James Cunningham, soldier, was born in Warren County, Tennessee, in 1816. In 1835 he married Susannah Tate. He served in the Alabama Mounted Militia in the Florida Indian Wars from October 23, 1837, until his discharge in 1838 at Fort Payne, Alabama. In 1839–40 he immigrated to the Republic of Texas with his wife and two small children and obtained a land grant in what is now Morris County. During the 1840s he moved to Bastrop, Travis, and Williamson counties. The Cunninghams moved in 1855 to a wilderness then known as the Upper Leon River Country and settled on Mountain Creek in what is now Comanche County. They were among the first families in that part of Texas, the entering wedge of Anglo-American occupation of the Plains. After coming to Texas, James and Susannah had ten more children. Five of their sons and a son-in-law served as Texas sheriffs.
Cunningham organized a volunteer company in June 1858 to protect the Comanche County area and reported to Governor Hardin Runnels that the company was in service and that he was elected to its command. Until the cessation of Comanche depredations, he and his sons were involved in virtually every Indian battle in or from Comanche County. In 1861 Cunningham was elected captain of a Comanche County company of minutemen. In February he and his men appeared at Camp Colorado in response to Confederate general Henry McCulloch's appeal for state troops to wrest that post from the United States Cavalry. Despite the general evacuation of the Northwest Texas frontier during the Civil War, the Cunninghams remained, and James served as captain of the Comanche County Company of the Second Frontier District, commanded by Maj. George B. Erath. Five of his sons also served as both officers and enlisted men. The Cunninghams participated in Indian fights at Rush Creek, Buffalo Gap, Tater Hill, Blanket Creek, Salt Mountain, Brown Creek, Cow House Creek, and Hog Creek. Captain Cunningham commanded the Comanche County Company in the ill-advised and botched fight with the Kickapoo Indians at the battle of Dove Creek in Tom Green County on January 8, 1865.
Cunningham operated a ranch of 9,000 acres in Comanche County until his death at his home in 1894, when he was survived by his wife and all of his twelve children. He is buried at Newburg Cemetery, Comanche County; his grave is designated with a Texas historical marker. His home, a Texas historic landmark, is the oldest residence in Comanche County. The reunion of his and Susannah's descendants, the oldest continuous family reunion in Texas, celebrated its centennial in 1989, in recognition of which the Texas Historical Commission placed a marker on the Cunningham family reunion grounds in Newburg.