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f/8 and Be There
Fred Lynch

The Great Commerce Lion Hunt

Posted Wednesday, October 17, 2012, at 12:00 AM

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On Oct. 17, 1932, Denver M. Wright of St. Louis, formerly of Cape Girardeau, organized a lion hunt on a small island in the Mississippi River off Commerce, Mo., a few miles south of Cape Girardeau.

The Missourian reported that hundreds of spectators lined the Missouri shore and others waited in boats near the island for a closer view. While the hunting party was at dinner and making plans for the hunt, five men including the deputy sheriff of Scott County launched a boat toward the island. The lions were shot, with the deputy sheriff claiming they constituted a menace to the people and livestock of the area.

Wright was interviewed by Sally Wright Owen for a story published in the Southeast Missourian on Jan. 8, 1971. At 81 years old, he was described as a sportsman-millionaire industrialist who made his own adventures, seeking out big game and primitive peoples on every continent of the world.

Back in 1932, during the Depression, Mr. Wright saw an advertisement, "lions for sale," from a firm in Des Moines, Iowa.

"The idea hit me well," he said. "I could have my own African lion hunt at home." So he ordered two of the beasts, paying $200, which included free delivery to St. Louis. "It was the Depression, and then it was tough to even feed a pair of lions," he noted.

Oct. 18, 1932 Southeast Missourian, excerpt:

Four hours after the beasts, circus born and bred, hopped from their cages and, frightened, loped off through the brush of the island, they were slain by a spattering rain of bullets from a sub-machine gun in the hands of a Scott County citizen.

It was revealed today that Tom Wise of Commerce was the actual slayer of the lions, although he was accompanied to the island by Deputy Sheriff Tom Hodgkiss and two newspaper reporters. The visit to the party evidently was first arranged as an expedition of exploration to determine the real danger, but confronted by the lions and with one dashing toward him, Wise, using a sub-machine gun, opened fire.

As it was the hunt was over with in short order.

Sharon Sanders presents more lion hunt coverage by the Southeast Missourian as well as her personal connection to it in her blog, From the Morgue.

G.D. Fronabarger talks about the lion hunt and his role in it. Watch an audio slideshow from an interview by Sally Wright Owen.

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(Reece Sanders provided the photos.)

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