Death of Sen. Key Pittman shocks Nevada

Nevada will pay final tribute Thursday afternoon to Sen. Key Pittman, who had served the Silver State longer than any other public official. Senior United States senator, death came to Senator Pittman early Sunday morning following a short illness. His thousands of friends were shocked at the news, for they were unaware of the serious nature of his illness.


From all parts of the world today came tribute to Senator Pittman, who, as president pro tempore of the senate and chairman of the senate foreign relations committee, was one of the most powerful figures in the United States government.

The services will be held Thursday afternoon in the civic auditorium, Gov. E. P. Carville having proclaimed it a state ceremony. Rev. Warren. L. Botkin, rector of Trinity Episcopal church, will officiate. Following the service, Senator Pittman’s body will be placed in a crypt.

One of the messages to be received by Mrs. Pittman came from President Roosevelt, who expressed his feeling loss.


From Washington, a special train, bearing members of congress, will arrive Thursday noon.

Speaker Rayburn announced in Washington today appointment of the following ten-man committee to attend the funeral of Senator Pittman:

Representative Bloom, Democrat, New York; Johnson, Democrat, Texas; Izac, Democrat, California; Fish, Republican, New York; Eaton, Republican, New Jersey; Scrugham of Nevada; Murdock, Democrat, Arizona; Robinson, Democrat, Utah; Keogh, Democrat, New York. The first five are members of the house foreign affairs committee.

A group of senators, headed by Senator George, Democrat, Georgia, who probably will be the new chairman of the foreign relations committee, arranged to leave Washington at 5:45 p.m. (EST) today to attend the Pittman funeral service.

Included in the group were Senators Hattie Caraway, Democrat, Arkansas; Green, Democrat, Rhode Island; Reynolds, Democrat, North Carolina; Connally, Democrat, Texas; and possibly McCarran of Nevada, Pittman’s colleague, who has been ill in Naval hospital here for the last two months.

Chesley Jurney, senate sergeant-at-arms, announced that Senators Adams, Democrat, Colorado, and O’Mahoney, Democrat, Wyoming, would join the group at Cheyenne, Wyo., adding that Senators Murray, Democrat, Montana, now in San Francisco, and Hatch, Democrat, New Mexico, would meet their colleagues in Reno.

Senator Pittman became ill during the final days of his sixth campaign for election to the senate and was taken to the Washoe general hospital last Monday. His condition was reported improved on Friday, but Saturday his heart weakened and he was placed under an oxygen tent.

In mid-evening his condition became critical. Mrs. Pittman remained at his bedside and his personal physician, Dr. A. J. “Bart” Hood and a staff of nurses were in constant attendance. A few close friends were notified of the senator’s condition. As the night advanced he became weaker, and at 11 o’clock Saturday night, hope was given up for his recovery.

The end came quietly at 12:15 o’clock Sunday morning. Mrs. Pittman was at his bedside. His brother Vail, Ely publisher, was en route to Reno at the time. Senator Pittman would have been sixty nine years old in January.


The Nevada national guard will form a guard of honor at the bier in the civic auditorium Wednesday where the body will rest in state until the funeral. The services will be open to the public.

Born at Vicksburg, Miss., on September 19, 1872, Senator Pittman received his elementary education from private teachers. He enrolled at the Southwestern university at Clarksville, Tenn., and was graduated in 1890.

Leaving his native state before he was twenty-one years old, he came west, settled in Seattle, and opened a law office with August M. Moore. When news of the Klondike gold discovery reached the States, he abandoned his law practice and set out for the Far North, arriving in Dawson, Alaska, in 1897.

In 1899 he went to Nome, where he was instrumental in the establishment of the consent form of government, in which residents agreed to the laws laid down by the group of officials who took charge of civic affairs during the winter months. In 1901, Senator Pittman was among the attorneys who aided the miners in their fight for their property, a situation which was described by the novelist, Rex Beach, in his book, “The Spoilers.” It was in Alaska Senator Pittman met and married Mimosa Gates.

Returning to the States in 1901, he went to Tonopah and established a law office in the flourishing mining town. He was general counsel for several mining companies in addition to being an official and stockholder.

Senator Pittman had never served the state in any political capacity except as United States senator.

His first entrance on the political field came in 1910 when the direct primary was first used in Nevada, the Tonopah attorney defeating C. H. McIntosh and James Sweeney for the Democratic nominations. George Nixon, the Republican incumbent, had no opposition.

While the nominees were selected that year by the direct primary system, the election of the senator was still in the hands of the legislature, and Pittman suggested to Senator Nixon that they allow their names to go on the general ballot and abide by the decision. Senator Nixon agreed and the vote went against Pittman, Nixon winning 9729 votes to 8624. The legislature was Democratic, but Pittman would not allow his name to be placed in nomination and Nixon was elected unanimously.

The action of Pittman was considered unique at that time, and the Republican minority in the legislature introduced a commendatory resolution praising him for his action.

Senator Nixon died in 1912 and Pittman again became a candidate on the Democratic ticket. Opposing him were William A Massey of Reno and Lester Summerfield, who ran as a progressive. Masey asked that they abide by the popular vote, which gave Pittman a margin of 89 and he was elected by the legislature to fill out Nixon’s unexpired term, taking office January 29, 1913, and serving continuously until his death here early Sunday morning.

In the following five campaigns, Senator Pittman demonstrated his ability as a vote getter. In 1916, in a three-cornered race, he defeated Samuel Platt, Reno Republican, and A. Grant Miller, socialist. The vote was Pittman 12,265, Platt 10,618 and Miller 1,905.

In the election of 1922, Pittman won by an even larger margin, defeating Charles C. Chandler, the Republican nominee, 18,201 to 10,678, a margin of 7,523 votes.

Despite the Hoover landslide of 1928, Pittman won. Meeting Platt for the second time, he came through with a majority of 6,101. The vote was 19,515 for Pittman and 13,414 for Platt.

With the advent of Roosevelt administration, Pittman became one of the staunch supporters of the New Deal and in the senatorial election of 1934 achieved his greatest triumph in Nevada, polling 13,308 more votes than his Republican opponent. The race that year was three cornered, John P. Reynolds running as an independent with George W. Malone the Republican nominee. Pittman’s total was 27,581 to 14,273 for Malone and 901 for Reynolds.

In his final campaign, Senator Pittman faced Platt for the third time. He was unopposed for the nomination on his own ticket and although unable to vote on election day because of his illness, defeated Platt by more than ten thousand votes.

During his tenure of office Senator Pittman was close to the administrations of Wilson and Roosevelt. In 1924 he was secretary of the committee on platform and resolutions at the Democratic national convention, and in 1928 he served as chairman of the committee.

In the summer of 1931 he visited China and made a study of the Chinese silver standard and its relation to trade between that country and the United States. The following year he represented the United States at the World Economic Conference which was held in London.

Surviving Senator Pittman besides his wife and brother Vail are two nephews, W. B. Pittman of Exeter, Calif., and Frank Pittman of Cambridge, Mass. A brother William, who was attorney-general of the Hawaiian Islands, died in Honolulu two years ago last month.

Fraternally Senator Pittman was a member of the Tonopah lodge No. 28, F. and A. M., Scottish Rite Bodies of Nevada, Mystic Shrine, and Reno lodge No. 597, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks

The Ross-Burke Company of Reno is in charge of arrangements.


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