on pro sports for years—he co-founded the American Football League and the North American Soccer League and owned pro football’s Kansas City Chiefs—and he’s not done yet: At 69, he is a part owner of pro basketball’s Chicago Bulls and owns two Major League Soccer franchises, in Columbus, Ohio, and Kansas City, Missouri. Ray Lee Hunt, 58, is the chairman of Dallas-based Hunt Oil; his net worth is an estimated $2.3 billion, according to Forbes. June Hunt, 57, lives in Dallas and hosts a daily religious program, “Hope for the Heart,” which is broadcast on 130 radio stations. Helen Lakelly Hunt, 52, is a pastoral counselor in Dallas. She co-manages the Hunt Alternatives Fund, one of the family’s charitable arms, with her 51-year-old sister Swanee Hunt, a former U.S. ambassador to Austria who now heads the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Nelson Bunker Hunt (February 22, 1926 – October 21, 2014) was an American oil company executive. He was a billionaire whose fortune collapsed after he and his brothers William Herbert and Lamar Hunt[1] tried to corner the world market in silver but were prevented by government intervention.[2] He was also a thoroughbred horse breeder.[3]


  • 1Personal
  • 2Business career
  • 3Silver manipulation
  • 4Politics
  • 5Thoroughbred horse racing
  • 6References


Hunt was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, but lived most of his life in Dallas, Texas.[4] He was the son of Lyda Bunker and oil tycoon H. L. Hunt, who set up Placid Oil, once one of the biggest independent oil companies,[5] He had six siblings: Margaret Hunt Hill (1915–2007), H. L. Hunt III (1917–2005), Caroline Rose Hunt (1923–2018), Lyda Bunker Hunt (born and died in 1925), William Herbert Hunt (born 1929), and Lamar Hunt (1932–2006). He was married to Caroline Lewis Hunt of Ruston, Louisiana for 63 years until his death, and they had four children together.[6] In October 2014, Hunt died at the age of 88. He had cancer and dementia.[1]

Business career

Hunt played a significant role in the discovery and development of the oil fields in Libya, the more established oil enterprises' stake of which were nationalized by Muammar Gaddafi in 1973.[7] This nationalization later resulted in the House of Lords decision in BP Exploration Co (Libya) v Hunt (No 2) [1983] 2 AC 352.

Hunt owned the Dallas-based Titan Resources Corporation, which is still involved in the exploration of oil in North Africa.[8] He was chairman of Hunt Exploration and Mining Company (HEMCO).[citation needed]

Silver manipulation

Beginning in the early 1970s, Hunt and his brothers William Herbert and Lamar began accumulating large amounts of silver. By 1979, they had nearly cornered the global market.[9] In the last nine months of 1979, the brothers profited by an estimated US$2-4 billion in silver speculation, with estimated silver holdings of 100 million troy ounces (3,100 t).[10]

Primarily because of the Hunt brothers' accumulation of the precious metal, prices of silver futures contracts and silver bullion rose from $11 an ounce in September 1979 to $50 an ounce in January 1980. Silver prices ultimately collapsed to below $11 an ounce two months later.[11] The largest single-day drop in the price of silver occurred on "Silver Thursday".[2] In February 1985 the Hunt brothers were charged "with manipulating and attempting to manipulate the prices of silver futures contracts and silver bullion during 1979 and 1980" by the United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).[2]

In September 1988 the Hunt brothers filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code largely due to lawsuits incurred as a result of their silver speculation.[2]

In 1989, in a settlement with the CFTC, Nelson Bunker Hunt was fined $10 million and banned from trading in the commodity markets as a result of civil charges of conspiring to manipulate the silver market.[2] This fine was in addition to a multimillion-dollar settlement to pay back taxes, fines and interest to the Internal Revenue Service for the same period. His brother William Herbert Hunt made a similar settlement.[2]


Nelson Bunker Hunt was active in conservative political causes[12] and was a member of the Council of the John Birch Society.[4]

Hunt mentored Zahid Bashir, former spokesman and press secretary to the Pakistani Prime Minister, in oil trading. He was one of the main sponsors of the conservative organization Western Goals Foundation, founded in 1979 by General John K. Singlaub, journalist John Rees, and Democratic Congressman from Georgia Larry McDonald. During the mid-1980s, he contributed almost half a million U.S. dollars to The National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty (NEPL),[13][14] a conservative fundraising organization later heavily implicated in the Iran–Contra affair.[15] Hunt was past Chairman of the Board of the Bible Society of Texas and the past Chairman of, and significant contributor to Campus Crusade for Christ International's "Here's Life" Campaign (1976–1980),[16][17] as well as providing a $3.5 million loan guarantee for the 1979 Campus Crusade film Jesus.[18]

