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Samuel James Reader Papers, 1853-1955

(Bulk 1853 - 1914)

Samuel ReaderMicrofilm MS 1285 - MS 1292




Samuel James Reader moved to Kansas in 1855 at the age of nineteen. Along with others of his family, he responded to the advertisements of cheap farmland in territorial Kansas. After traveling overland in a small wagon train from Illinois, Reader and the other members of his family staked out their land claims around the small town of Indianola, which was located north of Topeka across the Kansas River. Samuel Reader became a lifelong resident of the area. Farming remained his occupation, and among his pastimes he was a diarist, painter, and photographer. The collection includes thirteen volumes of his diaries, approximately one hundred letters, three volumes of autobiography, photographs and his paintings. Most of the material was donated by his only surviving child, Elizabeth “Bessie” Reader. Bessie wrote a short biography of her father which is also included in the collection.

The papers of Samuel James Reader, pioneer, farmer, soldier, artist, and photographer, of Shawnee County, Kansas, were given to the Kansas State Historical Society, by his daughter, Elizabeth Reader, after his death in 1914; Reader himself gave paintings and photographs between the years 1890 and 1910. The transcript of the letter from Mrs. Carl C. Harris to Georgia Foster of The Topeka Daily Capital (subgroup 3) was presumably made from the original in 1955.


Linear feet of shelf space occupied: 3

Number of items: 130

Biographical Sketch

The Reader family originated in Warwickshire, England, where Samuel’s father, Francis Reader, was born in 1798 in a family of eleven children. In the United States the family settled in Pennsylvania where Francis grew up and married Catherine James. The couple had two children, Eliza, born on 15 December 1833, and Samuel James, born 25 January 1836, in Greenfield (later Coal Center), Pennsylvania. When Samuel was four months old his mother died, but not before entrusting the children’s upbringing to her sister, Eliza James. Known as Liza in the family, this aunt became a mother to the children and took them with her when the James family left Pennsylvania in 1839 for Wellsburg, Virginia. During the time they lived in Virginia Samuel recalled frequent visits from their father. The James family consisted of grandfather William James, who fought in the Revolutionary War in New Jersey; Liza; and two brothers. Uncle Samuel (for whom Reader was named) was nicknamed Sammon as a youngster. He later became an itinerant preacher and bought land in La Harpe, Illinois. When he realized the religious life could not provide his family a living, he became a farmer in Illinois. It was to La Harpe that the James family moved in 1841 after Francis Reader gave his permission for the children to go “west.” Their father remained in Pennsylvania where he remarried and fathered more children. A half - brother, Frank, became a newspaper editor and publisher, and his correspondence is included in the collection of letters to Samuel.

La Harpe was near the Mormon town of Nauvoo. Reader’s cousin, Sidney Rigdon, formerly a Campbellite minister, had settled in Nauvoo after befriending Joseph Smith, Jr., and joining the Mormon band. Rigdon’s mother was the sister of Samuel Reader’s grandmother. Rigdon became one of the close associates of Joseph Smith and a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This kinship and the close proximity to Nauvoo enhance the first volume of Reader’s autobiography with tales of the Mormon troubles with neighboring “Gentiles.” Reader’s family entertained the Joseph Smith family for a few days in their home. The visit ended when Samuel and Smith’s eldest son, Joseph Smith III, disagreed over the ownership of a toy. Letters written to Samuel from Joseph Smith III in 1908 are included in the collection’s correspondence.

At the age of thirteen Reader started the practice of keeping a daily journal. The habit was encouraged by his reading of the Lewis and Clark journals and he copied their technique of including drawings and maps to illustrate the text. He started by writing abbreviated entries so he would not become bored with it as a daily chore. James M. Cole (later to be Reader’s uncle by marriage to his Aunt Liza) taught the school at La Harpe, but Reader did not enjoy his coursework and stopped attending school at the age of sixteen or seventeen. In Bessie’s biography of her father, she concluded that he learned slowly and preferred to teach himself by reading books. His diary reflects the breadth of his reading. Reader taught himself the Pitman shorthand method and wrote most of the entries in volumes three through eleven of his diary in shorthand. He also interspersed the diary with French, which he and Eliza were learning from a tutor. Of the fifteen diaries he kept during his lifetime, only thirteen survived. Unfortunately volumes one and four were lost when his Indianola farmhouse burned in 1890.

While they lived in La Harpe Liza met and married James M. Cole, a widower from New York. The Coles moved to Hills Grove, Illinois, in 1854 with their ready - made family of niece, nephew, and his daughter from his prior marriage. They also had with them their two children, Fannie, and Eugene. At Hills Grove Reader developed his muscles by working all day in a stone quarry. He managed to save $164 in gold.

The money he saved was used to help pay for their trip in 1855 to Kansas. Gold was exchanged for currency along the way. With this money he also made his own claim for a town lot in Indianola and for 160 acres of farmland in what was then Calhoun County (later part of Shawnee County). At the age of nineteen Reader had become a big landowner in Kansas. Early in 1856 the free - state issue grew hotter as “border ruffians” started raiding towns along the border between Kansas and Missouri. Reader’s antislavery position is well documented in his diaries and in a young, romantic way he was eager to go into battle for a free Kansas. However, according to his diary, and a later typed account, his sister hid his best pants, thus preventing him from going to Lawrence on 28 August 1856, along with 125 other free - state fighters to rescue the town from proslavery forces.

