Joseph Cunningham was born in Tennessee in 1820 and moved with his family to Randolph County, Missouri, in 1835. Both of Cunningham's parents, as well as three of his siblings, died from malaria in 1842 and 1845. Cunningham was made the guardian of his three youngest brothers, and by 1848, after a series of business failures and farming difficulties, he owed many debts upon the family's property. Leaving his wife Mary Jane in California, Cunningham, along with his youngest brother Ebenezer, set out for California in 1849 in the hopes of making a profit from the gold rush. Ebenezer was killed by a mine cave-in in November 1850. Cunningham eventually found enough success as a gold miner to pay off his debts in Missouri, where he returned in the spring of 1852.
From the description of Letters to William Cunningham, 1849-1851. (Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens). WorldCat record id: 519725593