Reader's diary is in many ways a unique primary source in the record of Kansas Territory. Born in Greenfield, Pennsylvania, on January 25, 1836, Reader (self-portrait at right) attended school until the age of 16, and subsequently worked on a neighboring farm and in a stone quarry. He moved to a farm at Indianola (near Topeka) from Illinois in 1855. From the time he was 13 years old, Reader kept a detailed diary, recording entries in a mixture of shorthand, abbreviated English, and even French! A largely self-taught man, Reader was a keen observer of politics, providing a fascinating insight into the clashes between free-state and proslavery forces in the late 1850s.
An avid amateur artist, Reader illustrated his diary with watercolor sketches and caricatures (view diary page showing two Kansas politicians). Reader captured the territorial period through the eyes of a free-state sympathizer while living in a largely proslavery community.
Reader observed firsthand many of the crucial events of the late 1850s, including the battles of Indianola and Hickory Point. He met and drew John Brown (diary image at left). Importantly, Reader also recorded the everyday life of a Kansas settler, describing his health, diet, daily work routine, weather, and entertainment. He also recorded summaries of letters to his family and friends. During the Civil War, Reader joined the Second Kansas State Militia and participated in the Battle of Mine Creek. He spent the remainder of his life in Kansas, dying in 1914.
In later life, Reader edited his diary entries to write an autobiography. The original diary and autobiography are housed in the manuscripts collection in the Library/Archives of the Kansas Historical Society. The entire diary is digitized and can be viewed on Kansas Memory.
Entry: Pioneer's Diary
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: October 2004
Date Modified: December 2014
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.