University of Texas, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History

A Guide to the Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, 1907-2008

Descriptive Summary

Creator Runyon, Robert
Title Robert Runyon Photograph Collection
Dates: 1907-2008
Identification: 2007-109; 2007-223; 2008-059; 2008-106; 2008-144; 2008-333
Extent 21 feet, 5 inches
Language Materials are in English and Spanish.
Repository Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Note

Robert Runyon was born on a farm near Catlettsburg in Boyd County, Kentucky, on July 28, 1881, the son of Floyd and Elizabeth (Lawson) Runyon. On September 16, 1901, Runyon married Norah Young in Ironton, Ohio. The couple's only child, William, was born on August 6, 1904, in Ashland, Kentucky, where Runyon had taken a job selling insurance. On December 3, 1908, Norah died. In an effort to put the impact of her death behind him, Runyon left William with his late wife's parents and went to New Orleans and then to Houston looking for employment. In early 1909 the Gulf Coast News and Hotel Company hired him to sell sandwiches, fruit, candy, and cigarettes to passengers on the St. Louis, Brownsville, and Mexico Railway between Houston and Brownsville, Texas. Within a couple of months the railway offered to make him manager of Gulf Coast's lunchroom and curio shop in the Brownsville depot. Runyon accepted the position and, in April 1909, rented a room across the street from the railroad station and began a period of residency in Brownsville that continued without interruption for fifty-nine years until his death in 1968.

Arriving in Brownsville, Texas, in 1909, Robert Runyon entered a world very different from his native Kentucky. With its tropical climate and close proximity to Mexico, the town embraced two cultures and thrived on diversity. Throughout the rest of his life, Runyon took an avid interest in studying and recording this unique area. His photographs of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Northeastern Mexico both document the region's history and stand as testimony to Runyon's affinity for the land and its people.

Runyon returned to Kentucky in the summer of 1910 to bring William back to Texas to live with him. On July 31, 1913, Runyon married Amelia Leonor Medrano Longoria, a young woman from a respected middle-class family with deep roots in northern Mexico. Between 1914 and 1926, Amelia bore five children: Lillian, Amali, Virginia, Robert, and Delbert.

Robert Runyon worked as a commercial photographer from 1910 to 1926. During that time, he focused his camera on the mundane and the dramatic alike. His first images recorded urban life in Brownsville and Matamoros as well as the Rio Grande terrain. Then, during the summer and fall of 1913, he turned his attention to political events in Mexico as the Mexican Revolution reached the Texas border. On June 3, General Lucio Blanco and his Constitutionalist forces captured the Federal garrison at Matamoros. The next day, Runyon moved throughout the city, photographing the results of battle. He later recorded Blanco's land distribution cerermony and Los Borregos in August and proceeded to travel with Blanco's army south to Ciudad Victoria. Several months later, he returned to photograph Revolutionary events in Monterrey. Back in Texas, Runyon also photographed the results of two 1915 bandit raids across the U.S. border: the August 15 raid at Norias Ranch and the October 10 train wreck at Olmito. Although small in number, Runyon's images of the Mexican Revolution have great historical significance. The conflict between Rebels and Federals in Northeastern Mexico has gone largely undocumented; his photographs provide a unique record of this important event.

After the tumultuous decade of the 1910s, Runyon returned to familiar subjects in the peaceful and prosperous 1920s. He continued to document city life in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and in Matamoros, Mexico, and he also took many photographs of local beaches, lakes, and, especially, the Rio Grande. He began to pursue a growing interest in botany as well and used his camera to record native plants, including palm trees, yucca, and cactus. Runyon also continued to make and market postcards, but his most profitable enterprise during the early 1920s was studio photography. He aggressively promoted his small studio opposite the Brownsville railroad depot, drawing in thousands of customers and enjoying unprecedented popularity as a commercial photographer. In addition to studio work, he photographed school groups, sports teams, and the numerous excursion groups which came to Brownsville in the early 1920s as potential participants in the Valley land boom.

