Family Story

Cunningham Family Photos

Thomas and Margaret Cunningham. Owners and orginal purchasers of the Cunningham Family Bible.

Cunningham Family Photos

Funeral card for Thomas Cunningham.

Cunningham Family Photos

Benjamin and Lizzie Cunningham. Benjamin and Lizzie recorded the genealogical information included in the family history pages.

Cunningham Family Photos

Darrel and Maybelle Cunningham. 

Cunningham Family Photos

DeVane Cunningham. First generation to choose a profession different than the family tradition of farming. Carpenter in Stockton, Kansas.

Cunningham Family Photos

Dana Cunningham. First generation of Cunningham men to attend college. Graduated with a baccalaureate degree in Architecture from Kansas State University.

The Bible page entitled “Memoranda” reads,

"Thomas Cunningham. He was borned in Nashville Tennessee June 13, 1833 and married Margaret Jane Henery Aug 30, 1854 at Marysville, Decalb Co Mo. To this nine children were borned. Mr and Mrs Cunningham united with the Babtist Church in 1857. Both lived a Christian life to the end. Mrs. Cunningham was borned Apr 18, 1835 in Cooper Co Mo. They came to Kansas in 1879 settled in Grayham Co 1880 then from Graham to Marshall Co 1881. In 1885 returned to Phillips Co Kansas and lived the remainder of their lives in Phillips Co. He enlisted in civil war in Aug 1861 member of Company “F” Gentry Co Mo. Homeguard. He served our country for a period of three and half years bearing a Corporal for some time. She died at Kirwin Kansas he at Speed Kansas and both are buried in Glade Cemetary in Phillips Co Kansas."

According to the Bible record, nine children were born to Thomas and Margaret, but Census records show the couple raising only eight children. The second child, Lydia lived for one month and nine days until January 14, 1858. A search in government records reveals nothing of Lydia Cunningham. Her life was far too short to be acknowledged in a federal or state census. Without a midwife or hospital’s record, Lydia’s only imprint lies within a handwritten record in a family Bible.

Like his father before him, Thomas Cunningham, the first owner of the family Bible,  was a farmer. In 1840, his family relocated to Platte County, Missouri. It was here that he met Margaret and she agreed to be his wife. As tensions between states broke into the Civil War in 1861, Thomas enlisted in the Missouri Home Guard. The war claimed the lives of two of Thomas’s brothers. Thomas returned unscathed, but he and Margaret decided to relocate from Missouri to Kansas. Living an unsettled life, the census and land patents from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management report different residences in Kansas over a period of thirty years for Thomas and Margaret. The 1860 United States Federal Census asked its citizens of their ability to read and write. Unspecific in levels of literacy, the questions were answered in a simple yes or no fashion. The 1860 recorder noted Thomas could not read, and he could not write. During the following Census reports, Thomas was alternatingly reported as literate and illiterate. He likely had acquired a low reading proficiency in his few years of school, which the census recorder judged as literate or illiterate during each visit. In 1910, the U.S. Census records note Thomas as being literate. Twenty-four years after his purchase of the Cunningham Family Bible, it is possible Thomas taught himself how to better read and write with the aid of his expansive Bible, as he was now retired and spending less time in the fields. However, it is possible the Census representative chose to simply humor the eighty-year-old Civil War veteran during the visit and mark him as literate.

Throughout the census records, Thomas’s profession remains the same, “Farmer” or “Farmhand,” for many years. But in 1880, his work was recorded as a “Broommaker.” Although Thomas would still farm in order to grow and harvest the broomcorn to produce his brooms, the new entry suggests the start of a new entrepreneurship during these years. Not only would Thomas farm the land, he would process the broomcorn by soaking it for at least fifteen minutes in hot water. The broomcorn would then be tied, woven, and sewn to create a broom. A hearth broom, the most common size, requires forty-five heads of broomcorn.[1] Each broom is time consuming, and became a less common profession until the recent reemergence of “back to nature” lifestyles. This was Thomas’s last recorded profession.

With Thomas and Margaret’s passing, the family Bible was passed also. However, John General, their oldest son, was not the heir. A Family Temperance Pledge, included after the genealogical pages, signed by Ben and Jennie Cunningham suggests their ownership of the Bible. Perhaps John General received the family farm upon his father’s passing in 1912, and Benjamin collected the valuable trinkets before his sisters could claim them. This pattern continued as the oversized Bible was passed to Benjamin’s second son, Darrel Cunningham. After Darrel’s death in 1975, his wife Maybelle carefully considered her sons as heirs of the cherished heirloom. The Bible was now almost one hundred years old. Darrel Cunningham Jr., or J.R., more affectionately, held his eyes on the valuable. Yet in her later years, Maybelle gave the book to her second son, DeVane, avoiding a scene between the brothers after her death. She cited that he was the most reverent, or at least, was the only son that actually attended church.

DeVane marks the first man in his family to choose a profession other than farming. Creating and building, he proudly keeps a book of homes and projects (which his late wife, Doris, compiled) with each house he has built in Stockton, Kansas. A true carpenter, even his license plate reads “I BILD.” On his fireplace mantel stands a plaque from his years as the city commissioner. The precious Cunningham family Bible remained tucked away until it was uncovered in 2003 by his son, Dana Cunningham. DeVane agreed to have the item preserved by the Koerperich Bookbinders in Selden, Kansas. After receiving a very heavy package and a matching invoice in the mail many months later, Dana carefully removed the monstrous Bible from its cardboard box. He inspected its improved condition, and it was again tucked safely away. It remains there with the exception of Christmas Eve, when its yellowed pages are again opened and turned to the red ribbon marking the page “S. LUKE. –I.  75.” The verses are read aloud around an over decorated Christmas tree and a porcelain village set atop a Yamaha upright. Dana Cunningham sits on the creaky piano bench as the words printed almost 130 years ago echo through the house.

[1] Holzwart, Little John. “How to Make a Broom.” Mother Earth News. Ogden Publications, 29 Dec 2008. Web. 1 Dec 2014.