Janice Williams

Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

“Aunt Oat”

In Genealogy records, General Musings, Second Generation Stories on August 17, 2011 at 10:41 pm

I have a little mystery in our branch of the Cunningham family I’ve been trying to figure out with no luck. Maybe you can shed more light on the story somehow.

I come from the William Henry Cunningham branch of the Capt. James and Susie family. He was the sixth child in the family. I am descended from his daughter Henrietta.

But it is her sister Lottie Oatley Cunningham that I am curious about. I’ve been told she was called “Oat.”



That’s her with her husband Oscar Mason. They were married February 26, 1902 when she was – dare I say it – an old maid at 28!

Here is a picture of her later in life:



In her pictures she always looks rather fun-loving. She died in 1969, so I’m sure many of you knew her. I did not know her, but I knew her daughter Wilma – who we all called Bill.

But the mystery goes back to May 3, 1873, her birth. At some point a while back I found her death certificate. Everything on it appeared to be correct. It had the correct full names of her parents and the information was all given by her daughter, who I know would know whereof she spoke. But it listed her birth as “Kansas.” That made no sense to me in this family of Texans where the Cunninghams were firmly established in Comanche County and every child in their family appeared to have been born in Comanche County. Flukes of records happen all the time so I just assumed it was an error and wrote it down, but wrote down my doubts about it, too.

Just a few weeks ago I came across that notation and decided I could check census records as another source. I looked at the 1930 census after Oat was married and living in Cisco, Texas. It clearly shows her birth in Kansas (it has it spelled out and everything). In 1920 they were living out west of San Angelo in Mertzon, Texas, and, again, the census shows Kansas spelled out as her birthplace. In 1910 they lived in Stamford, north of Abilene, and again, yes, Kansas. Not only is her birth listed as Kansas on her line, on their daughter’s line, it has where her parents were born and clearly shows Kansas again for Oat’s birthplace.

Back to the 1900 census where Ota (as it was often recorded) was living at home and was single at 27 in Comanche County. Here the evidence really piles up because one would assume that the parents were the ones that answered the census takers questions. Again, Kansas is her birth next to Texas for her younger sister Maggie.

I’m sure you’ve concluded that Oat was born in Kansas and I suppose I have, too. Things are odd in the 1880 census however where she doesn’t exist! Her parents and her older sister Mollie and her older brother Thomas are listed in the census, but she is missing along with her sisters Henrietta and Maggie (all three under 10 at the time). I searched high and low and can’t find them in the census, so I don’t know where they were being hidden at that point.

But if we move on on the premise that she was born in Kansas… WHY? I’ve been reading up on the cattle drives to Kansas and she was born in 1873 at the very peak of the cowboy culture and cattle drives from the Comanche area straight up the Western Trail to Ellsworth, Kansas. Did her mother Mildred go along on a cattle drive? I found a Cunningham cousin’s family tree on ancestry.com and she has Oat born in Kansas City, Missouri, but with no source to verify it with other than census and our family’s 100th anniversary book. Neither say that where she was born with that town. Sure, there were trains in those days, but from what I’ve read, there weren’t any that extended toward Comanche at all and it was later in the 1870s before they were very prevalent in the northern part of the state at all. Mildred going out on the cattle drive makes the most sense, even though she had a 4-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son at the time. Maybe they went along, too?

This is one of those mysteries that I doubt will ever be solved to my satisfaction. But if you have ideas on how to search or remember Aunt Oat once telling you all about her Kansas birth, please let me know.


Mary Neely Day

In Mary Jane Neely, Newspaper articles, Second generation on August 15, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Saturday afternoon, before heading out to the Cunningham Reunion, I was in the Newburg Room of the Comanche Museum. I got to meet several members of the Neely family visiting from Amarillo and El Paso while I was there. It was fun to see them discover this great newspaper article on the wall about their multi-great-grandmother Neely. She is not the Mary Jane Cunningham Neely of the original 12 children of the Cunningham family, but their daughter-in-law, the wife of Joseph Holmes Neely.



Here is the text so you can read it

Honoring a Comanche County native, Governor Mark White proclaimed Saturday, December 28, as Mary Neely Day in Texas in honor of an outstanding woman, Mary L. Neely of Hudspeth County.