The next day when rifle shots were fired after dark from the direction of Indianola it was assumed that the proslavery sympathizers in the neighborhood were sacking the town. Reader followed the example of fellow members of the Indianola Free - State Guards and set out to rout the proslavery enemy from the community. The “Battle of Indianola” ended without a shot being fired when Reader turned over his Uncle Cole’s sword to a proslavery neighbor. The neighbor shouted that this “surrender” ended the skirmish and they all retired to their homes. Ten days later Indianola was sacked.

Reader next participated in the Battle of Hickory Point. This involvement in the border conflicts and Reader’s eyewitness accounts give his diaries added importance. Reader joined the troops when General James Lane sent word that the regiment needed reinforcements. The battle site was five and one - half miles north of present day Oskaloosa and fifteen miles due east from the original town of Ozawkie. Ozawkie was sacked on 8 September 1856, and the proslavery troops began moving back east toward Missouri. Reader maintained that the proslavery men were “Kickapoo Rangers” under the leadership of a man named Robinson.

On 13 September 1856, the proslavery men were approached under a white flag at Hickory Point, a small place on the military road to Fort Leavenworth, consisting of only a blacksmith shop and a store. Lane’s officer handed the band a summons for the looting of Ozawkie. Lane apparently had asked for unconditional surrender, claiming that a fight against his 1500 troops would be useless. In fact, there were approximately 150 free - state volunteers with Lane. When the firing started Lane concluded that they could not successfully take the buildings without larger artillery, and he ordered his men to retreat to Ozawkie. Before Lane’s men could engage the enemy again, Governor John W. Geary ordered them to disband, fearing that a greater war would result. The official government stance was still proslavery, and the free - state volunteers were labeled “traitors.”

After the outbreak of the Civil War, Reader was mustered into the 2nd Kansas Infantry regiment as quartermaster and ordered to report on 1 September 1863. The Battle of the Big Blue on 22 October 1864 was Reader’s only war experience. The battlefield was in Jackson County, Missouri, on the Mockbee farm near the Big Blue River where the Union Army, again commanded by General James H. Lane, went after General Sterling Price and his men. On this occasion, however, the Union force was routed, and those not killed were taken prisoner by the Confederates, with Reader among them. The prisoners were marched south, but Reader tricked his captors by posing as a Confederate soldier. He escaped on foot making his way northwest to Kansas. The full story of the Battle of the Big Blue and Reader’s narrow escape are written in a detailed account in volume three of his autobiography.

No mention is made in his diary of the death in 1858 of his Uncle, Joseph M. Cole, though from that date Samuel helped his cousin Eugene farm Liza’s property. In 1858 his sister Eliza married a Frenchman, Dr. M. A. Campdoras, and in 1860 Reader speaks fondly of the visits of their son, the young Leon. According to Reader, Campdoras adored all children and ultimately the Campdorases had five of their own. Reader became good friends with the doctor, looking after their farm during Campdoras’ tour of duty as a surgeon with the Union Army.

By 1866 the married life appealed to Reader himself, and he started writing letters to Elizabeth Smith of La Harpe. Lizzie, as Reader called her, was twenty - one years old when they married at her home in Illinois on 17 December 1867. Married life quickly agreed with Reader although it was a great change for the thirty - one year old bachelor. Their first daughter, Ruth, was born on 25 September 1868.

In 1866 Reader also became fascinated with magic lantern shows and bought his own lantern and slides. This began his affection for photography and his later purchases of various cameras, tripods, developing papers and chemicals. Photographs that he donated to the Kansas State Historical Society have been included among the Photograph Division’s collection of images of Shawnee County and Topeka. In addition to photographs that he gave to friends and neighbors he was also known locally as an artist. Four of his paintings that he presented to the Society have been transferred to the Museum Department. Throughout his life he drew and painted family members and local scenes, including the battle scenes he witnessed. These sketches fill his diary. For his autobiography he painted more complete scenes of the battlefields and soldiers.

Samuel and Lizzie later had two other children, Elizabeth (“Bessie”), born on 10 October 1871, and Frederick Augustine, born on 19 January 1873. The diaries sadly describe the deaths of their first daughter, Ruth, at age sixteen of rheumatic fever and of Fred at six months due to a short illness, perhaps pneumonia. Bessie became very dear to them and spent much of her time with her father, reading, learning to play the family piano, painting, and gardening. Lizzie herself was bedridden for twenty months before her death on 30 March 1898 from a spinal disease. Bessie and her father continued living on the farm each summer, moving every winter to cousin Fannie Cole’s house in North Topeka (now part of Topeka).

