b. 1820 – Mississippi
Runnels moved to Texas in 1842 with his widowed mother, three brothers, and an uncle. Settling on the Brazos River before moving to Bowie County, they established a cotton plantation on the Red River.
After serving as speaker of the house and lieutenant governor Runnels won a race for governor against Sam Houston, an independent, making him the only person to defeat Houston in an election. After a failed attempt to reopen the African slave trade, he signed a law allowing free blacks to choose a master and become slaves. Houston defeated Runnels in 1859 in his bid for a second term, emphasizing the victory at San Jacinto, the problems on the frontier, and the slave trade issue.