Thoroughbred horse racing

In 1955, Hunt bought his first thoroughbreds and by the 1970s his breeding program had become one of the world's largest and most productive. Winner of the U.S. Eclipse Award for Outstanding Breeder in 1976, 1985, and 1987, he owned the 8,000-acre (3,200 ha) Bluegrass Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, and raced thoroughbreds in Europe and North America. Among his horses, Hunt bred or raced Vaguely Noble, Dahlia, Empery, Youth, Exceller, Trillion, Glorious Song, Dahar and Estrapade.[3]

In 1973 and 1974, Hunt was the British flat racing Champion Owner and in 1976 won The Derby with Empery.[3]

The United States National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) awarded Hunt the title of "legendary owner-breeder".[19] Overall, Hunt bred 158 stakes winners and either bred or owned 25 champions.[20]

Hunt's bankruptcy forced him to liquidate his thoroughbred operations. A 1988 dispersal sale of 580 horses at Keeneland Sales brought in $46,911,800, at that time the highest amount in the history of thoroughbred auctions.[3] In 1999, he returned to thoroughbred ownership, spending a total of $2,075,000 on 51 juveniles and yearlings. At the time he said, "At my age, I don't plan to do any breeding or buy a farm, I just want to have some fun and try to get lucky racing."[19]


  1. Jump up to:a b McFadden, Robert D. (October 22, 2014). "Nelson Bunker Hunt, 88, Oil Tycoon With a Texas-Size Presence, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  2. Jump up to:a b c d e f Eichenwald, Kurt (December 21, 1989). "2 Hunts Fined And Banned From Trades". New York Times. Retrieved April 13, 2008.
  3. Jump up to:a b c d Bowen, Edward L. (2004). Legacies of the Turf: A Century of Great Thoroughbred Breeders. Lexington, KY, United States: Eclipse Press. pp. 249–262. ISBN 1-58150-117-X.
  4. Jump up to:a b "Nelson Bunker Hunt". The John Birch Society, Inc. Retrieved October 22, 2014.
  5. ^ "Oil Baron Nelson Bunker Hunt Dies" The Guardian October 22, 2014
  6. ^ "One of the richest men in the world endured bankruptcy, but one investment brought eternal rewards | God Reports". Retrieved August 12, 2018.
  7. ^ Greenwood, C. J. (1984). International Law Reports66. Cambridge University Press. p. 340. ISBN 0-521-46411-0.
  8. ^ McLure, Jason (August 21, 2008), "Ethiopia, U.S. Billionaire's Titan Resources Signs Oil Accord'", Bloomberg
  9. ^ Gwynne, S. C. (September 2001). "Bunker Hunt". Texas Monthly. Vol. 29 no. 9. Austin, Texas, United States: Emmis Communications Corporation. p. 78.
  10. ^ "Bunker Hunt's Comstock Lode". Time Magazine. Vol. 115 no. 2. Time Inc. January 14, 1980.
  11. ^ Masters, Michael W.; White, Adam K. (July 31, 2008). The Accidental Hunt Brothers: How Institutional Investors Are Driving Up Food And Energy Prices (PDF) (Report). LOE. p. 51. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  12. ^ Tuccille, Jerome (2004). Kingdom: The Story of the Hunt Family of Texas. Beard Books. p. 311. ISBN 1-58798-226-9.
  13. ^ Walsh, Lawrence E. (August 4, 1993). "Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters". I: Investigations and Prosecutions. Retrieved July 5, 2008.
  14. ^ Hamilton, Lee H.; Inouye, Daniel K. (1995). Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran/Contra Affair. DIANE Publishing. pp. 93–94. ISBN 0-7881-2602-4.
  15. ^ Berke, Richard L. (April 9, 1987). "Investigators Say Group Raised $2 Million for Contra Arms Aid". New York Times. Retrieved July 5, 2008.
  16. ^ Diamond, Sara (1989). Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right. Boston, USA: South End Press. p. 53. ISBN 0-89608-361-6.
  17. ^ Harrington Watt, David (1991). A Transforming Faith: Explorations of Twentieth-century American Evangelicalism. Rutgers University Press. p. 19. ISBN 0-8135-1717-6.
  18. ^ Van Biema, David (June 30, 2003). "The Life of Jesus in 830 Languages". Time Magazine. Vol. 161 no. 26. p. 42.
  19. Jump up to:a b "Nelson Bunker Hunt". National Thoroughbred Racing Association. May 30, 2006. Archived from the original on February 1, 2008. Retrieved April 13, 2008.
  20. ^ "John Gaines in his own words", Blood-Horse, February 14, 2005

    Silver Thursday was an event that occurred in the United States silver commodity markets on Thursday, March 27, 1980, following the attempt by brothers Nelson Bunker Hunt, William Herbert Hunt and Lamar Hunt to corner the silver market. A subsequent steep fall in silver prices led to panic on commodity and futures exchanges.


