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Obituary of Horace Cunningham,
Oswego Co., N.Y.

Many thanks and appreciation to Kenneth Parent for sharing his ancestor's obituary and history of his migration to Wisconsin. Kenneth says, "I have attached a long obit on Horace Cunningham, with some additional info to put him in context. Horace was born in Oswego County in the mid to late 1830's and died almost a century later in Wisconsin. His parents, Hiram and Nancy Boss Cunnigham, spent about a decade in Oswego County - say 1832-1842, more or less." Kenneth W. Parent OBIT




Horace Cunningham

b. 2 November 1834, Oswego Co., NY

d. 21 February 1930, Rock Co., WI

m. Louisa Minerva Briggs, probably autumn 1856, SE Wisconsin



Horace Cunningham was born in Oswego County, New York, 2 November 1834. Early federal Census records indicate 1834; his death certificate says 1838, his obituary 1839. In 1850 he is with his large family in southern Wisconsin.


District 21, Bradford, Rock Co, WI 1850

Page 459, 4 Sept

Value of

Name Age Sex Occup POB Real Estate Other

CUNNINGHAM, Hiram 48 M farmer CT 800

Nancy 46 F NY Illit

Edwin 23 M NY

Emily 20 F NY

Benjamin 18 M NY

Horace 16 M NY

Henry 15 M NY

Freeman 12 M NY

Marcial 11 M NY

Guy 4 M WI

George 2 M WI



He must have stayed with the family until 1856; the 1855 special Wisconsin census indicates that most of the boys were still there at that time. The Pierce sisters' letters of 1856 imply that Horace had recently married; the 1900 census entry calculates a marriage date of 1865 that is flatly in error. His bride was Louisa Briggs, the daughter of Daniel M. and Electa Ann Briggs. (No record, personal, civil, or ecclesiastical, has been found.) Minerva was born 20 March 1836, New York, and died 27 May 1911, Rock County.


Horace was the "settled one" of the Cunningham boys, with little inclination to travel. While I do not have his 1860 census record, I do have his other enumerations.


He bought a fine farm outside of Johnstown in 1858, the farm on which we find him in 1870. It remained in the family for 99 years.


Johnstown Twp, Rock Co, WI 1870

13 June; page 307, dwelling 45, family 44

Value of Property Other

Name Age Sex Occup POB Real Personal

Cunningham, Horace 35 M Farmer NY 10,000 1,500

, Louisa 35 F Keep hs NY

, Lillie 7 F WI A/S

Cole, Ransome 18 M Farm Lab WI



Johnstown Twp, Rock Co, WI 1880

21 June; ED 189; page 30, line 26; dwelling 232, family 236

Cunningham, Horace, WM, head of hh, age 44, married, farmer

, Louisa, WF, wife, age 43, married, keeping house

, Lillie, WF, 17, daughter, single, at school

Hagenston, Christian, WM, 24, servant, single, servant


In 1887, prosperous, he moved in to town. While the street address would change, the house would not, and he and his descendants would occupy it for more than 75 years.



Janesville, Rock Co, WI 1900

8 June; ED 177, sheet 10, line 72; 29 Milwaukee St

Cunningham, Horace, WM, head of hh, born Nov 1838 NY, married 35 yrs

capitalist; can read, write, speak English, owns

his home with a mortgage

, Louisa, WF, wife, born Mar 1840 NY, married 35 yrs


Janesville, Rock Co, WI 1910

19 April; 29 Milwaukee St

Cunningham, Horace, WM, head of hh, retired, owns his home free

, Louisa, WF, wife, borne one child, still living


Louise died the following year, 27 May, 1911, and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.


Janesville, Rock Co, WI 1920

8 January; ED 111, Sheet 6, Line 62; 817 Milwaukee St

Cunningham, Horace, head of hh, M, age 81, born NY, widower, retired,

owns his home free

Butler, Anna E., servant, F, age 60, born WI


Horace died in Janesville on 21 February 1930 and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Janesville, next to Louise.


Perhaps the best way to summarize Horace's life is to quote in full his long obituary, which appeared in the Janesville Gazette, Weekend Edition, 22 February 1930, page two, col. one (with photo). It was very long on color and very short on genealogical information, but gives a fine flavor for the times, much of it first person recollections by Horace before his death.



Horace Cunningham Death

Removes One of First Men

Who Ever Farmed in County


Days when Southern Wisconsin was covered with forest, when but few settlements even of the rudest pioneer sort existed in this section were among recollections of Horace Cunningham, funeral services for whom will be held in his home at 817 Milwaukee avenue at 2:20 Sunday afternoon, with the Rev. R. Burton Sheppard officiating.


Mr. Cunningham died Thursday afternoon at the age of 91.


