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Bradley Bunch was a longtime Arkansas legislator, Carroll County judge, and the first historian of Carroll County. In addition, he is known as the fourth-great uncle of Barack Hussein Obama, the forty-fourth president of the United States, whom he markedly resembles.
Bradley Bunch was born on December 9, 1818, in Overton County, Tennessee, the eighth child of Captain Nathaniel Bunch and Sally Wade Ray Bunch of Virginia. Between 1838 and 1841, his father, a “farmer-blacksmith-mechanic,” moved with his family in stages to Carroll County, Arkansas, settling on the headwaters of Osage Creek near Dinsmore in what subsequently became Newton County. Bunch’s sister Anna (1814–1893) married Samuel Thompson Allred in Tennessee prior to the move; this couple became the great-great-great-great (fourth-great) grandparents of Obama. The family line continued through Frances Allred, Margaret Wright, Leona McCurry, Madelyn Payne, and Shirley Dunham, Obama’s mother.
Bunch married Jane Boswell in 1836 in Tennessee. The couple moved to what was then Carroll County, probably in the fall of 1838. Following the creation of Newton County in 1842, Bunch moved within the new boundaries of Carroll County, where he resided for the remainder of his life. Although he had acquired in his youth “an ordinary business education,” he engaged in farming. His first public office was justice of the peace, which he held from 1848 to 1854. He became an associate justice of the county court in 1850, holding that office before being elected to the Tenth Arkansas General Assembly’s lower house in 1854. Successively reelected, he was chosen as speaker in 1860. During the Civil War, members of his family took the Confederate side. Bunch was elected to the state Senate in 1862, but “military disturbances” (as he phrased it) prevented full participation, although he attended the special session held in Washington (Hempstead County) in the fall of 1864. He served briefly on the staff of Cocke’s Regiment of Arkansas Infantry before being captured on March 29, 1863. He was discharged from the military prison in St. Louis, Missouri, in July 1863.
After the war’s end, Carroll County voters again sent Bunch to the lower house of the Sixteenth Arkansas General Assembly, where he was chosen again as speaker. Disfranchised, as were many Confederates, by the adoption of the constitution of 1868, he returned in 1874 when he represented Carroll County at the constitutional convention that ended Reconstruction. In the subsequent election, he was elected to the state Senate of the Twentieth Arkansas General Assembly, where he became the president pro tempore (which made him next in line to the governor, the constitution of 1874 having abolished the office of lieutenant governor). “He presides with ease and dignity, and with the utmost impartiality,” the Arkansas Gazette observed on November 4, 1874. He was reelected to the Twenty-first Arkansas General Assembly in 1876 but did not serve as its president. The same year, he composed a history of Carroll County for the nation’s centennial. Besides including much political information, he also discussed the county’s agricultural and business history. The Carrollton Bowlder declared him the newspaper’s choice for governor in 1876, but nothing came of this endorsement or another in 1880. He is “an old politician of large experience in deliberative bodies and thoroughly acquainted with parliamentary law and usages,” the Arkansas Gazette noted on June 3, 1880. Three years later, his name again surfaced, the Carroll County Intelligencer observing that Bunch “would make a model governor, and our people would be proud to see him elevated to that position.” Instead, in 1887 he was appointed to fill a vacancy as county judge and then elected to the position, holding it until 1892.
Bunch attained considerable notoriety when Little Rock (Pulaski County) newspaperman Opie Read filed an erroneous report that the cannon in front of the State House, known as Lady Baxter, had been hit by lightning that ignited a long-forgotten charge. A cannonball had been propelled two miles out of town, hitting and killing a man on horseback. Read reported that the dead man’s name was “Bradly Bunch.” Read devoted an entire chapter in his memoirs I Remember (1930) to the event, recalling how he had been summoned to former governor Henry Massie Rector’s home, where he encountered the very much living Bunch, whereupon the three sat down to liquid refreshment, “log-distilled away back in 1812, sworn statement.”
The Bunches were the parents of at least twelve children; two died in childhood, and two sons died during the Civil War. Bunch was a Mason and, with his wife, a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
Bunch died on July 31, 1894, but no record of his passing has been located in any existing newspaper. He is buried in the Bunch cemetery near Berryville (Carroll County).
For additional information:Dougan, Michael. “Legacies and Lunch Lecture: Barack Obama—The Arkansas Roots.” August 6, 2008. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.
History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.
Lair, Jim, ed. Carroll County Families: These Were the First. Berryville, AR: Carroll County Historical and Genealogical Society, Inc., 1991.
Read, Opie. I Remember. New York: Richard R. Smith, 1930.
Michael B. DouganJonesboro, Arkansas
Last Updated 1/25/2017
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