By 1926, however, Runyon decided to leave commercial photography for the more profitable trade in curios and souvenirs. He became a partner with this brother-in-law in a curio store in Matamoros, and later owned a store in Brownsville. Although he continued to take pictures of plants in conjunction with his botanical studies, after the late 1920s Runyon built his reputation as a highly successful amateur botanist and local politician rather than a photographer. Runyon published two books on native plants, Texas Cacti (1930) and Vernacular Names of Plants Indigenous to the Lower Rio Grande Valley (1938), and in the 1920s began a crusade to save the native Texas palm, Sabal texana. Local politics became Runyon's passion in the late 1930s. He was appointed Brownsville city manager in 1937 and in 1941 was elected mayor. The "stormy petrel" of Brownsville politics, as Runyon was known, held the position through 1943. In 1952 he unsuccessfully ran for Texas House of Representatives. Runyon published a newspaper in the 1940s and wrote a small volume on family history, Genealogy of the Descendants of Anthony Lawson of Northumberland, England.

Robert Runyon died on March 9, 1968, in Brownsville after a short illness at the age of eighty-seven.

Scope and Contents

The Robert Runyon Photograph Collection documents the diverse interests and multiple careers of Robert Runyon, including commercial photography, retail sales, local political office, and botany. The collection includes glass negatives, lantern slides, nitrate negatives, prints, postcards, correspondence, business records, and botany specimens.


A portion of this collection is stored remotely. Advance notice is required for retrieval. Contact repository for retrieval.

Related Material

This collection forms part of a digitized collection. See also The South Texas Border, 1900-1920: Photographs from the Robert Runyon Collection.

Administrative Information

Cite as

Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, 1907-2008, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Detailed Description of the Collection