He was born in New York in 1839, one of five children and was brought to Wisconsin when a child of five or six by his mother. His father had come several months previously. Following the easiest route of the time, the trip was made by boat through the Erie canal and Great Lakes to Milwaukee, and then overland. The tiny lake boat, on which cooking was done over a little stove by the various family groups, was nearly swamped in a severe storm encountered on the way. The family arrived in 1845, three years before Wisconsin became a state, and was taken overland by the father to Fort Atkinson, where he had found employment at an inn on the banks of Rock river on the site of the present city. Arriving there at dusk, a new bridge across the stream had just been finished, and the family was the first to cross it.


Lived in Wagon


In the manner of nearly all pioneer children, Mr. Cunningham's education was limited to a few months during the winters in the early schools. At 10 years of age he was employed by a nearby settler for the summer, and was put to work breaking new land with oxen. The farm where he worked is now in the town of Aztalan. There were no farm buildings, and the boy was forced to sleep in a covered wagon. Pay was $3 a month and keep, though work was from daybreak to dark.


According to the story often told by Mr. Cunningham, he had been employed for three months when the boss said, "You are a good strong boy. I'm going to raise your pay to $3.50. You will get the 50 cents and the $3 will go to your father, of course."


One summer he was employed in "rafting" logs and lumber from Fort Atkinson down the river. The work was hard and often exciting, and especially dangerous when getting the rafts through the raceway beside the dam in Janesville. Here the shores were usually lined with spectators ready to jeer the unfortunate raftsman who got soaked when the logs dipped below the surface as they went over the dam.


Comes To Rock Prairie


Another season he tried work as a handy boy at a Milwaukee hotel, but did not like it. "I liked the country best," he often said. "I wanted to be a farmer." At 15 years of age he had accumulated sufficient money to own a team and wagon, and proudly began work for himself, soon leaving the neighborhood of Fort Atkinson and coming to Rock Prairie.


Here he found land which did not need to be cleared of trees before it would produce, and began farming. When still a young man he became a landowner near Johnstown, breaking land that had never been plowed before. From then on until moving to Janesville in 1887, lived and worked there.


Wheat was the "big money" crop of those days, and he followed the example of others, growing the grain and hauling it by team to Milwaukee over the "plank road," where it was shipped by boats.


"We made the trip in two or three days," he has said in telling the story. "Sometimes a dozen drivers followed each other. Often they stopped at night, staked out their teams and slept in their blankets under the wagon. Most often we would stop at inns, the yards of which were a lively and noisy place mornings and evenings. We hauled grain to market many years that way, but the railroads finally put an end to it.


Was Best Land


"Rock Prairie, was always productive," he frequently said. "The saying used to be 'Sun can't shine on better land than Rock Prairie.'" When the yield of wheat dropped from successive croppings, barley and corn were worked in.


"Harvesting demanded more men those days. We cut the grain with scythes. You would often see a dozen men swinging scythes or cradling after each other around a 40-acre field. After them came the binders, maybe 15 in a row, stopping, gathering an armful and binding it, the inside man having the short row, but each taking his turn at the long outside row.


"The boys in those days put on some grueling contests, swinging a scythe under the hot sun until one or the other wilted. Each section had a champion. Johnstown was a busy place in the fall, with the hotels filled with harvest hands. Saturday nights there was always dance music at the hotel.


"Rock Prairie was pretty when the grain was all stacked in early fall. Some of the larger farmers would have 25 cone-shaped stacks by the barn waiting for their turn in threshing."


Operated Threshers


Mr. Cunningham was the thresher for the neighborhood, traveling from farm to farm yearly for almost a generation. In the days before the threshing engine, when horse power was depended upon, his teams and "tumbling rods" were a familiar sight all over Rock Prairie.


"The tumbling rod has gone the way of all that early machinery," he said a short time ago. "Not many people remember it. I used three to five teams for power. They went around and around, the driver reaching them with a long whip from the center. It took much longer to thresh, of course, I was away from my home all fall. One season I threshed into January with my tears. When the threshing engines came, I used them for power.


"I was present when the first mower was placed at work in our community. We drove over in a lumber wagon. Farmers for miles around had come to see it and it was a great day. Gone were the hard days of cradling grain! But gone also was some of the picturesqueness of harvesting. Men threw their hats in the air.


"I saw many changes in the prices of farm products. I delivered wheat for big money in Milwaukee, but I also sold potatoes for 10 cents a bushel at the old Highland house in Janesville. After buying a sack of flour and a sack of prunes there was not much left out of a wagon load of potatoes."


Farm Was Pride


Mr. Cunningham's farm near Johnstown was his greatest pride. He considered it a model of productivity, and maintained it in the best shape. There was no waste land, and all of it was plowed. At middle life he rented it and moved to Janesville, building his home on Milwaukee avenue. At that time there were but three or four houses on the street.


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