Mary Neely was born in 1880 in Comanche County to Frank and Lucretia Holmsley. On December 28, 1985, she celebrated her 105th birthday. Her father was a frontier doctor and she was his assistant during her girlhood. She used this early medical training for the next several decades, ministering to the needs of family and neighbors in isolated West Texas communities where there was no other medical help.

At age 23, she married Joe Holmes Neely. Their honeymoon was a three-month trip in a covered wagon to New Mexico, where several months later their first child, Joe Jr., was born. They moved back to Texas to manage a ranch where Mrs. Neely faced rattlesnakes, panthers, and outlaws. She had to rope wild cows to get milk for the family to drink.

In 1905, the Neelys moved to Dell City, Texas, where they managed another ranch for ten years. Their second son Tom was born there. In a final move, the family bought several sections of land west of McNary, Texas, near the Rio Grande, and about 75 miles down the river from El Paso. They made the move in wagons and a Model T Ford, according to Mrs. Neely, “driving cattle eight or ten miles a day, keeping them out of bogs and arroyos, dodging flashfloods.”

At that time, the border was a haven for Pancho Villa’s band and cattle rustlers and the Neely’s newly acquired house was full of bullet holes. Their ranch was a success, providing them with the necessities, plus cattle, hogs, cotton, and mohair to sell.

Wherever she lived, Mrs. Neely used her medical training, treating broken bones and wounds, and acting as midwife for neighbors on both sides of the border.

In addition to grueling work, heavy outdoor ranch work and keeping a frontier household going – and acting as the only medical help within many mile, the 4’ 11” Mrs. Neely found time to read aloud daily to the children. The family valued education and Mrs. Neely has continued her reading, study and intellectual correspondence throughout her life.

Her husband died in 1952 and for several years Mrs. Neely, known as “Grandma,” continued to run the ranch by herself. She now has sold or leased portions of the ranch, but she still lives in their original adobe ranch house with her son Joe and his wife.

Mrs. Neely has combined rare qualities in her unusual life that has spanned more than a century: fearlessness in the face of frontier dangers, selflessness in caring for family and neighbors, and lifetime pursuit of knowledge. She has developed words of wisdom in raising her family and doing so much good in her corner of the state of Texas. “I learned long ago to be happy. I could never understand how people can waste their lives in hatred and misery when there is so much love in the world that is theirs if they will look for it and give some in return.” Governor White’s proclamation notes, “Few of us will have the opportunity to live a life such as Mary’s. But we can all learn from her, if only through her basic philosophy, “You’ve got to do the best you can with what you’ve got.” He designated December 28 as Mary Neely Day in honor of this pioneer woman “whose life epitomizes the greatness that is our heritage.”

“White Proclaims Mary Neely Day.” Comanche Chief 2 January 1986: unknown page.

If you find that I have transcribed this wrong, please let me know. Also note that I can’t find the connection to the other Holmsleys in our family at this point.

Iva Christian

In David Houston Cunningham, General Musings, Second Generation Stories on August 14, 2011 at 5:53 am

There are so many stories in the Cunningham family. So many stories that might never get written down.

Last night at the reunion I stumbled up against one of those stories and I thought I would put it down before I forget . . . even though there are many details missing.

This is what I would like to include in this blog as much as the “big” stories of Indian fights and survival on the frontier of Texas.

Visiting with Virginia Wood last night, one of my favorite people to see each August, we were discussing which members of her branch of the Dave Cunningham family she manages to keep up with. She was naming names and discussing how long it had been since she had seen or heard from some of them. I opened up the computer program where all of this information is kept and was looking at the names of some of Dave’s children and their children. I happened upon Iva Christian (born March 20, 1890, daughter of Dave’s oldest daughter Mary Texana Cunningham and Daniel Webster Christian). I saw that we (as in “we” the family and our record) had no death date for her, but it noted that she died in England. That certainly seemed odd and out of place for this family, so I asked.

“Oh, yes, she died in England,” said Virginia. She went on to tell how Iva went on a cruise and met a man and fell in love. He was from England so she went to live with him in England. Checking our info, that must have been Fred Sintzel, who was 5 years older than Iva. They married in 1911.

