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John S. Runnells Papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Runnells

Scope and Content of the Collection

Incoming business and professional correspondence addressed to John S. Runnells, 1883-1887, together with his Runnells & Walker legal case files, 1884-1887.

Runnells' correspondence concerns his legal work and political activities on behalf of the Republican Party, including pleas to speak at local events. There are many letters and telegrams from businesses such as the CB&Q (Joseph W. Blythe), Central Telephone Company (R.C. Clowry), Western Union (F.H. Tubbs) officials, regarding passes for free rail travel and telegraph transmissions, legislative influence, and pending or possible cases. Also correspondence from Washington containing instructions to Runnells as United States District Attorney, and requests for passes from individuals for themselves and their families.

Case files date from Runnells' tenure as partner in the firm of Runnells & Walker and contain correspondence and legal documents re suits involving corporations such as the CB&Q and its subsidiaries, Western Union, Capital City Electric Light Company, Iowa Natural Gas and Manufacturing Company, and other Iowa firms. There are also files for personal lawsuits and one criminal case brought by the State of Iowa. CB&Q cases concern accidents, right of way, mortgages, and other issues.


  • 1883-1887



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The John S. Runnells Papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The John S. Runnells Papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of John S. Runnells

Iowa lawyer and politician, and later Pullman Company executive.

Born on July 30, 1844, in Effingham, New Hampshire to John and Huldah S. Runnells, John Sumner Runnells graduated in 1865 from Amherst College and studied law while teaching in Dover, New Hampshire. He moved to Des Moines, Iowa, in 1867 when Republican gubernatorial candidate and family friend Samuel Merrill asked him to serve as his private secretary. From 1869-1871, Runnells was U.S. Consul in Tunstall, England; he afterwards returned to Des Moines to work in the editorial department of the Daily Register.

Admitted to the Iowa bar in 1871, Runnells practiced law there until 1887. In 1872, he joined the practice of C. H. Gatch and Thomas S. Wright, and quit in 1875 after being elected to the post of reporter for the Iowa Supreme Court and opening his own law office. Two years later he formed a law partnership with Galusha A. Parsons, and from 1883 until 1887 was a partner of the firm of Runnells & Walker. Runnells specialized in telegraph and railroad law, representing the Western Union Telegraph Company, American Express Company, Wabash Railroad Company, Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad (CB&Q), and several other local utility companies.

During this period Runnells was also quite active in the Republican Party. He was elected chairman of the Republican State Central Committee in 1877 and 1880, served as an Iowa member of the Republican National Committee, 1880-1884, and was a delegate to the 1880 Republican National Convention. He was also United States District Attorney for Iowa from 1881-1885.

Well-connected in business and political circles, Runnells often served as a conduit between the firms he represented and government officials. He obtained complimentary railroad passes from the CB&Q and Wabash and telegraph "stamps" from Western Union for influential Iowans and their families. He was also a popular orator, in demand for political and patriotic gatherings.

In 1887, Runnells moved to Chicago to accept a position as general counsel of the Pullman's Palace Car Company, and in 1911 was promoted to vice president and general counsel of the firm.

Runnells was married in 1869 to Helen R. Baker, and they had four children: Mabel, Lucy, Clive, and Alice Rutherford. He died in 1929 at his summer home in Chocorua, New Hampshire.


0.6 Linear Feet (2 boxes)


Papers of Des Moines, Iowa, attorney John Sumner Runnells, partner in the firm Runnells & Walker, including legal case files, and correspondence pertaining to his legal work, political activities on behalf of the Republican Party, role as U.S. District Attorney for Iowa, and procurement of CB&Q railroad passes and Western Union telegraph "stamps" for others.


Organized by type of material (case files and correspondence). Case files arranged according to firm's "Case List." Correspondence arranged alphabetically.

Collection Stack Location

1 31 5


Unknown. Found among CB&Q records, 2012.

Processed by

Martha Briggs, 2011.
Inventory of the John S. Runnells Papers, 1883-1887
Martha Briggs
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States