Janice Williams

Tombstone Tuesday

In Gravestones, Newburg Cemetery, Tombstone Tuesday, Unity Ann Lewis on September 23, 2014 at 12:38 am

I think Unity Lewis, the youngest child of the Cunningham family, must have had a close relationship with her big brother John Valentine Cunningham. He was 16 years old when she was born, already out fighting Indians and making a name for himself. Two years later he was married and off on his own, but there had to be some extra relationship between them. I say that because, one, when he died in 1921 he was living in Abilene, but was visiting her in her home in Brownwood while on a fishing trip. I’m sure all the Cunninghams visited one another, but the fact that he visited her and died in her home stands out to me. And, two, she named her second son for him.

John Valentine Lewis was born July 15, 1884, and she named him after her big brother… even though he wasn’t born on Valentine’s Day like John had been.


John Valentine Lewis was born when Unity and James Russell Lewis still lived near Priddy, Texas, and were farmers. But when John and his 3 younger brothers were still young, Unity wanted the family to move to Brownwood so the boys would be able to get a better education. They moved to town and J.R. Lewis was an elected county official.

John Valentine Lewis married Gertie Grindstaff of Burnet July 3, 1904. He was 19, but she was just 16. They moved back to the family farm in Mills County and began their family. They had 5 children over the next 12 years. In 1910 they were still in Mills County farming, but by 1920 the family had moved east to Pottsville in Hamilton County and John was working as a ginner at the cotton gin (and probably farming, too).


Gertie is the woman in this picture, standing next to her father-in-law James Lewis. John is the taller young man in front of her. Is her hand resting on his shoulder lightly?

By the late 20s they had moved to San Angelo. John was working as a laborer for the highway department. These were very hard times and I wonder if they moved for a job or moved because other family members were in Tom Green County or because of John’s health. San Angelo had a reputation for its dry air and in the time of tuberculosis many people moved there in hopes of healing. That is a possibility because John Valentine Cunningham died Feb. 6, 1931, from meningitis and tuberculosis. He was only 46 years old.

When John died, 2 of their children were still under 20. I don’t know if their 2 older daughters were married or not. They may have still been living at home as well. Gertie was left with a family to take care of in the Depression. Before many years passed, she married a young soldier, Charles Murphy, and she is buried with him at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

We have lost touch with the John Valentine Lewis family, probably because the children lost touch with his family after their mother remarried. I have information on one descendant from one daughter and know that their youngest son, John Valentine Lewis, Jr., died very young at the State Hospital in Austin without descendants and is buried in the Oakwood Annex without a headstone.

But John Valentine Lewis is buried in the Newburg Cemetery by his mother and father and near so many other Cunninghams that he grew up among.


I think this picture was in 1928 when the family gathered for the parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.


Tombstone Tuesday

In Elizabeth Holmsley, T.J. Holmsley, Tombstone Tuesday on September 15, 2014 at 10:54 pm

I have begun a project where I’m researching the grandchildren of James and Susannah Cunningham more in depth. I began with the first grandchild, Mary Susannah Holmsley, the first child of Betty and T.J. Holmsley. But we’ll start with the end of her life and her gravestone in the Fairmount Cemetery in San Angelo.

Thank you to Steve Voss who has taken so many wonderful photos of our family gravestones in this cemetery for Findagrave.

While we think of the separate generations of the Cunningham family with the 12 “aunts” and “uncles” we refer to and then the 100 or so grandchildren, it is hard to remember that the generations are all muddled. George Washington Cunningham, the youngest boy in the family, was just a baby when Mary, the first grandchild, was born. And Mary was older than her own Aunt Mary Jane and Aunt Unity. So while it is easy to picture Susannah Cunningham being the doting grandmother, she was still the mother of babies and small children and certainly didn’t get to play the role of grandmother that most do today.

Mary Susannah Holmsley was born to the Cunningham’s oldest daughter Betty who was the first in the county to marry. Mary was born August 30, 1858. There is no clear indication of where she was born, but it looks like they were still living in Comanche County and she was possibly born in the old homestead.

The family moved soon after to Uvalde County, Texas, and continued their pioneering ways, still encountering Indian raids. Mary met Monroe Bell Pulliam who had been born in Collin County, Texas (north of Dallas), but he was in Uvalde as a small boy. Two of his brothers were killed by Indians and Monroe himself was wounded in an Indian raid when he was just 14.

Mary married Monroe Pulliam in 1874. She was the grandchild of the Cunninghams, but she married before 5 of her aunts and uncles did. The couple married in Uvalde when he was 22 and she was 15.

Soon after they married, they traveled north with a head of 1000 cattle. They stopped where the Spring Creek converged with the Concho River and built an adobe house about 20 miles west of Fort Concho. Mary was pregnant during the move and had their first child, a daughter in November. In that first winter the Indians stole all of their saddle horses and they went through a very hard time.

The next year, Monroe drove 600 cattle to Kansas City. Mary may have been left at home with her little girl to mind the ranch.

