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Samuel J. Reader

Photograph of Samuel J. Reader, 1855

Diarist, artist. 1836 - 1914

"Keep a diary," Reader advised, "it is one of the best things you will do in your life." Reader followed his own advice. He began a diary at the age of 13 and continued it until his death in 1914 at the age of 78. The diary—and the autobiography he wrote from it—describes his move to Kansas Territory in 1855, his claim in Topeka, his military experiences, farming, and his later service as Soldier Township trustee and school district clerk. This little-known Kansas pioneer left a lasting legacy through his words and pictures that vividly illustrate our past.

Born in 1836 in Pennsylvania, Reader settled on a farm in 1855 near Indianola. He liberally illustrated his diary and recorded these events on canvas. His best known works are his drawings and paintings of territorial and Civil War experiences. Although rather primitive in style, Reader's illustrations provide a valuable record of early Kansas history; its social and political events. 

"Sleepy and tired but full of glory." Samuel J. Reader's wrote after the Battle of Hickory Point. Even though his free-state force had not won the September 1856 skirmish near Ozawkie, he felt a sense of hopefulness. Reader hated slavery but unlike John Brown he was not militant. In fact, Reader lived peacefully amid proslavery neighbors in Indianola, northwest of Topeka. What caused him to fight were threats against free-state settlers and rumors that proslavery forces were marching on Calhoun, then the county seat.

Samuel J. Reader self-portraitEight years later, Reader again took up arms, when General Sterling Price and his Confederate Army threatened to invade eastern Kansas. With a company of Topeka men, Reader fought in the Battle of Westport and the Battle of the Big Blue in Kansas City. In the course of the fighting, he was taken prisoner and marched into southeast Kansas, where he was able to escape.

Reader's unique illustrations are often used in books and articles on the Civil War in the West. In addition, his other artwork includes scenes on paper, canvas, and glass showing himself, his claim at Indianola, John Brown, and other subjects that were important to him.

In Battle of Hickory Point, Reader expresses his disapproval of slavery, which motivated him to participate in the battle in 1856. This was a two-day skirmish between proslavery and antislavery forces near Ozawkie.

In Battle of the Big Blue, Reader depicts his capture in 1864 by General Sterling Price's troops. Kept with the Confederate force as they headed to Texas, Reader escaped while in southeastern Kansas and returned to his farm in Indianola where he lived until his death in 1914.

Entry: Reader, Samuel J.

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2004

Date Modified: January 2016

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.