Heritage, Volume 8, Number 4, Fall 1990 Page: 8
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The Celebration and Preservation of
the Cunningham Legacy
By Patricia Haas
L ight lifts the dark of another Texas
night. A man stands witness to this
dawn, this day, this ranch in Comanche
County. One hundred and fifty years ago,
James Cunningham watched the sun's
light spread over his land. Today, his greatgreat-grandson-F.
that same land as the day begins. Behind
him stands the ranch house of his greatgreat-grandparents,
which he and his wife
Ann purchased and lovingly restored.
This is the rich story of the celebration
and preservation of a legacy; the legacy of
James and Susannah Cunningham. It is a
tribute to the Texas pioneer spirit and to a
family that for over a hundred years has
gathered to celebrate its beginnings and
perpetuate the memory of its ancestors.
James Cunningham (1816-1894) and
Susannah Tate (1817-1899) married on
February 14, 1835 in Alabama. James, a
twin, had the fair skin and red hair of his
Scottish ancestors. Susannah had the dark
hair and deep black eyes of her Irish
mother. After they married, James served
in the army during the Florida Indian wars
and was discharged in 1838 from Fort
Payne, Alabama. Two of their childrenAaron
and Elizabeth-were born in
In 1839-40, the Cunninghams came to
the Republic of Texas and settled in the
Red River District. Ten more childrenDavid,
Richard, John, William, James,
Joseph, Thomas, George, Mary Jane, and
Unity Ann-were born in Texas. All
twelve children of James and Susannah
lived long lives.
The original 640-acre patent of the
Cunninghams was located in an area
which was eventually to become presentday
Morris County. James was stricken
with malaria in East Texas in the 1840s and
moved his family to several locations in
central Texas until 1855 when they moved
8 HERITAGE * FALL 1990
James and Susannah Cunningham.
Daguerreotype made no later than 1862.
Susie was noticeably pregnant. Her youngest child,
Unity Ann, was born December 21, 1862.
Photo courtesy of F. Lee Lawrence.
to what is now Comanche County and settled
on Mountain Creek, a tributary of the
South Leon River. At that time the area
was a wilderness referred to as "the upper
Leon River Country." Only ten or fifteen
families had previously settled there. The
Cunninghams and other widely scattered
settlers have been called the entering
wedge of Anglo-American occupation of
the plains. At the time the Cunninghams
built their house, they were the western
edge of Texas settlement since there were
no residences between them and El Paso.
The home they built there is the oldest
house still standing in Comanche County
and is a recorded Texas Historic Landmark.
They selected a beautiful valley and
built the house in the lowland so they could
dig a shallow water well and also have water
from the nearby creek for their stock
and domestic uses. Livestock ran on the
open range making it necessary to fence
the cultivated fields to protect crops. There
wasn't sufficient rail timber but they had a
high hill covered with stone, so they built
stone fences after the style of those in
Ireland, Scotland, and Yorkshire. James
was not pleased with the first rock fence
built; he had it torn down and rebuilt by
young John Bryson in 1870s. Bryson later
became the largest landowner in the
county. Still evident today are remnants of
the old stone fences serving as a reminder
of the abundance of stone as building and
fencing material in the early days of Central
James and his sons began construction
of the house, a typical southern home consisting
of two rooms connected by a breezeway,
while the family camped on Mountain
Creek. The framing of the house is
hand-hewn cedar poles and logs. The lap
siding is rough-hewn yellow pine believed
to have been brought in by ox wagon from
Waco. It was even used as a schoolhouse in
1862 and again in 1863.
The stone kitchen was built in about
1873 by a stone mason named Rosser to replace
the original log kitchen.Greek Revival
cornices graced the outside of the
kitchen. The stone was quarried on the
ranch and the chimney is built inside the
wall of the house after the style of the
Europeans. The rafters and upper portion
of the room were blackened with black
walnut stain to hide smudge marks and
other discolorations. The three stone fire
places are regarded as the most unusual
architectural feature of the house.
The hardy Cunningham clan became
one of the most vigorous and influential in
Comanche County. The Comanche newspapers
have claimed that more sheriffs
came out of this family than perhaps any
other in the United States. The Cunninghams
gained greatest fame in Central
Texas as aggressive and fearless Indian
fighters. With the onset of depredations by
the Comanches against the Northwest
Texas frontier settlements in the late
1850s Comanche County was "in great
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 8, Number 4, Fall 1990, periodical, Autumn 1990; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45429/m1/8/: accessed August 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.