Biography of Hon. James Gunn

To the energetic natures and strong mentality of such men as James Gunn, member of congress from Idaho, is due the success and ever increasing prosperity of the Populist party in this state, and in the hands of this class of citizens there is ever assurance that the best interests and welfare of the party will be attended to. resulting in a successful culmination of the highest ambitions and expectations entertained by its adherents. Given to the prosecution of active measures in political affairs, and possessing the earnest purpose of placing their party beyond the pale of possible diminution of power, the Populist leaders in Idaho are ever advancing, carrying everything before them in their irresistible onward march. Certainly one of the most potent elements in the success of the Populist movement in Idaho is James Gunn, who throughout his life has been a loyal citizens, imbued with patriotism and fearless in defense of his honest convictions. Through the long years of the civil war he followed the Union banners on southern battle-fields, and today, just as fearlessly and just as loyally, he is advocating in the halls of congress and before the people the principles which he believes will best advance the welfare of the nation. Such is the man whose life history forms the theme of this article.

Mr. Gunn was born on the 6th of March 1843. His parents were John Gunn and Mary (Kerns) Gunn, the former of whom died before the war of the Rebellion. The mother survived him for many years and was almost a centenarian at the time of her death. James Gunn is the eldest of their four children. He attended the public schools, also acquiring an academic education, and began to earn his own living by working as a farm hand, at eight dollars per month. He saved all of his money and used it in the acquirement of an education. In this way he fitted himself for school-teaching, and after pursuing that profession for a time he became imbued with a desire to study law. With him to will has ever been to do, and accordingly he entered the office of Judge Mills, of Grant County, Wisconsin, under whose direction he read law until 1862, when, feeling that his country needed his services, he put aside all personal considerations and responded to the president’s call for troops. In August of that year he joined Company G, Twenty-seventh Wisconsin Infantry. He participated in the siege of Vicksburg and in the operations that drove Price out of Little Rock, Arkansas. He was afterward transferred to the Department of the Gulf, and was connected with the expedition against Mobile, participating in the siege of that city. He was on duty the night the Confederates evacuated the fortifications, and after the close of operations in southern Alabama, he joined the army that was massed on the banks of the Rio Grande River for the purpose of overawing the French in Mexico. In October 1862, he was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant, and at Fish River, Alabama, in March, 1865 was made captain. He served until October of that year, when he was honorably discharged. He made for himself a most honorable military record. Always found at his post of duty, fearlessly discharging every task assigned to him, he battled earnestly for the cause of the Union, and today deserves the thanks of a grateful people for what he and his comrades in arms did for the nation.

After the war Mr. Gunn removed to Colorado, where he resided during the early days of its territorial existence, becoming an important factor in its development and improvement, and where he was associated with some of the most important enterprises connected with the opening up of that country to settlement. He assisted in building some of the first wagon roads across the crest of the Rocky Mountains by this means establishing communication between the eastern and western sections of the state. He served as mayor of Georgetown, Colorado, for four years and was one of the committee that drew up the charter for that city. In 1875 he removed to Virginia City, Nevada, visited various places in California and was finally attracted to Idaho by the Wood River silver excitement in 1881-82. He thus became one of the pioneers of the Wood River valley, and in many ways aided in advancing civilization and progress in that part of the state.

In 1890 Mr. Gunn was elected a member of the Idaho senate from Alturas County and served on several important committees. He was an active adherent of the Republican Party and its principles until 1892, when, on account of the position taken by the party on the money question, at the Minneapolis national convention, he severed his connection therewith and became one of the organizers of the Populist Party in Idaho. He was nominated for congress at the first state convention held by the party. At that convention but six counties were represented, but though the contest was known to be a hopeless one from the beginning Mr. Gunn made a strong canvass, speaking in nearly every precinct in the state, with much power and earnestness. In 1894 he was again nominated by the Populists for congress, and materially increased his vote over that of the previous election, but was again defeated. In 1896 a union was effected between the Populists and Democrats, at which time he was once more nominated for congress and was elected, carrying the state by a plurality of forty-five hundred votes, there being but twenty-nine thousand votes cast in the state. He has recently completed his first term and the people of his state have no reason to regret that they chose him as their representative. When the Populist Party was organized it was clearly seen that in order to win success it should have an organ to voice its sentiments and advocate its principles; accordingly the “Sentinel” was launched upon the journalistic sea. This was a mere venture. Work was begun on a small scale, for there was no strongly organized party back of it and no capital save that contributed by the people, many of whom were poor in purse, but rich in principles and in the sublime faith that these would finally triumph. Captain Gunn early became associated with the Sentinel as its editor, and continued his connection there-with until his election to congress, in 1896. Owing to his untiring efforts and his signal ability as an editorial writer the paper was carried through the critical period and became a recognized force in the politics of the state, its influence on the political mind being immeasurable. The Captain is thoroughly honest in his convictions and is an earnest and fearless champion of what he believes to be right. He is eloquent and convincing in argument and has made an excellent record in congress, while his true manhood and many admirable qualities have made him popular in Washington, as well as in Boise and the state of his adoption.


Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899.

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