Samuel Reader died at his farmhouse on 15 September 1914 at the age of seventy - eight. Toward the end of his life he was crippled by rheumatism and complained that he had lived too long. His doctors prescribed morphine for his pain as they did for many other patients at the turn of the century. By 1903 he was addicted to both morphine and its derivative codeine, both of which he took daily. Nevertheless, his occupation as a chronicler of his times continued through July 1913 when his diary entries finally ceased.

Scope and Content

The diaries begin with volume two, 1 June 1853, and end with volume fifteen, 22 July 1913. The value of the diaries is found in Reader’s unstinting habit of writing every day. There were three topics Reader consistently noted: his weight, the health of his family, and the weather. Anyone trying to chart the weather, or examining the daily farm routine, or investigating everyday life during the Civil War crisis would want to examine the diary entries. They provide ample material from a nonelitist perspective of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They are also invaluable to the researcher of American military history because they provide a firsthand account of the border wars and of the Battle of Big Blue during the Civil War. At the same time, the diaries are peopled by well - known historic figures, such as Sidney Rigdon; Joseph Smith, Jr.; and John Brown. In addition, researchers of regional or local history will discover that the diaries chronicle the growth of northeast Kansas, particularly around Topeka. Reader mentioned names of local families residing in town and on farms, and discussed visits to Topeka stores, taverns, and hotels. He also witnessed the growth of transportation in railroads and rapid transit. Lastly, anyone reading all the diaries chronologically will become aware as they read that they have seen Samuel Reader’s life passing through the various stages of manhood.

Excerpts from the diaries were serialized in the column “Sam Reader’s Diaries” which appeared in The Topeka Daily Capital for several years beginning in 1954. These excerpts, however, did not necessarily include the complete entry for any specific day and were published by month and day to correspond with the month and day of the newspaper, but they were not printed in order by year. (For example, the entry for January 6, 1897, might be followed by that of January 7, 1883.) As a consequence the columns cannot be considered a substitute for the originals.

Volume one (1849 - May 1853) was destroyed by a fire. Volume two (1 June - 31 December 1853) was written during Reader’s seventeenth year while the family was living at La Harpe, Illinois. The entries describe the daily life of a teenager. As most people were occupied in farming, he spent much of his time helping with wheat harvests, cutting the wheat with a scythe, bunching, stacking, and threshing the wheat grain by hand. He spent much of his own time gardening and reading books such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Frost’s U. S. History, Sam Slick in England, Children of the Abbey, Shakespeare and Spenser. Regarding personal hygiene, the diary notes that he bathed in the smokehouse and his Aunt Liza (referred to as “La” in the diaries) cut his hair.

Volume three (1854 - 1857) includes the different moves the family made from La Harpe to Hills Grove, McDonough County, Illinois, and from there to Kansas. Reader was still young and still a voracious reader of books. Some of the books he referred to were The Scalp Hunter, Don Juan, The Spy, Little Dorrit, Last of the Mohicans, Scottish Chiefs, and The History of England, which show an increased fondness for adventure novels. At Hills Grove, Reader had taken his first paying job as a stone cutter in a railroad quarry. He described his life as a boarder among other workers. He also became preoccupied with phrenology and would “study” people’s heads.

The account of the family’s trip to Kansas mentions their arrival in the “famed Lawrence City” with a population of nine hundred people. He referred to the Kansas River (Kaw) as a fine stream where steamboats navigate to Fort Riley. Indianola was the county seat when the family located there and one of the first residents they met was Charley Jumbo, a Kansa Indian.

By December 1855 a man named Tom W. Barber was “murdered” near Lawrence during a border raid. The accounts for 1856 describe the struggles over Kansas’ entry into the Union as a free State. Reader served as a clerk at the free - state election on 14 January 1856. Because of his participation in the election Reader’s name was later turned in for treason by a man named Llewellan. By February 1856 there were military meetings to lay plans to stop the border raids. Reader was made second sergeant of the Indianola Free - State Guards. When martial law was declared Reader noted in his diary that these were “dark looking times” (23 May 1856). This part of the diary describes the border war on Pony Creek where he saw “old man Brown” go by. Some joked that John Brown was disguised as a surveyor (3 August 1856).

During 1857 he traveled further west with his uncle, helping to plat towns and to build homes on new claims for neighbors who wanted to settle in “western” Kansas. In September they had gone as far as Council Grove, Kansas. Volume three concludes with the Pitman shorthand code. Although Reader wrote extensively in shorthand beginning with this volume of the diaries, he later (1908 - 1911) transcribed all the shorthand into longhand. This makes the diaries readable.

Volume four (1858 - 1859) was destroyed by a fire. At the beginning of volume five (1860 - 1864) Reader listed the names of people frequently referred to in the diaries and the abbreviation he used for each of them. He often referred to his uncle as “Cole” and to his cousin Frances as “Fannie” and around 1860 he began mentioning Leon, sometimes referred to as “Le,” his sister Eliza’s son. He always referred to animals by name. “Fox” was his horse, while “John” was Dr. Campdoras’ so that when he wrote “with John to E’s” he was referring to riding the gelding to Eliza’s house.

