Henry F. Ashurst : biography
Henry Fountain Ashurst (September 13, 1874 – May 31, 1962) was an American Democratic politician and one of the first two Senators from Arizona. Largely self-educated, he served as a district attorney and member of the Arizona Territorial legislature before fulfilling his childhood ambition of joining the United States Senate. During his time in the Senate, Ashurst was chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs and the Judiciary Committee.
Called "the longest U.S. theatrical engagement on record" by Time, Ashurst's political career was noted for a self-contradictory voting record, the use of a sesquipedalian vocabulary, and for a love of public speaking that earned him a reputation as one of the Senate's greatest orators. Among the sobriquets assigned to him were "the Dean of Inconsistency", "Five-Syllable Henry", and the "Silver-Tongued Sunbeam of the Painted Desert".Johnson, pg 111
Ashurst was born on September 13, 1874 in a covered wagon near Winnemucca, Humboldt County, Nevada to William and Sarah Ashurst, the second of ten children. His family moved to a ranch near Williams, Arizona when he was two, and he attended school in Flagstaff.Johnson, pg 114 At the age of ten he showed his ambition to be a Senator by writing "Henry Fountain Ashurst, U.S. Senator from Arizona" into a speller. After dropping out of school at the age of thirteen, he worked as a cowboy on his father's ranch.
At the age of nineteen, Ashurst was made the turnkey at the county jail in Flagstaff. While working at the jail, he developed an interest in the law by reading Blackstone's Commentaries. He later worked at a local lumber yard and studied law at night. In 1895 he worked as a lumberjack in the Los Angeles area and as a hod carrier in San Francisco. Following a brief return to Flagstaff, Ashurst enrolled at Stockton Business College (now Humphreys College), and graduated in 1896. Ashurst was admitted to the bar in 1897 and began a law practice in Williams. He completed his formal education with a year at University of Michigan Law School beginning in 1903.
In 1904 Ashurst married Elizabeth McEvoy Reno, an Irish-born widow with four children from her first marriage. She had moved to Flagstaff with her children to establish and manage a Weather Bureau station. She served as his political advisor for the rest of her life. Mrs. Ashurst died on November 1, 1939.
During his farewell speech in the Senate, Ashurst indicated his intention to retire to Arizona, saying, "When you are here worrying about patronage, worrying about committee assignments, worrying about bills, I shall possibly be enjoying the ecstasy of the starry stillness of an Arizona desert night, or enjoying the scarlet glory of her blossoming cactus, and possibly I may be wandering through the Petrified Forest in Arizona." But instead of going home, he accepted a position on the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals, serving from April 8, 1941 till his retirement on February 28, 1943.
After his retirement, Ashurst lived in Washington, D.C., devoting his time to classical poetry and public speaking. He also made several public appearances. Ashurst was a contestant on the television game show The $64,000 Question; he missed a question, but received a Cadillac car as a consolation prize. He also made a cameo appearance in the film Advise and Consent, in the role of "Senator McCafferty". Ashurst suffered a stroke on May 15, 1962 and was admitted to Georgetown University Hospital where he died on May 31, 1962.
Ashurst kept a journal from June 1910 to July 27, 1937 which contains pen portraits of several fellow Senators. The journal was edited by George F. Sparks and published in 1962 under the title A Many Colored Toga.
Ashurst was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives in 1897. He was re-elected in 1899, and became the territory's youngest speaker. In 1902, he was elected to the Territorial Senate. He served as district attorney of Coconino County from 1905 to 1908, when he moved to Prescott, Arizona.
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