Peter Hansborough Bell, governor of Texas, was born on May 12, 1812, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. He engaged in business in Petersburg until he left Virginia to fight for the independence of Texas. As a private in the cavalry company of Henry W. Karnes, he fought in the battle of San Jacinto, for which service, on June 6, 1838, he was issued a donation certificate for 640 acres of land. For serving in the army from May 1, 1836, to January 23, 1839, he was granted another 1,080 acres. He was also issued a headright certificate, dated June 7, 1838, for one-third league of land for army service before May 1, 1836. Bell was appointed assistant adjutant general on May 10, 1837, and inspector general on January 30, 1839. He joined the Texas Rangers under John C. (Jack) Hays in 1840 and held the rank of major in the Somervell expedition of 1842. In 1845 Bell was captain of a company of rangers but resigned that commission to enter the United States Army at the outbreak of the Mexican War. Under the command of Gen. Zachary Taylor, Bell won distinction at the battle of Buena Vista. As lieutenant colonel he commanded the part of Hays's regiment designated for service in Texas on the Rio Grande. He was experienced in frontier affairs, and the operations of his battalion inspired confidence in the people so that the line of settlement pushed southwestward rapidly.
Bell was elected governor of Texas in 1849 and again in 1851. A few months before the expiration of his second term in 1853 he resigned to fill the vacancy in the United States Congress caused by the death of David S. Kaufman. He remained in Congress from 1853 to 1857.
On March 3, 1857, Bell married Mrs. Ella Reeves Eaton Dickens, the daughter of a wealthy North Carolina planter, William Eaton, and the widow of Benjamin Dickens. Bell moved to her home at Littleton, North Carolina. At the outbreak of the Civil War he was offered a commission as colonel of Confederate forces by Jefferson Davis, but he refused to serve and spent the war years on his wife's plantation. In 1891 the Texas legislature voted Bell a donation and a pension in appreciation for his services to the republic and the state. Bell County was named in his honor. Bell died on March 8, 1898, and was buried in the cemetery at Littleton. His and his wife's remains were removed to Texas in 1930 and reinterred in the State Cemetery at Austin. In 1936 the state of Texas erected a memorial to Bell, which stands at the southwest corner of the courthouse grounds in Belton.