Reader drew a map of his claim at the beginning of volume five and talked about 1860 as “The Great Drouth.” In this volume the family routine of life in Kansas is established. Eliza, married to Dr. Campdoras, was living nearby while Reader continued to live at Liza’s and help Eugene (“B”) with the farming. In July 1860 the census taker arrived at their farm asking for the ages and place of birth of each occupant and the amount of crops produced. In Indianola the property tax was thirteen mills per dollar while in Topeka it was nineteen mills per dollar (16 December 1860).

The number of periodicals which Reader received and read in 1860 is noteworthy. He was reading “Bonaparte’s Life” in Harper’s Magazine, he had subscribed to Life Illustrated, The New York Day Book and Conservative, and he bought The New York Tribune, sometimes daily. He was also reading more nonfiction books such as The Life of John Brown, Nelson on Infidelity and Josephus. For novels he was reading Robinson Crusoe and a book titled The Great Harmonia, which for some reason was labeled “a dangerous book.” Through reading The New York Tribune he kept abreast of the political climate leading up to the Civil War. He talked about secession and expressed his abolitionist sympathies (13 January 1861).

Meanwhile, his brother Frank had enlisted in the Union Army and several of the diary entries are copies of his letters to Frank. Having a brother in the Union Army brought the concerns of the war directly home. Perhaps because they feared for Frank’s life, Eliza named their third son Frank Reader Campdoras (6 April 1862). Dr. Campdoras told Samuel that President Lincoln had seized all telegraphic messages for the past two years in an effort to determine who was aiding the Confederate cause (23 May 1861). In June 1862 Campdoras joined the Union Army as a surgeon.

The routine of life for those not involved in the conflict continued to be much the same. By the age of twenty - six Reader had established his reputation as a local artist and was asked to help a neighbor, Mr. Angell, color Angell’s ambrotypes with his oil paints. Another neighbor, Mr. Button, invited Reader over to see Button’s daguerreau room as Reader was “an artist” (26 June 1862).

Reader took on civic responsibilities in 1862 when he was first elected the township trustee. His duties involved appropriately spending township funds. He reports on one occasion the town council adjourned its meeting to Thompson’s Saloon. In later diaries Reader regarded prohibition of alcoholic beverages a civic duty and voted the Prohibition Party ticket. He also approved of closing Thompson’s Saloon. In 1862, however, Jim Thompson’s Saloon was a popular spot in town, even for Reader who would stop in at the saloon on his return trip home.

Around this time several men in Topeka became interested in phonography, a system of shorthand writing based on sound. They went into business together with Reader as a member of the board. There is nothing in the diaries to indicate whether Reader made any money in this venture.

During the summer months of 1862 as a reminder of the war, Reader saw the 30th Wisconsin Regiment moving through the countryside carrying Belgian rifles. He also heard the rumor that a Colored regiment was enrolled in Kansas. By 1863 Reader had joined the 2nd Regiment and his first duty was to guard the Topeka ferry. Before a bridge was built across the Kansas River, residents paid a dollar or a dollar and a half to cross by ferry. Reader’s guard duties were to prevent the ferry from falling into Confederate hands.

Volume six (1 May 1864 - 20 July 1869) opens with Reader’s military service and quickly follows with the Battle of the Big Blue. At the end of the war in 1865 Thompson’s Saloon was converted to a schoolhouse. When brother Frank Reader mustered out at war’s end he joined the Methodist Church. The news from Pennsylvania of Frank’s conversion inspired Reader to fill his diary with his own religious views (6 January 1866). In this volume he also discussed his liberal views on the subject of enfranchisement. At the elections held on 5 November 1867, he voted for “female and negrow suffrage” according to his diary entry of that date. The suffrage amendment was defeated.

The most important personal event for Reader in 1867 was his marriage and honeymoon (17 December 1867). Within a year after his bride arrived in Indianola, the post office had disappeared (7 January 1869), and the Reader address became North Topeka.

The main event of volume seven (July 1869 - August 1872) was the building of an iron bridge which Reader designed across Soldier Creek near Reader’s farm. He sold tickets to his lantern slide show to help raise money to pay for his share of the bridge construction. The bridge project kept Reader busy until 1872. As the township trustee he was plagued by the bridge contractor, Judge Hall, who was trying to milk the township for more money while neighboring farmers refused to pay their agreed - upon share of the construction cost.

Reader’s reputation as the township trustee won him the support of the community and he was made a trustee of the Rochester Cemetery. Once again he used his lantern show to raise money, this time for the cemetery funds. Gradually he expanded his lantern show by making his own slides of local scenes. Unfortunately these lantern slides are not part of the collection.

Reader was not the only family member to enhance his standing in the community. Eugene M. Cole, his cousin, became a teacher after graduating from Washburn College (now Washburn University) (17 December 1871).

In mid-summer 1872 Reader began construction of a new house for Lizzie. She had grown dissatisfied with the cabin Reader built on his claim. This was inevitable for a young woman who had grown up in a big house in La Harpe.

