It seems like almost yesterday that Denver Wright sought to bring a bit of Africa to the veldt of Southeast Missouri. The owner of a specialty company in St. Louis and a member of the Brentwood Board of Education, Wright inherited two lions from a small circus that simply ran out of money.
Challenged by the expense and difficulty of maintaining two grown lions, unable to give them away, Wright came upon the idea of releasing them and then hunting them in a real live safari.
As Missouri had no big game, even very few deer at the time, Wright believed it would be fun and exciting and would promote the region as an excellent hunting area. His initial plan was to select a heavily wooded area in Mississippi County. He would release the lions in the late afternoon and begin the hunt early the next morning.
But when news of the hunt was publicized there was strong opposition. The Charleston Enterprise Courier called the plan, "foolish, intolerable." The sheriff of Mississippi County announced he would simply not allow it. The attorney general of the state chose not to enter the debate and the director of the state game and fish department said that Missouri laws did not pertain to lions. So the hunt was on.
Wright drove the lions to Benton, Missouri, on a Sunday evening in October of 1932. The following morning with a huge crowd in attendance, Nellie and Bess were released on an island in the Mississippi. But the eager hunters were denied their prey. While they were having lunch in Commerce, a deputy sheriff with a submachine gun slipped over to the island and killed the lions. Missouri's only safari was over.