To the best of my knowledge, Harriet Ann Jack, daughter of Thomas Jefferson Jack and Eliza Jane McCampbell, was born in Alabama in 1857. She married Walter B. Cunningham about 1873 in Alabama, possibly De Kalb County. According to the 1900 census, Walter was born in January of 1853. By 1880, the couple was living in Comanche, Texas and, hopefully, this is a genealogical tidbit that you do not have!
The Cunningham name is one that is often heard in relation to Comanche County history; however, what most people may not know is that there were actually two different sets of Cunninghams in the county, the James Cunningham family and the W.B. Cunningham family.
It was the W.B. (Walter) Cunninghams who owned the mansion that stood where the Bill Clemons’ home stands today at 105 West Walcott Street, and it was Mrs. W.B. whom Nannie Greene Little remembered as one of the “characters” of the town of Comanche, Texas.
According to Nannie, there was nothing that Mrs. W.B. could not do, usually while wearing her husband’s black felt hat! She was a pro at mixing cement, and she built a lily pool in her front yard, a walk, cement steps, and even a platform around her cistern. It was also not unusual to see Mrs. W.B. on top of their three-story house as she repaired the roof, “perched at a dangerous angle as unconcerned as though she were washing a tub-full of dishes in the kitchen after a party.”
Mrs. Cunningham was also a bit of a carpenter. She once took an organ and made a beautiful writing desk from it. Then, there was the time that she took an old table and used the wood to build a chest. “After she was 80, she bought an organ* of oak, removed the old paint and varnish, refinished it in natural color, and added red cloth trimming behind the carved grill work. She then built a bench for it and gave it to her granddaughter, Harriet.”
Mrs. W.B. had a green thumb deluxe! She raised flowers all over her huge lawn. She also raised pigeons and gave the squabs to her friends.
Probably her most interesting attribute to me is that when the automobile came into her life, Mrs. C. became a mechanic! Of course, since her family was one of the first to own an auto, and since there were no auto garages in town at that time, someone had to do it. (Of course, me being me, I’d like to know just where it was that Mr. W.B. was hanging out!)
“Mrs. Cunningham studied the book that came with the car so she could render first aid if it became necessary. And when it did…she…diagnosed the ailment, armed with a monkey wrench, pliers…she was a natural car veterinarian, working by instinct and always cured the ailing anatomy of the machinery.
“One Sunday afternoon, Mr. Cunningham and the children, Minnie and Walter Jack, drove down to Newburg, quite a drive and really an adventure over the rough bumpy roads of that day. The journey was just too much for the car. After reaching Newburg, the car went into a coma, paralysis followed. It could not be moved.
“They called Mrs. Cunningham over the telephone, and she hitched the horse to the buggy and with her book and tools drove there. She tinkered, started the car, rescued the family, and then drove back to town…in the buggy.
Now can you just imagine how long it took her to travel to Newburg in a wagon? And can I just see Rickey Jones calling me to come fix the car?
“Mrs. Cunningham utterly disregarded convention when it interfered with simple, practical affairs. Many times the neighbors and passersby have smiled understandingly and in tender amusement…to see her under the car, banging away on its innards with two black stockinged legs, slightly wrinkled, waving in the atmosphere outside.”
I hope you smiled at Nannie Greene’s memories of Mrs. W.B. I know I did, and as I typed I thought of two morals to this story. One, isn’t it silly to let convention stand in the way of what we need to do or even what we love to do?
And two, we have a lot of people in this country who don’t seem to understand that if you want to live in the “big house,” you might just have to work to get there, and what’s more, you might even have to continue working to stay there! Do I hear an amen out there?
*That organ now resides within the Comanche County Historical Museum!