In volume eight (17 August 1872 - 1 October 1874) the community was suffering from an outbreak of smallpox. From ten to thirteen people at Silver Lake died from the disease (16 December 1872). None of Reader’s relatives suffered from smallpox, but for Reader and his wife the sadness came in 1873 with the death of their infant son (6 August 1873). Reader’s diary entries, although shorter, continued even through these emotionally difficult times.

The good news in volume eight came with the birth of another Campdoras on 24 May 1873, and the news from Pennsylvania that brother Frank was publishing a newspaper (26 May 1874). By the end of the volume Reader had decided the diaries might be valuable for posterity. He wrote,

[I]f these Journals are preserved for 100 years, they will be of interest to many seekers after things of the “long forgotten past.” My being a Kansas Pioneer, and a “follower of Jim Lane,” in that old Border Ruffian war of 1856, may also enhance their value. It will show how a farm was opened up, in the old one - horse primitive way of the Backwoodsman . . .

In volume nine (October 1874 - April 1880) we learn the fate of Cousin Eugene who died 12 January 1877, at the age of twenty - four of a kidney ailment. Eugene had gone to law school, passed the bar and had practiced in both Missouri and Oskaloosa, Kansas. His real ambition was to be a journalist. In Reader’s own home life, he bought and put together a stereoscopic box for himself, and he bought a Howe sewing machine for Lizzie (5 March 1880).

Volume ten (1 May 1880 - 30 June 1885) continued to demonstrate how fragile life could be on the prairies when his brother - in - law, Dr. Campdoras, died. News also reached him that his father, Francis, died on 20 April 1884 at the age of eighty - six. The next death occurred on 29 April 1885 when their first daughter, Ruth, succumbed to rheumatic fever.

Nevertheless life continued in Shawnee County as Reader proved by buying a mowing machine, the “Superior” from West Virginia. In addition, the “Greatest Show on Earth,” Barnum’s circus and parade, came to Topeka on 2 October 1884 to everyone’s excitement.

Volume eleven (1 July 1885 - 20 August 1887) opens with a photograph of Samuel Reader at the age of fifty. During the period charted by this volume Reader’s public duties expanded to clerk of the new School District No. 93. His daughter, Bessie, enrolled in the Topeka Business and Normal College (8 November 1886), and Reader purchased a Herrington typewriter (his “writing machine” as he called it) through the mail for five dollars (6 December 1886).

Volume twelve (21 August 1887 - 15 June 1891) opens with a foreboding when Reader recounts a dream he had that their farmhouse burned to the ground (2 September 1887). This prophesy came true on 8 April 1890, and the entry for that date includes a newspaper clipping detailing the remarkable events. He received $800 from the insurance company for the house.

Starting with volume twelve Reader reverted for the most part to writing in longhand so that Lizzie and Bessie could read what he wrote. He mentioned for the first time that he mail ordered his books from the company of Colby and Rich, and in 1888 he purchased Edwin Drood from them. He was also reading Ben - Hur, Les Miserables, and Plutarch’s Lives. He occasionally bought books from Mr. Edwards, a traveling bookseller (July 1888).

The tone of volume twelve belies the author’s stance in Topeka as a long - time, well - known and respected resident. He had resided in Kansas for thirty - two years. On 11 August 1888 he was summoned to serve on a grand jury. Reader banked at Citizen’s Bank of Topeka and bought his photography supplies from Grigge’s photo shop. Lizzie was attending meetings of the Ladies Benevolent Society (7 September 1888), and the family bought tickets to see Dr. Diamond Dick’s minstrel troupe. The next year (September 1889) Lizzie took Bessie on a three - month trip with her on the Rock Island Railroad to visit Boston and Amherst, Massachusetts, and Petersborough, New Hampshire, where Lizzie had relatives. When they returned to Kansas the family attended the wedding of Reader’s niece, Virginia J. Campdoras, to Albert C. Root, the son of Frank A. Root, editor of The Topeka Mail (24 December 1889).

Reader seemed unpersuaded by the Populist Movement as he recorded his decision not to vote on 3 November 1890. In his opinion, “all parties are lying so much, and are raking up all the candidate’s rascalities” that it was not worth voting. Before this volume ended, Aunt Eliza Cole died at her home on Park Street (now NW Fairchild Street) in North Topeka at the age of 82 years, 10 months. The newspaper clipping noted she was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, on 23 April 1808. Fannie was the only survivor of the Cole family.

Volume thirteen (16 June 1891 - 6 September 1895) continues the events of Reader’s life into middle age. Bessie started attending Washburn College (14 September 1891) and was away from home much of the time. Reader was appointed bridge commissioner (16 February 1892) to oversee the repairs to the iron bridge over Soldier Creek. He continued his reading which included Cleopatra, Jesse James (no relation), and two volumes of McCauley’s History. He kept up his “photo craze” as he called it in volume twelve, taking pictures and numbering the prints in the margins of his diary as he developed them in his home photo lab. He mentioned using the “new Lithium paper” for his prints (1 June 1893). In May 1893 Reader made a special trip to the Westport, Missouri, area taking his camera and photographing the place where the Battle of the Big Blue was fought.

