WILLIS ARNOLD GORMAN was born January 12, 1816 in Flemingsburg, Kentucky. His family moved to Bloomington, Indiana where he studied law at Indiana University. He held appointed positions in the Indiana Senate before being elected to the Indiana House of Representatives in 1841. When the Mexican War broke out, he enlisted and was appointed a major and would be promoted to the rank of colonel in the Third Indiana Regiment. After the war he was elected to the US House of Representatives and served from 1849-1853. He supported Franklin Pierce for president and, when Pierce won the election, Gorman was rewarded with the governorship of the Minnesota Territory.
Gorman took his responsibilities seriously as governor. He also served as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the territory and in that capacity negotiated important treaties with the Sioux and Ojibwe nations.
It was during Gorman's tenure that a bill was introduced that would have moved the capital from St. Paul to St. Peter. This was a move that Gorman favored, as he had stock in the St. Peter Company and the company had promised to fund the construction of all necessary government buildings if the capital was moved. The bill passed both houses of the legislature, but the chairman of the committee in charge of the bill, Joseph Rolette Jr, disappeared and took the bill with him. He - and the bill - could not be found before the end of the legislative session so the bill could not be signed, and the capital remained in St. Paul!
At the end of his term as governor in 1857, Gorman remained in St Paul and opened a law practice. As a delegate to the constitutional convention, he helped draft the compromise that would become Minnesota's constitution (although he broke his cane over a Republican adversary's head during the heated negotiations). In 1859, he was elected to the state's legislature.
When the Civil War broke out, Gorman enlisted in the 1st Minnesota Volunteers, accepting the rank of colonel. His leadership during the Battle of Bull Run led to his promotion to the rank of Brigadier General in October of 1861. He commanded his troops in some of the bloodiest battles of the war, and retired from the service in 1864.
After the war, Gorman returned to his law practice in St. Paul. In 1869 he became St. Paul's city attorney and held that position until his death on May 20, 1876.