2007-223/1 Politics (includes clippings, speeches, correspondence):
Letters of Thanks
Letters, January 1942
Applications for jobs (city)
Proclamations by Runyon
Letters, Oscar C. Dancy
Letters, Menton Murray
City Politics
City of Brownsville
Travel, R. Runyon
Untitled (miscellaneous loose items)
Letters, Famous People (primarily elected and government officials)
City Bond Case
Miscellaneous City Business
“Runyon 702”
Housing Authority, 1941
Whitney (clippings)
Untitled (miscellaneous)
Miscellaneous Files:
Cancelled checks
Travel Guide
Untitled (legal documents)
Tax Receipts, 1913 and later
Tax Receipts, Queen Theatre
Tax Statements, Brownsville Consolidated ISD and City of Brownsville
Untitled (personal financial)
Untitled (assorted items)
Printer engraving plate for invitation, 1963
2007-223/2 Miscellaneous Files:
Catalogs and brochures
Weather Diaries, 1939, 1943, 1958-1967
The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels
Mirrors – how to silver
Honor for Robert Runyon
Biographies, Robert Runyon
Brownsville History
Fort Brown letters
Clipping, Bandit Raids (photocopy)
Copies, Robert Runyon Papers
Old Papers
Resaca Park
Paper on telegraph lines
Letters about Brownsville Railroad
Monty’s Monthly Magazine, 1925, 1927, 1936
Map of Matamoros
Untitled (miscellaneous loose items)
Tax Receipts, 1920-1939, 1956-1960
Building Permits
Microfilm copies of book, Houston Displayed, or Who Won the Battle of San Jacinto?
Insurance, 1909-1911, 1940
My Copies (photocopies of correspondence), 1909-1910
Property, 1911-1940
Miscellaneous letters and receipts-rent, paper (includes financial documents and correspondence), 1911- 1940
Letters-Runyon to Editor, 1948-1949, 1956
Early Correspondence-Runyon, 1910-1920, 1940
Letterhead-Robert Runyon
Letters to Runyon-Matamoros, 1911-1912
R. Runyon-Miscellaneous Letters, 1910-1966
Old Receipts (includes Mexican identification papers), 1916-1946
Receipts-Runyon, 1909-1912, 1927, 1934
Anniversary-50th, 1963
Port Isabel, 1936
Brownsville News, 1936-1953
Robert Runyon letters, 1910-1912, 1928, 1937
For an album/scrapbook (telegrams, letters, bills, receipts)
C.L. Williams, County Clerk, 1911, 1939
Publications (tourism and church brochure, program)
Financial documents (letters, receipts)
Assorted letters and cards
2007-223/3 Book Manuscript (Genealogy of the Descendants of Anthony Lawson):
Orders, 1939, 1952-1953
Manuscript Drafts and Edits
Botany Books donated to Jernigan Library, Texas A&I University
Notes on Plants
Field Notes, 1926-1928, 1937, 1940-1941
Lists of Plants Identified
The Basket Place, Jumping Bean
Letters, Ellen Schulz, 1930, 1956
Letters, Dr. Thorp, 1946-1950
Requests for plants, 1920-1922
Palm Grove
Botany (multiple folders)
City Parks
Printed items (newsletters)
Correspondence (membership, specimens, research)
Notices to appear (Equalization Board, Brownsville CISD)
City of Brownsville, Tax Statements (property of Robert Runyon), 1948-1960
Tax renditions, school district
Bank Books
Address Book (lists addresses and costs of various perfumes)
Curt Teich & Company
Buckhorn Letters
Products manufactured in Brownsville, 1931
Purchase Orders-Stores
Basket Place
2007-223/4 Photography:
“mine” (assorted correspondence)
Southwest Caller magazine and San Antonio pictures
Litigation (regarding copyright), 1927-1928
Clipping-Postcards, 1987
Requests for Photographs (photocopies), 1912-1965
General Electric Photo Data Book, business card, photographs, 1947, 1965, undated
Curt Teich & Company letters, 1912
Clipping-Photographing Flowers, 1913
Kodak Exposure Record (photocopies) (2 folders)
Inventory of Lenses, 1918, 1940, 1953
Photographic Lenses, etc., 1920-1923, 1953-1954
Brownsville Herald, 1925, 1948
Flower Grower and Southern Florist magazines, 1928-1929
Mrs. Ellen D. Schulz (Witte Museum), 1923-1932