As far as business was concerned, Reader was renting most of his farm to neighbors by 1880. He was still on the board of directors of the Phonograph Company which in 1891 had made $6,000. The company was out of debt (February 1892). In the summer he hosted a pantomime party at their farmhouse (4 August 1892), and in November 1892 Reader voted the People’s Party ticket writing in the name of Charles Curtis for Fourth District Congressman. In 1894 he voted for Governor Lorenzo Lewelling on the Prohibition ticket and for the suffrage amendment to the Kansas constitution. Reader closed this volume and the next with a three - page list of all the photographs he printed and the names of the people to whom he gave them.

For some reason Reader copied the Braille alphabet in the beginning of volume fourteen (12 September 1895 - 30 March 1903). Neither Samuel nor Lizzie were well when he started writing this volume. Lizzie was bedridden, perhaps with spinal cancer, and Reader had sprained his ankle. Nearly all the daily entries begin with a comment about his foot aching or simply “foot pains.”

At election time Reader voted the Independent ticket for William Jennings Bryan. He bought a phonograph recorder for the family to listen to and make recordings. He would record himself reading one of his poems. He was obviously trying to entertain Lizzie, to whom he also read aloud. On 30 March 1898 Lizzie died at the age of fifty - two. That year Reader voted the Prohibition Party (8 November 1898).

Along with Bessie he began moving to North Topeka during the winter months (14 December 1898). They always stayed in Fannie’s house until spring came. While living in town they participated in the local social events. Both Reader and Bessie were members of the local Argonaut Club, a study group that gathered to discuss current ideas and literature.

Reader continued to take wide swings in politics. He opposed the Spanish - American War referring to it as “a treason to republican principles, is this war of McKinley” (7 December 1899). His diary entries became more crotchety. Whereas he had never commented on his reading before, he now noted, “read Three Musketeers. Ridiculous” (3 May 1900). This did not slow his studies as he indicated reading Emerson, Dryden, Dickens, and a history of the England of William I. On 22 November 1900 they moved to Fannie’s house at 515 Park Street (now 515 NW Fairchild Street), and Reader began writing his autobiography at age sixty - five (5 January 1901). In December 1901 he was elected commander of the Grand Army of the Republic Blue Post No. 250.

When volume fifteen (31 March 1903 - 22 July 1913) opens Reader was once again living in North Topeka. This volume is in particularly bad repair, and several pages are severely damaged. Both Reader and his diary were victims of the 1903 Topeka flood. Soldier Creek flooded its banks (29 May 1903), and two feet of water filled the first floor of Fannie’s house. Reader was unable to walk due to his rheumatism, so he could not quickly escape the rising water. Finally boats arrived and he was carried out and taken to Christ’s Hospital (now part of Stormont - Vail Hospital). At the hospital the nurse refused to give Reader morphine for his pain. That was when Dr. Guy J. Mulvane concluded that Reader was addicted to the drug and allowed him to continue his regular dosage (4 June 1903). From there Reader was released to Stormont Hospital and finally released to go home (17 June 1903). Dr. D. W. Stormont had been the Reader family doctor before his death in August 1887.

Reader had his portrait photograph taken at Easter’s Gallery in Topeka (16 October 1907) at the age of seventy - one and pasted the cyanotype print into his diary. At this point in his life Reader was very aware of his old age and his bad health. Bessie continued to stay with him and care for him. She was learning Pitman shorthand. Although bedridden Reader mentions watching the circus parade go through Topeka (1 July 1907).

On 31 March 1911 Reader had a telephone installed at his farmhouse. Reader was a man fascinated by inventions, and he tried to purchase as many as he could afford. This included cameras, phonograph machines, sewing machines, and telephones. Yet he never owned an automobile. As his health failed he noted on 22 June 1913 that he had been diagnosed as having arteriosclerosis. The last book he mentioned reading was The Leopard’s Spots. From this book D. W. Griffiths would later film “The Birth of a Nation” which was banned in Kansas for its racist overtones.

Unlike the diaries, the autobiographies are extremely polished and well - written and are contained in only three volumes. For these reasons, the autobiographies are the recommended starting point for learning about Samuel Reader. Volume one of the autobiography is unique because there is no diary to correlate with the time period covered in the volume. This does not discount Reader’s truthfulness in accounts he relates in volume one. It simply means that because he started writing at age sixty - five the researcher is dependent on what Reader could remember at that late date about his early childhood. Because of its personal insights, however, it is the most enjoyable account of the family’s history. Volume two recounts Reader’s versions of the Battles of Indianola and Hickory Point. They are more detailed than the diary version and the illustrations are an added enhancement to the text. Volume three details the Battle of the Big Blue with full paintings to show what Reader saw on the battlefield. Again, it offers more detail, including conversations Reader overheard, and for this reason the autobiography stands as a fascinating narrative of the mid-nineteenth century struggles over statehood and the slavery issue.

