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TABLE OF CONTENTS


Collection Summary

Historical Note

Scope and Contents

Arrangement

Index Terms

Texas A&M University Kingsville, South Texas Archives

Robert Runyon Collection



Collection Summary

Creator Robert Runyon
Title Robert Runyon Collection
Dates: 1825-1967
Abstract: The South Texas Archives houses over nine hundred volumes of books relating to botany, entomology, and succulents primarily from the Lower Rio Grande Valley, a gift of Robert Runyon's family. Runyon's Botanical Library was the largest and most complete private botanical library in Texas in 1970 when the collection was donated. The collection includes correspondence to and from Robert Runyon. Runyon went to the Rio Grande Valley area in 1909 and before 1920 began a decades-long campaign to save the Sabal texana, a palm tree that was indigenous to the area, through preservation of an ancient grove and planting thousands of seeds in city parks. Runyon is widely known for cataloging the flora of the Rio Grande Valley. With only a rudimentary education and no formal training in botany other than what he learned through correspondence, reading and observation, Runyon, in 59 years as a resident of the Valley, discovered no less than 20 formerly unknown species of plants and one new genus in his area of South Texas. This correspondence relates to his studies in botany.
Identification A1995-006
Collection URL http://archives.tamuk.edu/ead.php?xml=Runyon%20EAD
Quantity: 972 volumes and 1 linear foot of documents
Location: Rare Books, Robert Runyon Book Collection and G-1-2 Boxes 1-2
Language: English, Spanish, French and German

Historical Note

Robert Runyon, son of Floyd and Elizabeth Ann (Lawson) Runyon was born on a farm in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, July 28, 1881. Little is known of his childhood or schooling. He did not attend any college or university but became a self-educated scholar through personal dedication and study. On September 16, 1901 Runyon married Nora Young, daughter of William T. and Mary Mims Young, in the town of Ironton, Ohio. Nora Young Runyon was born January 23, 1881 in Pikesville, Kentucky making her the same age as Robert. They had one son, William Thornton Runyon. Nora died early on December 3, 1908 at Catlettsburg. Robert Runyon decided to move south after his wife's death and left William with Nora Young's parents. He moved first to Houston and took a job in February 1909 as a news butch with the Gulf Coast News and Hotel Company. He eventually moved to Brownsville in October of 1909. He was the manager of Gulf Coast News Company's news stand and curio store at the train depot until January 1912 when he engaged in commercial photography until 1926. As a professional photographer he covered the major historic events in the lower Rio Grande Valley such as bandit raids during World War I, the Mexican Revolution, President Warren Harding, and Pershing's battle against Poncho Villa. He photographed the Mexican Revolution by following General Lucio Blanco after the battle of Matamoros and traveling with General Pablo Gonzalez and the Constitutionalist forces from Matamoros to the battles of Ciudad Victoria and later to Monterrey; and he also chronicled the U.S. military buildup at Fort Brown in Brownsville in response to the Mexican fighting. He carefully preserved hundreds of negatives of his photographs with his wife, Amelia's help, all on glass plates which he developed himself. In the summer of 1910 Runyon traveled back to Kentucky to bring William to Texas to live with him. Runyon married Amelia Leonor Medrano Longoria on July 4, 1913 in Matamoros. She was the daughter of Jose T. and Felipa Longoria Meadrano of Matamoros, Mexico. They had five children, Lillian, Amali, Virginia, Robert Albert, and Delbert. In 1926 Runyon joined his brother-in-law, Jose C. Medrano, in the Mexican mercantile store known as The Basket Place in Matamoros. In 1929, he bought out Medrano and continued the store until 1938. During this time, he also founded a curio and gift store in Brownsville. Runyon followed several consecutive careers conducting his research and writing on botany, later becoming active in politics. He held terms as city manager and mayor of Brownsville, the first from 1937 to 1940 and the second from 1941 to 1943. Despite the hardships of World War II, his administration was very successful. He inherited a budget in red, overcame political skullduggery, and handed back a budget in the black. For his distinguished service as City Manager and Mayor of Brownsville, Kentucky Governor Earle C. Clements appointed Robert Runyon aide-de-camp on the governor's staff with rank and grade of Colonel on May 31, 1949. He was a staunch supporter of the Democratic Party and during a span of fifty years served as election clerk, presiding judge, supervisor, precinct chairman and executive committee county chairman. Runyon's expertise in photography served his interests in botany; he would photograph South Texas plants and send the photos to experts for identification. In return the experts asked for specimens. His correspondence with botanical scholars led to long term friendships, men who helped identify his specimens and visited his home in Brownsville. These men included Liberty Hyde Bailey of Cornell University’s Bailey Herbarium, Ladislaw Cutak of the St. Louis Botanical Gardens, Benjamin C. Tharp of the University of Texas at Austin, and Dr. John K. Small of the New York Botanical Gardens. Before 1920 Runyon committed his efforts to save the Sabal texana, a palm tree that was indigenous to the area. Land had been cleared for agriculture reducing the range of Sabal texana. By 1920 the greatest concentration of this palm was on sixty acres of land seven miles southeast of Brownsville. Runyon began a one man crusade to save this palm. He planted thousands of seeds of Sabal texana. Today travelers know without glancing at a map when they have reached the Rio Grande Valley by the towering palms that now thrive in the region eighty miles north of Brownsville. In his lifetime, Runyon also established the Brownsville News Publishing Company, which printed a newspaper for a short time. His interest in genealogy prompted him to study his family history which he later published as "Genealogy of the Descendants of Anthony Lawson of Northumberland, England” (1952), “Runyon Genealogy” (1955), co-authored with Amos Runyon and “Supplement to Runyon Genealogy” (1962). Runyon is widely known for cataloging the flora of the Rio Grande Valley. He discovered twenty formerly unknown species of plants and one new genus in his area of South Texas. He is the author of two publications, "Vernacular Names of Plants Indigenous to the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas,” (1947), and “Texas Cacti” (1930) co-authored with Ellen D. Shulz. Runyon published many papers of local botany in newspapers. Runyon was a member of many professional organizations including the Botanical Society of America; the Torrey Botanical Society; the Sullivant Moss Society; the American Society of Plant Taxonomists; Phi Sigma Biological Sciences Honor Society, University of Texas chapter; and the Cactus and Succulent Society of America. Runyon died in Brownsville on March 9, 1968. His herbarium with more than 8,750 individual items was donated to the University of Texas at Austin and his library of botanical references was donated by the Runyon Estate in 1970 to Texas A&I University, now Texas A&M University-Kingsville. His living legacies include all the trees, shrubs, plants and especially the Sabal palms that grace the parks in the Lower Rio Grande Valley he helped to establish.