    • 2Climax
    • 3Stock market reaction
    • 4Aftermath
    • 5See also
    • 6Notes
    • 7Further reading


    Nelson Bunker Hunt, Lamar Hunt, and William Herbert Hunt, the sons of Texas oil billionaire Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, Jr., had for some time been attempting to corner the market in silver. In 1979, the price for silver (based on the London Fix) jumped from $6.08 per troy ounce ($0.195/g) on January 1, 1979, to a record high of $49.45 per troy ounce ($1.590/g) on January 18, 1980, an increase of 713%. The brothers were estimated to hold one third of the entire world supply of silver (other than that held by governments). The situation for other prospective purchasers of silver was so dire that on March 26, 1980, the jeweller Tiffany's took out a full page ad in The New York Times, condemning the Hunt Brothers and stating "We think it is unconscionable for anyone to hoard several billion, yes billion, dollars' worth of silver and thus drive the price up so high that others must pay artificially high prices for articles made of silver".[1]

    On January 7, 1980, in response to the Hunts' accumulation, the exchange rules regarding leverage were changed; COMEX adopted "Silver Rule 7", which placed heavy restrictions on the purchase of commodities on margin. The Hunt brothers had borrowed heavily to finance their purchases, and, as the price began to fall again, dropping over 50% in just four days, they were unable to meet their obligations, causing panic in the markets.


    The Hunt brothers had invested heavily in futures contracts through several brokers, including the brokerage firm Bache Halsey Stuart Shields, later Prudential-Bache Securities and Prudential Securities. When the price of silver dropped below their minimum margin requirement, they were issued a margin call for $100 million. The Hunts were unable to meet the margin call, and, with the brothers facing a potential $1.7 billion loss, the ensuing panic was felt in the financial markets in general, as well as commodities and futures. Many government officials feared that if the Hunts were unable to meet their debts, some large Wall Street brokerage firms and banks might collapse.[2]

    To save the situation, a consortium of US banks provided a $1.1 billion line of credit to the brothers which allowed them to pay Bache which, in turn, survived the ordeal. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) later launched an investigation into the Hunt brothers, who had failed to disclose that they in fact held a 6.5% stake in Bache.[3]

    Stock market reaction

    This day marked the end of a large stock market correction that year.


    The Hunts lost over a billion dollars through this incident, but the family fortunes survived. They pledged most of their assets, including their stake in Placid Oil, as collateral for the rescue loan package they obtained. However, the value of their assets (mainly holdings in oil, sugar, and real estate) declined steadily during the 1980s, and their estimated net wealth declined from $5 billion in 1980 to less than $1 billion in 1988.[4]

    In 1988, the brothers were found responsible for civil charges of conspiracy to corner the market in silver. They were ordered to pay $134 million in compensation to a Peruvian mineral company that had lost money as a result of their actions. This forced the brothers to declare bankruptcy, in one of the biggest such filings in Texas history.[5]

    See also

    • Silver as an investment
    • Sumitomo copper affair
    • State Reserves Bureau copper scandal
    • List of trading losses


    1. ^ "He Has a Passion for Silver". TIME Magazine. April 7, 1980. Retrieved August 6, 2009.
    2. ^ "Bunker's Busted Silver Bubble". TIME Magazine. May 12, 1980. Retrieved August 6, 2009.
    3. ^ "The Hunts are on the Hunt". TIME Magazine. April 14, 1980. Retrieved August 6, 2009.
    4. ^ "Big Bill for a Bullion Binge". TIME Magazine. August 29, 1989. Retrieved August 6, 2009.
    5. ^ "Billionaire Bankrupts". TIME Magazine. October 3, 1988. Retrieved August 6, 2009.

    Further reading

    • Fay, Stephen (1982). Great Silver Bubble. ISBN 978-0-340-33033-3
    • Jerry W. Markham (2002) A financial history of the United States: From the age of derivatives into the new millennium : (1970–2001), , volume 3, M.E. Sharpe, ISBN 978-0-7656-0730-0