The correspondence includes letters Reader received from Joseph Smith III, the son of the Mormon founder; letters from Salmon Brown, the surviving son of John Brown; a letter from Jesse R. Grant, son of Ulysses S. Grant, campaigning for Woodrow Wilson for president; and letters from his brother, Frank Reader. Earlier correspondence deals with the dedication in Topeka of the Civil War monument. With the correspondence file are other materials such as Bessie’s biography of her father, a seven - page remembrance of the Battle of Osawatomie and John Brown’s leadership by Luke Parsons, Reader’s poem titled “The Battle of Big Blue,” and the typewritten version of the “The Battle of Indianola.”

Typewritten transcriptions of Reader’s accounts of the battles of Indianola and the Big Blue and various family documents follow the correspondence. Following these documents is a letter written to the editor of Reader’s columns in The Topeka Daily Capital from a woman who owned the house built by Dr. M. A. Campdoras and described in Reader’s diaries (1860 - 1862). She relates diary descriptions to the home and tells of other references that link Reader’s family to the property.

Other items by and about Samuel J. Reader include his scrapbooks and printed works in the Historical Society Research Center’s Library. Photographs Reader took of northern Shawnee County are in the Photograph Division; paintings he drew, including “The Battle of the Big Blue,” are in the museum collection.

Contents List

Ms. collection no. 483.

This collection has been arranged to the document level, described to the series level, listed to the folder level, and cataloged to the collection level. A folder list is appended to this register. The entire collection has been microfilmed (MS 1285 - MS 1292); the film is available for research use, interlibrary loan, or purchase.

Series Descriptions

Written by Judy Sweets, Intern

Personal Papers, 1853 - 1914. 3 ft. (127 items)

Diaries, 1853 - 1913. 2 ft. (13 v.) (boxes 1 - 3)

Volumes 2 - 3 and 5 - 13 (volumes 1 [1849 - May 1853] and 4 [1858 - 1859] were destroyed by fire in 1890) containing entries written daily by Samuel Reader. His weight, the health of his family, and the weather are consistently noted in the daily entries. Most of the entries in volumes 3 - 11 are written in Pitman shorthand; French terms are also interspersed within the text. English expressions were later annotated above most of the shorthand and French words. Starting with volume 12 Reader reverted for the most part to longhand so that others could read what he wrote. Volume 15 (31 March 1903 - 22 July 1913) is damaged. Small illustrations accompany the text in several volumes.

Volumes and entries within volumes arranged chronologically

Autobiography (1849 - 1864), [written] 1901 - 1908. 3 v. (3 in.) (folders 4.01 - 4.03)

Autobiography written by Reader beginning at age 65 (5 January 1901) and presumably based on his diaries. Unlike the diaries, the autobiography is extremely polished and well - written. Reader painted larger and more complete illustrations of the battlefields and soldiers in these volumes. The books only contain information about his life from 1849 through the Battle of the Big Blue in 1864.

Volumes and entries within volumes arranged chronologically

Correspondence, 1895 - 1914. 93 items (3 in.) (folders 4.04 - 5.09)

Letters Reader received from family and acquaintances; there are only a few of Reader’s letters sent. Correspondents include Joseph Smith III, the son of the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; Salmon Brown, a surviving son of John Brown; Jesse R. Grant, son of Ulysses S. Grant, campaigning for Woodrow Wilson for president; and Reader’s brother Frank. Also included is correspondence pertaining to the dedication of the Civil War monument in Topeka. With the correspondence are other materials such as Bessie Reader’s biography of her father, a seven - page remembrance of the Battle of Osawatomie and John Brown’s leadership by Luke Parsons, and Reader’s poem titled “The Battle of Big Blue.”

Arranged chronologically.

Separate index, [2] leaves, to names of writers.

The Battle of Indianola [Aug. 29, 1856, written] 1906 Dec. 7. 1 item ([12] leaves) (folder 5.09)

Personal account of the “battle” and Reader’s experiences at the time, written fifty years later. Presumably taken from his autobiography.

The Battle of the Big Blue [Oct. 12 - 30, 1864, written ca. 1897 - 1898]. 5 items (1 in.) (folder 5.10)

Three acccounts of the Battle of the Big Blue, taken from Reader’s diary & autobiography, and two poems commemorating the fight. One of the accounts includes a brief introduction by his daughter Elizabeth. Besides Reader’s experiences of the battle proper, the narratives include his capture by the Confederates & ordeal as a prisoner of war, escape, and return home.

Revolutionary War Tune [and Other Papers], 1855 - 1914. 12 items (¼ in.) (folder 5.11)

A note describing and illustrating the Reader Coat - of - Arms. Poem, “The Volunteers,” possibly written by Samuel Reader. Original deed of property in Indianola, Kansas Territory, by Geo. Perrin to Joseph M. and Eliza Cole, dated 7 June 1855, with drawings on reverse side. List of those in Co. K, 2nd Infantry, Kansas State Militia. Card with photo and poem entitled “A Kansas Twister.” Two handwritten lines of a piece of music played by Samuel J. Reader’s grandfather, Wm. James, of the New Jersey Minute Men. S. J. Reader’s certificate badge for attendance at the G.A.R. Memorial Hall, 27 May 1914. A transcription of extracts from Heber C. Kimball’s diary. A biographical sketch written by Elizabeth Reader. A short biography entitled “Samuel J. Reader: Artist and Diarist of Distinction.” An invitation to the reunion and convention of the United Confederate Veterans of Missouri [189-].