Correspondence (personal and business) (some in Spanish), 1933-1943
Robert Runyon (business receipts and records in Spanish)
Assorted Correspondence, Financial and Photography Records (includes clippings, Exposure Records, business and personal receipts, 1939 British Journal of Photography)
Botany Specimens
2007-223/5 Scrapbooks:
1946, 1964-1967
3S437 Photographic Materials:
Negative Envelope, empty
Copies of original film box lids (lantern slides in box 3S471b and glass plate negatives in box 3S077a)
Polyester negatives:
April 21, 1958
Resaca Park, 9-10:30, September 30, 1958
May 30, 1962
February 7, 1962
Glass negatives 12x5, circa 1920's:
Alamo, San Antonio
San Jose Mission, San Antonio
3So77a Glass negatives, 5x7:
Man on donkey
Amelia Runyon
Runyon family
Amelia and Amali Runyon, 1917
Amali and Virginia Runyon
Runyon family
Robert, Amali, Lillian Runyon
Amali Runyon
Jose Maria Medrano
Brownsville train station
Virginia Runyon, 1921
Article in Spanish (parts 1 and 2)
Amelia y Leocadia
Amali Runyon, 1921
Carranza’a troop trains, Matamoros
Amali Runyon
Rio Grande railroad engine
Family portrait
Man and woman portrait (5 shots)
Lillian, Amali, Virginia Runyon, circa 1921-1922
Oil derrick
Man and woman portrait
Felipe L. de Medrano
Car outside Runyon Studio
Oil derrick
Mission (2 shots)
Cowboy portrait
Cowboys and cowgirl
Aerial view of town square park
Cattle-Steers (3 shots)
3So77b Lighthouse, Padre Island
Map of Mexico
Lillian, Amali, Virginia Runyon
Map of Mexico
Constitutional soldiers, Mexico
Don V. Carranza and Don P. Gonzales
Touring car
Runyon family
Amali and Virginia Runyon
Virginia Runyon, 1921
Lillian, Amali, Virginia Runyon
Robert Runyon
Amali Runyon, (2 shots) 1921
Football game (3 shots)
Cowboy portrait (3 shots)
3S471a Glass negatives 5.5x3.5:
Amali Runyon
Runyon family, circa 1919
Amelia Runyon, circa 1919
Soldier on horse
Girl toddler, Runyon daughter?
Glass plate negatives 4x5:
Men fishing on beach (5 different shots)
3S471b Lantern slides, Cramer’s Photo Dry Plates, 3x5:
Outdoor monument
Civilian army parade, Mexico?
Civilian soldiers, Mexico?
Building Ruins
Man with donkey
Lantern slides, Hammer Lantern Plates, 3x5:
Man with flower
Map of Matamoros
Troop of soldiers
City street
City street
2007-109/1 Politics and Speeches, 1948-1961
Botany (articles, writings, notes, correspondence), 1923-1940
Politics (correspondence), 1935-1958
Income and Poll Tax Information (includes Appellants Brief of 1950 Civil Suit), 1912-1966
Politics (speeches, position statements, expenses, published Material, correspondence), 1937-1966
Botany (catalogs, notes, specimens), 1941, undated
Election, 1961
Newspaper Clippings (related to political and civic affairs), (6 folders), circa1940s-1950s
Photography and Botany (receipts for orders and supplies - some very brittle, correspondence, notes), circa 1920s-1960s
The Basket Place - Business (inventory, correspondence, orders) (some in Spanish), 1933-1949
Assorted Botany, Political, Business (some in Spanish), 1926-1958
Assorted Business (Guerlain, Teich, Interstate Circuit, taxes)(some in Spanish), 1929-1961
Assorted Business (perfume invoices, City Manager’s News Letter, etc)(some in Spanish), 1930-1941
Business Invoices (some in Spanish), 1929-1937
Business Invoices (some in Spanish), 1930-1936
2007-109/2 Democratic Convention, Dallas, September 15, 1964
Fidel Loya vs The Brownsville News Publishing Company Civil Case, 1940
Business Invoices and Orders, 1930-1935
Tax Papers, 1937-1960
Correspondence-Political, 1924-1959
Correspondence-Political, 1949-1950
Business Invoices, etc, circa 1930s
Presiding Judge of Election, 1914, 1922, 1949-1966
Subject File: Legal Procedures, 1944-1947
Receipts from Basket Place, Mexico, 1929-1939
Curt Teich Postcard Orders, 1930-1936
