The Cunningham cousin: From Ireland to Montana

Arthur Cunningham is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Miles City, Custer County, Montana.

I enjoy family history because it’s like a puzzle. If I spend a little time I can find something new and another family connection. I recently spent some time researching Arthur Cunningham of Montana, the man who made it possible for my family to emigrate to the United States. Arthur was a native of Kilkeel in County Down, Ireland.

My great uncle James F. O’Rourke was coming of age in the early 20th century in Liverpool, England when he decided he wanted to emigrate to the United States. James wrote to two cousins, the Cunningham’s, asking if they would sponsor him. Not only did Arthur and James Cunningham sponsor James F., they sponsored and paid for the passage of my whole family: my great grandfather John O’Rourke, my great grandmother, Mary (Rogers) O’Rourke, and their five children, including James Francis and my grandfather Wilfred.

In addition, Arthur Cunningham, a successful sheep rancher in Miles City, Montana, paid for the passage for my great grandmother’s sister, Rose O’Rourke and her daughter, Mary Catherine O’Rourke. Rose was recently widowed when her husband, James O’Rourke, died of tuberculosis in 1901. Rose was hesitant about coming to the United States, but Arthur insisted. Arthur told Rose that she could go back to Ireland after six months if she didn’t like it. After six months, Rose wished to return to Ireland, but Arthur wouldn’t let her. Rose eventually married and settled in Oregon.

Arthur was my great grandmother Mary Rogers’ cousin on her father’s side. Hugh Rogers was his name and his sister, Ellen Rogers, had married George Cunningham.  Arthur was his son. Rose was my great grandmother’s sister, so of course, Arthur was also Rose’s cousin.

The other day I was researching Arthur Cunningham when I hit the jackpot. I stumbled upon a book online, Montana: It’s Story and Biography, A History of Aboriginal and Territorial Montana and Three Decades of Statehood, edited by Tom Stout. The book was published in 1921. In the book was the story of Arthur’s life, from the time he was born in Ireland until the year the book was published. Arthur passed away in 1937, so he was alive when the book was published.

Excerpts from Montana: It’s Story And Biography

Arthur Cunningham, of Miles City, has spent many years of his life in Montana and the Yellowstone Valley, but he is a native son of Ireland, of County Downe (sic), and was born on a little farm at Kilkeel in the parish of Morne (sic), March 18, 1854. Although during his lifetime he has gained a splendid education, this training was not  received in a school room, but instead in the school of experience, which has been his constant teacher. As he was reared on a farm he became an expert in flail threshing grain, and he labored in the fields from his early boyhood days.

George Cunningham, his father, spent his life as a small farmer, he was born and died on a farm. He was an industrious man, satisfied merely to rear and provide for his family. He was perhaps of the fifth generation to occupy the place where he spent his life’s activities. He married Ellen Rogers, a daughter of Thomas Rogers, likewise of an old family of that county, and of their eight children Arthur was the first born and one of three children to seek a home in America. His brother James resides in Bellingham, Washington, and his sister, Mrs. Ellen O’Connell of Seattle, Washington.

My great grandfather and great grandmother went to live with James Cunningham in Puyallup, Washington. They eventually settled in Bellingham, Washington and census records indicate James Cunningham also moved to Bellingham.

Arthur Cunningham’s entry on the Batvia’s ship manifest. It looks like he traveled with someone else, possibly a brother. It doesn’t look like James though.

Arthur Cunningham was a sheep rancher in Montana when my family emigrated.

Other things that I learned from the book about Arthur Cunningham:

He emigrated to the United States in 1872, sailing on the Batavia. He was 18 years old.

He had a sister Ellen (Cunningham) O’Connell who also emigrated to the US, living in Seattle, Wash.

He lived in Michigan, Nevada, Placer County, Napa, Stockton and San Francisco, California before settling in Washington. He later moved to Miles City, Montana.

He worked in mining, ranching, hay baling, steam-boating, in a saw mill, and making pig iron in Placer County, California, a venture where he ended up losing money.

He traveled back to Ireland to marry Mary Ann Rogers, before returning to the US to thresh grain in the Napa Valley in California.

Arthur was widowed in 1891, when Mary Ann (Rogers) Cunningham passed away. They had four children. Arthur later married Mary Ann O’Farrell in Chicago, Ill. and they had four children.

Arthur’s marriage to Mary Ann Rogers which took place in Ballymartin, Kilkeel, County Down.



Facebook Comments

7 thoughts on “The Cunningham cousin: From Ireland to Montana

  1. Another wonderful family story, Lois…Thank you!
    At first glance, it appears from the manifest that Arthur travelled with Patrick Cunningham to the United States.

    1. I thought it said Patrick, but I couldn’t be sure. I’m not sure he was a brother. He might have been a cousin. I’ll have to do more research.

      1. Hi Lois, I love reading about your travels, looks like you had a great time in Ireland. Did you go to Kilkeel and take any photos I would love to see them. Did you meet any Quinn family. Fondly patty

  2. Hi Patty, I did go to Kilkeel, but didn’t spend too much time there. I did get a few photos. I’ll post them later. I didn’t meet the Quinn family but went to their gravesite in the Catholic Cemetery in Newry. If you go to my photo gallery and scroll down to the second to the last row, the first photo is myself and my sister beside the Quinn family’s headstone. You can access it through my menu at the top or here is the link:
    You will have to copy and paste the link into your browser’s address bar.

Leave a Reply