Arranged chronologically with undated items at the beginning of the folder.

Society of the Anniversary of the Battle of the Blue. Roster of the Second Regiment, Kansas State Militia, October, 22, 1864; [Minutes], 1895 - 1905. 1 v. (¼ in.) (folder 5.12)

Roster of participants in the Battle of the Blue, arranged by company and thereunder by rank and alphabetically. Information for each person includes whether the person was exposed to enemy fire, their name, rank, whether a casualty, and residence or year of death. Following the roster are minutes of the organizational and annual meetings of the society, including memorials and necrologies, and for some years lists of attendees; arranged chronologically.

[Letter written to the Topeka Daily Capital Upon Publication of Samuel James Reader’s Diary], 1955 May 13. 1 p. (folder 5.13)

Letter from Mrs. Carl Harris to Georgia Foster, who edited Samuel Reader’s diary for publication. Mrs. Harris comments on her home, which was built by Dr. M. A. Campdoras on land once owned by Reader. Mrs. Harris describes features of the home which are mentioned in Reader’s diary entries and tells of family members who later visited the house.

Microfilm List

Microfilm MS 1285 - MS 1292
Box 1 is in 074-02-01-02

Abbreviations: B = box number, FO = folder number, IT = number of items, R = roll number

R MS-# B.FO Description Dates #IT
1 1285   I. Personal Papers 1853-1914 128
      A. Diaries 1853-1913 13
    1.01 1. v.2 1853 Jun 1-Dec 31 1
    1.02 2.v.3 1854-1857 1
    1.03 3.v.5 1860-1864 1
2 1286 1.04 4.v.6 1864-1869 1
    1.05 5.v.7 1869-1872 1
    1.06 6.v.8 1872-1874 1
3 1287 1.07 7.v.9 1874-1880 1
    1.08 8.v.10 1880-1885 1
    2.01 9.v.11 1885-1887 1
4 1288 2.02 10.v.12 1887-1891 1
    2.03 11.v.13 1891-1895 1
5 1289 3.01 12.v.14 1895-1903 1
6 1290 3.02 13.v.15 1903-1913 1
7 1291   B. Autobiography (1849-1864) 1901-1908 3
    4.01 1.1849-1856 1901-1906 1
    4.02 2.1856-1864 1906-1907 1
    4.03 3. 1864 Oct. 12-30 1907-0908 1
      C. Correspondence 1895-1914 94
    4.04 Index   1
    4.05   1895 6
    4.06   1896 8
    4.07   1897 12
    4.08   1898 4
    4.09   1899 1
    4.1   1901 2
    4.11   1904 2
    4.12   1906 2
    5.01   1907 12
    5.02   1908 10
    6.03   1909 2
    5.04   1910 5
7 1291 5.05 C. Correspondence (cont.) 1911 7
    5.06   1912 5
    5.07   1913 6
    5.08   1914 9
    5.09 D. The Battle of Indianola [29 Aug. 1856] 1906 Dec7 1
    5.10 E. The Battle of the Big Blue [12-30 Oct. 1864 ca 1897-1898 5
    5.11 F. Revolutionary War tune [and other papers] 1855-1914 12
8 1292 5.12 II. Society of the Anniversary of the Battle 1895-1905 1
      of the Blue. Roster of the Second Regiment,    
      Kansas State Militia, October 22, 1864;    
    5.13 III. [Letter written to the Topeka Daily Capital    
      upon publication of Samuel Reader’s Diary 1955 May 13 1

Additional Information for Researchers


There are no restrictions on access to these papers.

The subject of literary rights was not addressed at the time of donation, consequently copyright is presumed to belong to Samuel James Reader’s heirs. Copyright to items written by persons other than Samuel James Reader is owned by the heirs of the authors.

Suggested Citation

[name of document], [date of document], [series], [subgroup], Samuel James Reader collection, Manuscripts Department, Kansas State Historical Society.

If this microfilm of the collection is used instead of the originals, it is suggested that that fact and the appropriate roll number be cited. Box and folder numbers, while not a required element of citation, can often help archivists locate materials more quickly.

Some examples of specific citations:

Diary entry, 15 Nov. 1864, vol. 5, folder 1.03, Diaries, series A, Personal Papers, subgroup 1, Samuel James Reader collection, Manuscripts Department, Kansas State Historical Society.

“The Battle of Indianola,” 7 Dec. 1906, folder 5.09, series D, Personal Papers, subgroup 1, Samuel James Reader collection, Kansas State Historical Society microfilm MS 1289.

Salmon Brown to S. J. Reader, 13 Feb. 1907, folder 5.01, Correspondence, series C, Personal Papers, subgroup 1, Samuel James Reader collection, Kansas State Historical Society microfilm MS 1288.

Processed by

[Lela Barnes?], Reprocessed by: Joyce Boswell (Lela Barnes Intern)

Processed Date

[193-?], Reprocessed date: 1989