While not much is known about his early life, some things can be seen learned from his records. He was born on July 15th, 1886. He was considered to be “half-blooded,” as his father was a white man by the name of George W. Runnels, and his mother, Ellen Runnels, was a woman from the Sanpoil tribe. Runnels had several brothers and sisters, such as Tommy Runnels and Hiram B. Runnels. It can be seen from his records that he was raised Catholic, a common occurrence for most children raised on the reservation after 1872. It is believed that Runnels lived on the reservation for a few years, as his school records indicate that he attended two different schools there. In 1902, Runnels began attending the Carlisle Indian school at the age of 16, and stayed enrolled in the school for roughly 5 years before being “discharged” in 1907. After a little more than a year, Runnels would go on to re-enroll in the school, and would stay enrolled until he graduated in 1911 at the age of 25. From his files, it can be seen that Runnels was a student of good conduct and scholarship, who had an interest and possible talent for business. After graduating, he would go on to attend the “Blair Business College” in Spokane, Washington, and another school in Keller, Washington. The order in which he attended these two schools is unknown.
Runnels submitted the story The Struggle Against Darkness in the September 1911 edition of The Red Man and Helper. Based upon the publication date, it is believed that Runnels submitted the story as an alumnus, as he graduated several months prior in April, 1911. Given this information, it can be assumed that Runnels was acting as a Tribal Educator, as he sent in the work to have readers learn about his tribe.