Consider that for a moment… A member of our family on a cruise in that era and before she was even 21 years old. She meets a dashing 24-year-old on the cruise and comes home to tell her pioneering, Texas family that she is moving to England.

Of course, I’m jumping to all sorts of conclusions. She might not have come home, maybe she eloped and stayed with him. I have no idea of those details and that makes me even more curious.

But the story got even better. Virginia said her husband, dashing Fred, died at some point in their marriage. But Iva now was well established in England and married a member of the elite of England, a duke or a lord or earl or someone of that nature. But that husband died at some point, too, and she married even higher in the royal family.

Virginia said Iva never had any children, but she did send money back to the U.S. to family members. She may have done this as a safeguard (Virginia was saying) because all of her husband’s wealth belonged to the State rather than to him individually.

Lots of questions pop into my head about Iva…  What was her life like in England? How did she move into those royal circles? How beautiful and charming must she have been? Did she regale the royals with tales of her Indian fighting family back in Texas and play off of her heritage or was that left behind with her parents? We probably will never have the answer to those questions, but I’m glad we’ve got the beginnings of the story.

George Washington Cunningham

In George Washington Cunningham, Original 12 Cunninghams on August 13, 2011 at 12:42 am

I stopped at the Mills County Museum on the way to the Cunningham reunion today. A very helpful volunteer, Richie Reed, showed me all sorts of wonderful books and collections about Mills County residents. George Washington Cunningham, the youngest son of James and Susannah Cunningham, and was the first elected sheriff of Mills. Here is the transcription of his obituary from the Goldthwaite Eagle on Friday, August 6, 1926:


George W. Cunningham died at his home in San Angelo Wednesday morning at five o’clock and was buried in that city in the afternoon of the day.

Mr. Cunningham was a native of Comanche county and was 68 years old. His parents, James and Susan cunningham, were typical pioneers who settled on Mountain Creek in 1855, where they raised a family of twelve children. When Mills county was created, he was elected sheriff and was three times reelected. He served at a time when the duties of the office were more exacting than now and when danger was to be encountered. He never failed in his duty to the public.

Mr. Cunningham had lived in San Angelo for the past twenty years.

He is survived by two sons and four daughter.

Generous Cunninghams

In Basic Family Information, General Musings on August 3, 2011 at 12:18 am

I had heard a story about the Cunningham generosity to their neighbors, but did not know where that story had originated. Over the weekend I finally read a book I’ve owned for a year or more and found the source of the story. The book is “Early Days in Central Texas” by F.M. Cross. The Brown County Historical Society republished the short book, which had originally been published in the early part of the 20th century. The original title page is reproduced and has “Second Edition, June 1910.”

Picture the time in the late 1850s when Mr. Cross came to the sparsely settled area where the Cunningham home stands today on Mountain Creek. No roads, no highline poles, no Newburg school, church, or cemetery. Only four families living along that creek.  Mr. Cross writes, “James Cunningham, better known as Captain Cunningham; Charlie Campbell, Thomas Dunlap, Jonathan Watson, all of them as good neighbors as I ever lived by in my life. I will tell you something of two of those neighbors, and I assure you I am not flattering them to their offspring who may read this book…”

He’s wrong about that. I (as one offspring) am quite flattered and proud, though that wasn’t his intention, I know.

“It is likely, at least I think so, that any of the rest of those neighbors would have been just of the same good principles if they had had the same opportunities. Campbell and Cunningham each had a small stock of cattle and when the new-comers would settle around them they would go to them, and if they wanted cows to milk, would tell them to make themselves cowpens and would pen them all the cows they needed to milk, and when either of those two men killed a beef they would just send a man to all of the neighbors, telling them to come over and get all the beef they wanted. They never asked a cent of pay for it, and this was done every two or three weeks during the summer season. Those were two of the best-to-do men in that country at that time.”

Then Mr. Cross gets to the real thought-provoker:

“Now reader, if you will show me two of the wealthiest men of your country today that have that kind of sympathy for the poor class of people, I will show you a black bird as white as a snowball.”

In my research, I have found descendants of Captain James and Susie Cunningham who gave away millions of dollars to the poor and those in need. It is a family trait that has definitely not been lost.