A three-time Democratic presidential nominee, Bryan was born on March 19, 1860 in Salem, Illinois and attended college, studied law and began a legal practice in Illinois before moving to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1887. Bryan was elected to Congress in 1890, re-elected in 1892, but lost his bid for a U.S. Senate seat in 1894. In 1896, Bryan received the Democratic presidential nomination from a bitterly divided Democratic Party, which was split between the gold Democrats, led by Grover Cleveland, and free-silver advocates. Although he lost the election of 1896, he received the Democratic presidential nomination for the second time in 1900, but he lost the election. For the third time, Bryan received the Democratic presidential nomination in 1908 and again lost the election. When Woodrow Wilson became president in 1912, Bryan was appointed Secretary of State, but he resigned his position in 1915 at odds with the Wilson administration over the United States’ involvement in World War I. After leaving public office, Bryan focused on his traditionalist ideals, and in 1925, he served as a prosecution lawyer in the Scopes Trial, which he won. He died a week later on July 26, 1925.

Bryan had developed an early connection with the City of Mission, Texas. In 1910, to avoid the bitter winters in Lincoln, Nebraska, Bryan built his home in Mission. He had arrived in 1909 with his family at the urging of John Conway. It became common for Bryan to give speeches and lectures in the surrounding area. Many nicknamed Bryan “the Great Commoner.” After returning to Washington, D.C., to serve as Secretary of State, Bryan sold his home in Mission and never returned to the area.