Hon. Dennis W. C. Dunwell is one of the venerable and highly respected citizens of the County, is one of the prominent men and is also numbered with the earliest pioneers. He has done a giant’s part in developing the country, and while the wheel of fortune has several times badly turned him down, still after each backset, he showed the ability, the pluck, and the energy to rise and overcome the very things that brought disaster, and so obtained a good success out of his defeat.
He was born in Pleasant Valley, New York, on August 13, 1817, being the son of George and Orailia (Conklin) Dunwell. The father was a tailor, born in Massachusetts, in 1780, and died in 1836. The mother was born in Connecticut in 1782 and died in 1872. The parents went to Connecticut when our subject was an infant, settling in Salisbury. They remained there about twenty years. Then Dennis went to Michigan and sold stock and later taught school in New York, in Pennsylvania, and in Ohio.
In 1850, he came to St. Paul, Minnesota, and there did contracting and building. He formed a company, known as the Dunwell, Harthorn & Coulter Company, which dealt in grain and handled stock and did exceedingly well. During the crash of 1857, the company went down, Mr. Dunwell losing as much as two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Mr. Dunwell then came to Walla Walla, in 1862, with a mule team and later he was in Boise and other mining towns. He packed from Lewiston to Pierce City and Florence.
In 1867 he bought a ranch in the Sweetwater country. Through dishonesty of his partner, he was again stripped of his holdings, and his experiences about his time were exceedingly discouraging. His family came to him when he was thus depleted in finances. He took a position as secretary of Agent O’Neal, at Lapwai, then was elected assessor of Shoshone County in 1871 and was soon on his feet again. He then bought a farm on five mile prairie, returned to Lewiston to school his children, held the mail route from Lewiston to Pierce City for four years and bought the old Greer ferry. In 1876-7, he was the representative of Shoshone County in the territorial legislature at Boise. In the spring of 1877, the Indians broke out, burned his property, including the ferry, house and goods and so forth, and again, Mr. Dunwell was called to meet misfortune. He finally gathered the remnants of what was left, sold it, and later bought a ranch five miles east from Lewiston, which is still known as the Dunwell ranch, which he has deeded to his daughter. He is making his home now with his son-in-law, Walter A. Smith. Mr. Dunwell was also in the Minnesota legislature and was sheriff of Ramsey County. He owned two hundred and fifty acres where the fifth ward of St. Paul now is. Mr. Dunwell was a prominent man in St. Paul as he has been in this country and he has always manifested worthy ability and discretion while his integrity has never been questioned.
In 1853, Mr. Dunwell married Miss Mary B., daughter of Patrick Brennan, a wealthy man of Detroit, Michigan, where the wedding occurred. Mrs. Dunwell was born in Canada, on May 12, 1831. Mr. Dunwell has one sister, Mrs. Sarah Shears, in Massachusetts. Mr. and Mrs. Dunwell have two children, Dan, in Oro Fino; Mary W. Smith, at Lewiston. Our subject is a member of the Masons and has been for fifty-two years. He is the oldest member of the County and was granted an honorary membership in the St. Paul lodge without dues. He is also the oldest member of the Pioneer Association. Mr. Dunwell has a claim pending against the government for five thousand dollars for damages the Indians did in the war of 1877. He is a Democrat in political matters and has always manifested an intelligent interest in the affairs of government as well as in business.
Source: An Illustrated History of Northern Idaho, Embracing Nez Perce, Idaho, Latah, Kootenai and Shoshone Counties, Western Historical Publishing Company, 1903