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Hardin Richard Runnels was the sixth governor of Texas. He was born in Mississippi to Hardin D. and Martha Darden Runnels in 1820. After his father died, the future governor came to Texas in 1842 during the years of the Republic of Texas from Mississippi with his mother, his uncle Hiram George Runnels and his three brothers. They first settled on the Brazos River before moving to Bowie County where they started a cotton plantation on the Red River near the community of Old Boston, named for an early store owner, W. J. Boston. New Boston later arose when the rail lines bypassed Old Boston four miles to the north. While still in his twenties, Runnels was elected in 1847 to the first of four terms in the Texas Legislature. After his last term in the legislature in which he served as Speaker of the House, he was elected Lieutenant Governor serving under Governor Elisha M. Pease during the latter’s second and final term.
Runnels is known as the only person to defeat Sam Houston in an election. He was elected governor over Houston in late 1956 and served from 1857 to 1859 when he lost to Houston in Runnels’ bid to serve a second term. The two were opponents in areas including slavery with Runnels being for the institution of the African slave trade in Texas and with Houston, the hero of San Jacinto, being against it. During his term as Governor, Runnels was known to be an advocate of the volatile issue states’ rights and had tried to secure the frontier for settlers of American-European lineage into areas formerly controlled by the native tribes. On the latter issue, he was thought to have been less successful and he lost to Houston in 1858 by roughly the same margin as he had defeated Houston in the previous election. After his unsuccessful reelection campaign, Runnels never again ran for public office. However, he served as a delegate to both the Succession Convention immediately prior to the Civil War, and to the Constitutional Convention immediately after the War. Runnels had once been engaged, but he never married. He died on Christmas Day, 1873 and was first buried in a family plot there in Old Boston before being reinterred in the State Cemetery in Austin in 1929.
His uncle, Hiram George Runnels had been born in Georgia in 1796 and had grown up with his family in Mississippi. He had served in the United States Army during the Indian Wars in Mississippi, after which he was nominated by President James Monroe to serve as Collector of Customs and Inspector of Revenue for the Mississippi district of the Pearl River. He later served from 1822 to 1830 as state auditor of Mississippi before being elected as a state representative in 1830. After two years, he was elected the ninth Governor of Mississippi and served one term. After his defeat he successfully ran again for the Mississippi state legislature and served another term before moving to Texas.
Runnels settled in Brazoria County and represented the County in the Convention of 1845 in which delegates voted for Texas to become a state in the United States. He served one term in the Texas Legislature. Runnels died in December of 1857 and is buried in Houston. Runnels County was carved out of the then larger Bexar and Travis counties shortly thereafter and was eventually named for him. The abandoned town of Runnels City served as the county seat until it moved to the current county seat of Ballinger.
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