JOHN THOMPSON CUNNINGHAM, the old soldier and efficient postmaster of Graham, represents Young county settlers of the era of the early seventies and is passing his twenty-seventh year of his citizenship here. Texas made his acquaintance in 1873 and between Brownsville and Graham more than half the span of his years has been passed.
Like many young soldiers of the Civil War, Mr. Cunningham wandered away from home ties a few years subsequent to the close of the struggle and sought fame or fortune in a new and untried country. His somewhat brief career as a nomad started from Jones county, Iowa, in 1866, at which time he went down into Newton county, Missouri, and tried the hill country of that land as a farmer for a year. He then drifted into Central Kansas and at Wichita secured employment about the stock yards of the Santa Fe Railway Company, at Wichita and in time became superintendent of the same, but in the employ of Shanghi Pierce, a once noted stockman of the Lone Star state. While in Wichita he made the acquaintance of John McAllen, an Englishman with large cattle interests on the Rio Grande river, and was employed by him to bring two thousand head of cattle from the Texas ranch to Lincoln, Nebraska.
When Mr. Cunningham had reached the Rio Grande ranch and reported ready to start on his return with the stock, Mr. McAllen’s failure to sell his cattle at the price he expected caused that nabob to abrogate his part of the contract and our subject was set adrift in a strange country to shift for himself. He declined a menial position on the Englishman’s ranch at Santa Nita and the first thing that presented itself was a position as a teacher in the public schools. He passed the necessary examination at Brownsville and taught a three months’ term there in the court house of the county. Next, he got into the government service cutting hay to supply Fort Brown at Brownsville, Fort Ringold in Star county, Texas, Hidalgo and Santa Marie in Cameron county, where the ranch was located. He remained some three years, and while in this region he married. Having decided to retrace his steps toward the North, he crossed Young county en route and was induced by the prospects of the year 1878 and the general promise of that then frontier country to locate and his permanent citizenship in the state and his residence in the county dates from that time.
John T. Cunningham was born in Delaware county, Ohio, August to, 1844. His was an early family to the settlement along the Scioto in Delaware county, for his father, Robert Cunningham, was born there in 1815. The latter was a son of a Scotch-Irishman, a carpenter and the husband of Isabel Kincaid, who died in Delaware county leaving children, John T. and Isabel, wife of T. H. Reeves, of Tulsa, Indian Territory. In 1849 Mr. Cunningham, Sr., responded to the forty-nine call to the Eldorado of the Pacific and died some time after reaching his destination.
Having been left an orphan at so young an age John T. Cunningham was taken by Gilbert Potter, who reared him to maturity and looked after his physical and mental welfare as efficiently as his ability and the circumstances of the times would permit. In 1854 Mr. Potter moved out to Jones county, Iowa, where the scenes of the farm afterward greeted him and where the log school house did its part in the training of our subject’s youthful mind.
In July, 1862, Mr. Cunningham enlisted in Company B, Twenty-fourth Iowa Infantry, Captain W. F. Rigby and Colonel Byam‘s regiment, and for the first year or more served in the Western Department of the Union army. He participated in the Coldwater expedition to Mississippi, in the Vicksburg campaign and siege and up Red River with General Banks and back to New Orleans. Here the regiment was shipped to Washington, D. C., and from there joined Sheridan in his Virginia campaign and fought at Winchester and Cedar Creek. Following this service the command was sent to Savannah, Georgia, from where it joined in the closing scenes of the war in North Carolina, participating in the last stand made by the enemy at Goldsboro, North Carolina.
Returning to Savannah with his regiment Mr. Cunningham was discharged in August, 1865, reached Washington by ship and attended the Grand Review of the Federal armies there the following month.
Returning home after an absence of three years, Mr. Cunningham resumed civil life as a farmer. For five years he directed his efforts toward the vocation of his boyhood and in 1866 he yielded to a desire to find new scenes and work out his destiny among new friends and he set out on his nomadic career. Settling in Young county, Mr. Cunningham located on a farm eight miles east of Graham and passed two years there. He then took up his residence in the city and engaged in house painting here, in the main, until his final appointment to the mail service of the government.
Mr. Cunningham married, in Cameron county, Texas, Miss Ida J. Handy, who came to Texas from Eagle, Wisconsin, and was a daughter of C. C. Handy, a New York man, who died at Brownsville, Texas, in 1875. Mr. Handy married Miss Eliza Hiltz and Mrs. Cunningham, Mrs. Nellie Daugherty, of Hidalgo, Texas, and Milton S. Handy, of Waco, are the issue of their union. Mrs. Cunningham was born in 1854, and is the mother of Belle, wife of T. E. Matthews, of Graham, with children, Joe Lee and Edgar Doke; Olive Maud, wife of H. G. Arnold, assistant postmaster of Graham, with children, Maud and John Henry; John M., who died at eighteen years; Lue Ella and Ben Harrison.
Mr. Cunningham served Graham as deputy United States marshal for several years in the eighties, and being of the right political faith Mr. McKinley appointed him postmaster of the town in 1897 to succeed G. H. Crozier and he was reappointed by President Roosevelt in 1902. He is an Odd Fellow, a Republican and a member of Rosseau Post, G. A. R., No. 60. He is adjutant of the post and is judge advocate on the staff of John L. Boyd, commander of the Department of Texas.
Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. I, pp. 669-670.