Adam B. Gunn, Olympic Silver Medalist

"Aut Pax aut bellum"- either peace or war, motto of the Gunn Clan

It is December, 1929. Wind driven sleet snaps electric lines in Buffalo, New York as thousands of frantic calls jam the switchboard of the local power company. A supervisor works 72 hours with little rest and helps restore electric power to the city by Christmas morning. He is Olympic silver medal winner Adam Beattie Gunn, and Christmas eve is his birthday.

Adam Gunn was born about 10pm, December 24 1872 in the northern Scottish town of Golspie. He was the younger of two sons in a large family headed by its athletically minded father John Forseyth Gunn. The Gunn Clan traces its roots to the earliest known people in Scotland, as well as Viking invaders. Such colorful characters as "Olaf the Black" and "Sweyn the Pirate" enliven the family history. No wonder Young Adam set out for a life of adventure.

As a youth he competed at lawn bowling and various contests of strength. In 1886 he climbed nearby Mount Vraggie (Ben Bhraggie to the Scots), with mischief on his mind and a chisel in his hand. His target was the controversial memorial built in the mid 1800’s to George Granville Leveson-Gower, the immensely wealthy and immensely despised First Duke of Sutherland.

As did many Scotsmen before him, Adam B. Gunn left his native land as a young adult, and headed for North America. In 1893 he found work at the General Electric power company in Buffalo. Soon the entire area was abuzz with tales of his athletic prowess. Boxing, Wrestling, Track and Field, the 154 pound Adam Gunn excelled at them all, and took special delight in defeating the large, hulking opponents who challenged him.

Gunn’s strong suit was the all-around competition, which later evolved into the modern decathlon. In the all-around, 10 events were held in one day with little time to rest in between. The events were; the 100 yard dash, shot put, high jump, walking race (880 yards), hammer throw, pole vault, 120 yard high hurdles, 56 pound weight throw, broad jump and one mile run. Under the auspices of the Amateur Athletic Union, Gunn took first place in the U.S. championships in 1901 and 1902. The 1901 title was won in his adopted home town of Buffalo, NY site of that year’s Pan-American exposition.

Adam Gunn headed for St Louis for the 1904 Olympic “all around” contest. His strongest challenge would come from Tom Kiely of Ireland, who would go on to win 70 championships in high level athletic competitions. Rounding out the field were; reigning U.S. all-around champion Ellery Clark, along with Truxton Hare, John Holloway and Max Emmerich. Adam Gunn had a window of opportunity for a gold medal as Keily posted poor results in the first three events, including dead last in the 100 yard dash. But wins in the 880 yard walking race, hammer throw, 120 yard high-hurdles, 56 pound weight throw and broad jump gave Keily an unbeatable score of 6,036 points. Gunn took the silver with 5,907, Truxton Hare’s 5,813 was good for a bronze medal.

For at least 39 years Gunn continued working at the power company, as a superintendent of repairs and as a “radio noise detective” using the latest equipment to find the sources of static on local radio receivers. Then the trail goes cold. I have not been able to find any information about Gunn after the early 1930’s.

Today, his hometown of Golspie, Scotland is a tourist destination, complete with historic sites, sandy beaches and legendary links golf course. And the statue to the First Duke of Sutherland? Its still there atop Mount Vraggie (er, excuse me, Ben Bhraggie) and it still causes hard feelings. Many would like to see the memorial to the Duke removed, (or even blown up), and replaced with a memorial to the people whose lives he they say he destroyed. Its the Duke, you see, who is still partly blamed by some residents for the cruel way farmers were thrown off the land during the “great highland clearance” in which the Gunn Clan lost vast land holdings.

So, if you are ever in Golspie, and you visit the aforementioned memorial, you may want to look closely at the base upon which the statue rests. Possibly, just possibly you may still see the place where, in 1886 a Scottish lad defaced the memorial by carving into it his own name...Adam Beattie Gunn.


pg 82 the Olympic Century, volume 4 by Carl A. Posey, copyright bythe IOC, USOC and WSRP, published by World Sport Research and Publications Robert G. Rossi publisher..."son of the heather and son of a gunn is he" buffalo times newspaper, 2-7-1932 byline Joe Cummiskey..."radio 'noise finders' rout static", Buffalo Times newspaper 5-17-1931 byline Vernon Bundy...Gunn Clan on line April 2004...Scottish heirlooms on line"undiscoverd Scotland" on line publication"golf travel Scotland" on line at gazetter of Scotland on line at

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