Three more children were born to the family and in 1887 they moved to San Angelo, built a beautiful home, and Pulliam was the president of the old San Angelo National Bank. In 1905 he became the director of the First National Bank and had an office there for 30 years.

All of the Pulliam children were grown and Mary Susannah was just a few weeks shy of 55 when she died in San Angelo in 1913. She died from complications from a surgery. It was only a week before the big annual Cunningham Reunion that was already important to family members. She had planned to be there. We can only imagine how sad family members were at the reunion to have lost their first niece and cousin.


(Not the best picture.)

Monroe Bell Pulliam, who had been called “Nub” his whole life, remarried after a few years and lived with his second wife for 20 years until his death in 1937. He is buried next to Mary in the Pulliam plot at the Fairmount Cemetery.


125th Reunion

In Uncategorized on August 22, 2014 at 12:00 am

August 9 and 10, 2014—Around 400 members of the Cunningham family gathered on the historic reunion grounds at Mercer Creek in Comanche County, Texas, to carry on the family tradition.


Like our ancestors have done for 125 years, we laughed and visited, hugged one another and kissed babies, ate delicious pies cooked by sweet old ladies and hearty barbecue cooked all night by able bodied men, got bit by mosquitos and listened to music, took a group photo, sweated, and thought about those that came before us.

Of course we had the modern conveniences of fans blowing and helping the temperatures a little bit, a giant water slide for the kids, port-o-potties, ice, refrigeration, and lovely, air-conditioned motel rooms to return to at the end of the night.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the 125 years— none of us have had the use of cell phones on our reunion grounds.

If you weren’t with us this year, you missed a spectacular reunion. It was a little more “full” than usual with a wonderful historic presentation on Saturday afternoon and again on Sunday morning at the church by Randy Walton, telling about the travels of the Cunningham family and how they ended up in Comanche County and the construction of the homestead that, of course, still stands and was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. There was also the final church service at the South Leon Baptist Church, founded by our family and other pioneers. It is closing its doors for good because of declining membership.

We took a family panoramic photo with well over 300 people on the bleachers in front of the Newburg Cemetery sign. No one has had the patience to count every head in the photo yet, but someone will soon scan it, number it, and start identifying all the family members, if possible.

The hotdog supper Saturday night was a success and music from the Jim Foster Trio was perfect for the setting and the crowd. Jim is a George descendant and he created the Jim Foster Trio specifically for the reunion with guitar, stand-up bass, and fiddle. In fact, the fiddle that was played the opening number was the fiddle once owned by James Cunningham. It had been passed down through the Aaron line to Todd Sloan who owns the Manchaca String Shop in Austin. Todd had reassembled and refurbished and restrung the beautiful Italian fiddle and had it on display at the reunion. On Sunday morning, Todd’s brother Pat played it for the church service along with Todd on flute, Syble Holmsley on piano,  and Dan and Christy Foster on guitar and fiddle.


Sunday morning’s breakfast of cowboy fried steaks and eggs from the campfire and a washtub full of coffee was well attended before the historical talk, church, and the photo.

Back at the reunion grounds before lunch, there was a short memorial service to talk about and thank family members that have brought us to where we are today. Some people thanked their parents or grandparents, others thanked Captain James and Susannah, some thanked other individuals who have kept the traditions going.

The awards for superlatives were handed out. Mary Norder of Austin, daughter of Marcia Gillespie-Norder and Naji Norder was the youngest at the reunion at only 10 weeks. She is from the Tom family, descended from the Perkins.

Ruth Adele Waggoner announced that Marie Henson, who has been the oldest at the reunion for several years, was not here this time. She has had some health problems and has a procedure coming up. She had purposefully scheduled the procedure after the reunion so she could be with us this weekend, but then was unable to come. She was certainly missed. Dorothy Jackson, who has lived in Amarillo, Texas, for the last 52 years, but just moved to Salado with her daughter Donna, was the oldest in attendance at 91 years old. She is from the Bill line and was a Hallford. The farthest traveled was David Butler who lives and works in China (yes, that China). He also came the farthest last year on his first time visit to the reunion.


The tables that stand on our reunion ground 364 days a year waiting to be loaded down each August were heavy with every kind of side dish and dessert you can imagine. There was no shortage of food. Virginia Wood brought the same recipe of lemon chess pie that she has brought to every reunion since 1950.


There was only the briefest of business meetings before the family broke up this historic reunion. Audra McClesky took over the reins as family president. She is from the Unity family…the great-granddaughter of Peggy Willis, granddaughter of Mary Lynn Chick, daughter of Jimmy Willis.

We did have an updated genealogy book for the 125th reunion. It is a bound book, 150 pages, with all of the descendants we are aware of in the family along with historical information and pictures. If you would like a copy, send a check for $30 for one, $25 for additional copies, made out to Cunningham Reunion. Mail it to Cunningham Reunion, PO Box 346, Comanche, TX 76442. Make sure you let us know the address you want them delivered to.

Thank you to Mark Hays for these great photos and many more.


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