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Thomas Montague Gunter (1826–1904)

Thomas Montague Gunter was a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives. From 1874 to 1883, he represented first the Third District of Arkansas and then later, due to redistricting, the Fourth District. His service began in the Forty-Third Congress and extended through the Forty-Seventh Congress.

Thomas M. Gunter was born on September 18, 1826, near McMinnville, Tennessee. The son of John Gunter and Lavina Thomason Gunter, he pursued classical studies and graduated from Irving College in Tennessee in 1850. After graduation, he taught school for a year in Alabama. With his earnings, he began to study law, a course he continued when he moved to Arkansas in 1852. There, he began to work and study under a relative, Fayetteville (Washington County) attorney H. F. Thomason. Completing his apprenticeship under Thomason, Gunter was admitted to the Arkansas bar in 1854.

On December 4, 1854, Gunter married Marcella Jackson. She died in 1858, leaving behind a son, Julius. Gunter later married Jennie Bragg; they had two children: a son, Walker, and a daughter, Gertrude.

Gunter’s legal practice soon began to take root, and he served as the prosecuting attorney for the ten counties of northwestern Arkansas. As tensions between North and South increased, Gunter served as a delegate to the state’s secession convention. After the state seceded and the Civil War broke out, Gunter left his legal practice and joined the Confederate army, enlisting as a member of the Arkansas State Militia. Over the course of the war, he advanced through the military ranks, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel.

After the war, Gunter served as the prosecuting attorney for the Fourth Judicial District of Arkansas from 1866 to 1868. After a brief return to private practice, Gunter sought a seat in the House of Representatives. The election of 1872 was hard fought and controversial, with William Wallace Wilshire originally declared the winner. While Wilshire assumed the seat when Congress convened in March 1873, Gunter challenged the November 1872 result, and after a lengthy review by the Committee on Elections, he was declared the winner and rightful occupant of the seat, ultimately taking the oath on June 16, 1874. He then went to Washington DC to assume his place in the House.

At the same time, the Brooks-Baxter War, an intra-party Republican battle, was breaking out in Arkansas. Despite some criticism, the Democrat Gunter opted to stay on the sidelines. Ultimately, the Republican establishment restored peace, with Elisha Baxter declared as the legitimate governor of Arkansas.

Later in 1874, Gunter was reelected to the House, but this time, as a result of redistricting, it was as the representative for the Fourth District. Interestingly, Gunter’s bid for reelection had been boosted by support from his former political adversary, William Wallace Wilshire, who, after the Brooks-Baxter debacle, had switched parties and was elected as a Democrat from the Third District.

A member of the Committee on Land Claims, Gunter served as chairman for much of his tenure. H also was a member of the Committee on Indian Affairs.

After spending almost a decade in Congress but then receiving less than forty-five percent of the vote in the three-man 1880 race, Gunter decided not to seek re-election in 1882. He returned home to Fayetteville, where he resumed his legal practice. He also devoted his energies to some long-time agricultural interests, becoming a successful breeder of both Jersey cattle and Southdown sheep. Gunter also built and operated a large flour mill at Siloam Springs (Benton County).

Gunter died on January 12, 1904, and is interred in Evergreen Cemetery.

For additional information:
History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.

“Political Speaking.” Morning Republican (Little Rock, Arkansas), November 1, 1872, p. 2.

“Thomas Montague Gunter.” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=G000527 (accessed May 13, 2014).

“Thomas M. Gunter.” Arkansas Gazette, October 20, 1874, p. 1.

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School

Last Updated 6/23/2014

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