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Scope and Contents

Correspondence from John K. Small of the New York Botanical Garden, Liberty Hyde Bailey of the Bailey Herbarium in Ithaca, New York, and William R. Maxson of the Smithsonian Institute are just a few examples of the people who corresponded with Runyon over the years. The over nine hundred volumes illustrate the more than forty years of study Runyon embarked upon in his research. This unique collection of manuals, journals and monographs serve as research references in the field of systematic botany. Many of the books have beautiful colored plates and can be enjoyable to both scholar and layman. Biographical materials, taxonomic indexes, government publications and botanical society journals reside in the Robert Runyon Collection.

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Arrangement

The two boxes of documents are arranged by folder, each assigned to a single correspondent. The book collection is catalogued with Library of Congress call numbers.

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Index Terms

Persons
Runyon, Robert, 1881-1968
Runyon, Nora Young, 1881-1908
Runyon, Amelia Leonor Medrano, 1892-1987
Runyon, William Thornton, 1904-1990
Mahoney, Lillian Runyon, 1914-2007
Perkins, Amali Runyon 1915-2007
Gilbert, Virginia Runyon, 1917-1998
Runyon, Robert Albert, 1920-1999
Runyon, Delbert, 1926-2012
Organizations
Botanical Society of America
Torrey Botanical Society
Texas Academy of Science
American Society of Plant Taxonomists
International Association for Plant Taxonomy
University of Texas at Austin
Cactus and Succulent Society of America
Democratic Party (Tex.)
Geographical Names
Catlettsburg (Ken.)
Brownsville (Tex.)
Matamoros (Mex.)
Austin (Tex.)
Kingsville (Tex.)
Subjects
Municipal government
City managers
Mayors
Photographers
Botany
Desert plants
Merchants

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