Politics (published speeches, publications regarding Democratic Party), 1947-1952
Receipts (includes notes and correspondence), 1911-1961
Basket Place correspondence and orders, 1934-1935
Purchased Book Receipts, 1928-1963
Income Tax & Receipts, 1919, 1939-1958
Correspondence - Botany:
2007-109/3 1937-1956
Correspondence – Business & Botany, 1929-1940
Correspondence – Botany, 1925-1940
Assorted Correspondence & Book Facsimiles, 1914-1961
Maps (mostly of Texas and Rio Grande Valley region), 1938-1947
Genealogical Writings - Runyon Family (2 folders)
Correspondence (alphabetical), 1940-1943
Assorted, 1926-1949
Correspondence, 1926-1927, 1946, 1960
Invoices (Runyon’s Curio & Gift Shop) & Correspondence, 1936- 1960
Botany Notes and Photographs, 1947-1956
Botany Notebooks and Photographs, 1926-1941
Photography Book, Fallowfield’s Photographic Annual 1928
2007-109/4 Assorted Leaflets (related to botany, photography, government, US Department of Agriculture, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station)
The Democratic Digest (not complete and some duplicates)
June/July 1944
December 1948 – April 1953
Democratic Digest (some duplicates)
September – November, 1953
January – March, July – November, 1954
July, September – December, 1955
April, 1956
February 1957 – November/December 1960
2007-109/5 Business Invoices & Correspondence:
Receipts and Bills, circa 1940s-1960s
Travel Receipts and Assorted Financial, circa 1920s-1960s
Runyon Business Cards, Nameplates, Empty Photo Envelopes, Book Index Cards
Daily Diaries (documenting weather conditions), 1943-1956 (not complete)
Receipt Books, 1933-1962
Account Book, 1939-1952
2007-109/6 Stockholders Record Book, Brownsville News Publishing Company, 1939-1942
Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, 1941
USDA, 1948
Texas Law Review, 1937
The Texas Quarterly, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1963
Botany Notes & Field Notes, circa 1930s, undated
Runyon Herbarium Index, 1963
2007-109/7 Printing Blocks of Flora and Fauna Photographs
2008-059/1 Photographs
Flora and Fauna of Rio Grande Valley, circa 1950s-60s
Locales and Buildings, Brownsville, Texas, circa 1940s-1960s
Various Texas Scenes, circa 1920s-1950s
Assorted Receipts, Invoices, Correspondence, Legal Documents, 1910-1963
Williamson, West Virginia Estate
Accounts-Williamson, WV, 1931-1937
Correspondence-Mr. Poole, 1938-1945
Williamson Estate, 1939-1940
Correspondence-Goodykoontz & Slaven, 1939-1940
Correspondence-A.W. Mann, 1940-1941
Correspondence-Lant R. Slaven, 1941-1945
Correspondence-Lillie Kirk, 1937-1938
The Williamson Property-Deeds and Other Records
The Kirk Heirs (correspondence and notes), 1937-1945
Correspondence-Julia C. Ford, 1940-1941
Data and Expenses, Williamson Property, 1937-1945
Assorted Clippings and Letters, 1939
Correspondence-Charles Runyon and Kelly Maiden, 1940- 1945
Miscellaneous Letters-Williamson, WV & Ashland, KY, 1939-1945
Catalogue of Copyright Entries: Part 4 (pertaining to creative expressions and works of art), 1916
Forging Ahead in Business, 1946
U.S.A.: The Magazine of American Affairs, 1952
Barker History Center (correspondence, clippings regarding Runyon Collection)
Meteorological Data, 1925, 1931, 1942, 1965-1966
Democratic Party (state and national conventions, events, etc.), 1943-1962
Assorted Clippings, Notes, Ephemera, 1907-1999
2008-059/2 Postcards (sent and received from various Runyon family members), 1909-1985
Correspondence (from various members of the Runyon family), 1935-1963
Publications & Basket Place Catalog (featuring Runyon’s photographs), 1940, 1976, undated
50th Anniversary Guest Books, 1963
Robert Runyon Memorial Guest Book, 1968
Amelia Runyon Memorial Guest Book, 1987
Runyon Rent Partnership, 1986-1989
Runyon Papers
Medical Histories, 1968
Clipping – Dobie & Runyon, 1967
Correspondence – The Basket Place, 1926-1928
Correspondence – The Basket Place, 1927-1928
Correspondence, 1914-1959
Correspondence, 1928-1960
Sympathy Cards, 1968
Posthumous Tributes, 2001-2002
Runyon Library Index
Democratic Party, 1946-1963
2008-059/3 Clippings (some in Spanish), circa 1930s-1950s
Copyright Records & Miscellaneous Copyright Material, 1923-1939
Photography-Related Catalogs, 1887-1919
Litigation (elections, property tax), 1953-1960
Litigation, Supreme Court of Texas (libel), 1939-1941
Litigation (City of Brownsville), 1939
City of Brownsville, 1939
Assorted Legal and Tax, 1955-1962
Amali Runyon Perkins Papers
Weather Diary, Calling Cards, Tax Data, 1963-1968
2008-059/4 Postcard Collection (Runyon and others), circa 1920s-1970s
2008-106/1 Correspondence-Amelia Medrano and Robert Runyon (many in Spanish), 1912-1913
Correspondence-Assorted, 1909-1910
Correspondence-Assorted Family, 1910-1940
Botany/Specimen Note Cards, circa 1940s
Business Invoices & Correspondence-The Basket Place, photography, etc., 1919-1937
Political Correspondence & Documents, 1935-1965
Assorted Biographical (identification, letters, writings about Runyon, etc.), 1929-1968
Insurance Papers, 1902-1938
Samples, circa 1900-1920s
Received, 1909-1913, 1958-1966
Amali Runyon Perkins Papers, 1934-1973
University of Texas, 1934-1936
Robert Albert Runyon
Letters, 1944-1973
Ephemera, 1922-1968
Diary (2), 1942
Field Notes and notes regarding Park Commission, 1942-1946
Photographic Exposure, 1926
MacManus Estate Sale:
Grammar Book and article, 1868, 1927, 2006
Assorted Documents & Correspondence, circa 1887-1920s
Assorted Postcards, circa 1900-1920s
Printed Matter
Assorted Travel Guides & Brochures of the Rio Grande Valley (many featuring Runyon photos), 1924-1962
The True Facts About the Expropriation of the Oil Companies’ Properties in Mexico, 1940
Botany Specimen Photograph Album
3X398 Postcard Album
Award (framed), 1949
3X398 Printed Matter
Periodical Publications:
A Year to Remember, 1945
American Photography, March 1919
Frontera (Spanish language magazine), March-April, 1947
Democratic Digest, September 1960
Horticulture, April 15, 1929
Matamoros (Spanish language magazine), February 1943
Our Times, December 4, 1963
Sheriff’s Association of Texas Magazine, December 1939
Texas Parade, 1938, 1940-1941, 1948-1950, 1954 (incomplete)
Trees: The Journal of American Arboriculture, July/August 1942
Western Homes and Gardens, February 1929
Photography Business Records (rolled), 1918-1919
Glass Negative (8x10): Amali Runyon as a baby
2008-144/2 Oversize Material:
2008-144/2 Assorted Travel Guides & Brochures of the Rio Grande Valley (many featuring Runyon photos), 1924-1962
2008-144/1 Political, circa 1940s-1960s
Botany, 1938, 1959, 1969
Photography & Postcard Business, 1918, 1986
Real Estate, 1921-1927, 1933, 1986-1988
Amali Runyon Perkins & Doug Perkins, 1933-1936, circa 1960s
Assorted, 1916-1968
Ephemera, 1932, circa 1960s
Clippings, circa 1930s-1980s
The International Standard, 1884
The Law Student, 1939
The New York Times Current History: The European War (8 issues) 1915-1916
2008-333/1 Personal Papers
Letters, 1910-1958
Genealogy, 1956-1984
Ephemera, 1919-1963
Business Papers
Photography, 1927-1928
Property, 1925-1968, 1981-1983
Political Papers, 1938-1965, undated
Botany Papers, 1918-1954
Amali (Runyon) Perkins and Doug Perkins, 1932-1997
Runyon Family, 1944-1947, 2008
Published Material & Maps, 1937-1969
Lulac News, Vol. 6, No. 1, January 1939
Matamoros Rotario (Spanish), May 1937
National Political Campaign of 1944, Part II, 1944
Time, November 21, 1969
United Press Self-Revising World Map, 1940
Vietnam (from newspaper), 1968
2008-144/2 Oversize
The Gestapo: Hitler’s Secret Police, circa 1940
Map, Texas, General Land Office, 1958
Assorted Clippings, circa 1920-1930s