Samuel J. Reader - Life of a Kansas Farmer and Soldier

Samuel James Reader around 1855
Samuel James Reader around 1855 | Source

Samuel James Reader was born in 1836 in Pennsylvania and in 1855 he settled in the Kansas Territory in 1855 in what became known as Indianola which is in the northern part of modern day Topeka Kansas.

What is most notable about Reader is that he followed his own advice when he advised later in life to "Keep a diary...it is one of the best things you will do in your life." Reader indeed kept a diary from the young age of 13 all the way until his death in 1914 and documented the events he witnessed and was a participant in during one of the most turbulent times in American history.

He also made drawings of various events and in conjunction with his diary left a vivid, first-hand account of the events of Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War in Missouri and Kansas.

He was a member of the Free-State force, abhorred slavery but was not a fanatic unlike another famous resident of Kansas, John Brown. He was a farmer, lived peacefully with his neighbors, some pro-slavery, and only took up arms when the then county seat of Calhoun was rumored to be overrun by pro-slavery factions and threats were made against Kansas free-state settlers.

Samuel J. Readers burial place at Rochester Cemetery in Topeka, KS.
Samuel J. Readers burial place at Rochester Cemetery in Topeka, KS. | Source

He wrote about his experiences, not only military actions, but everyday life in Kansas in the 1850's. His tale of the "Battle of Indianola" in 1856 is a tale that ends without a shot being fired, but shows how high tensions were. He participated and explains his involvement in the "Battle of Hickory Point", just north of present day Oskaloosa which included the infamous Jayhawker and fiery orator, James Henry Lane.

When the Civil War broke out he mustered into the 2nd Kansas Infantry as the quartermaster and saw his only action at the Battle of the Big Blue in 1864. At this engagement he was captured and taken prisoner by the retreating Confederate army under General Sterling Price that had made it's now famous, but failed, trek across Missouri. Reader documented this, as well as his being at the Battle of Mine Creek and his escape (by posing as a Confederate soldier) from the Rebels and his drawings and words live today at the Mine Creek State Historic Site in Pleasanton, KS.

After the war, Reader married, had children, settled in what is now north Topeka and continued to chronicle his life all the way until his death at his farm on September 15, 1914. He is buried in Rochester Cemetery in north Topeka, which is just north of Soldier Creek.

Samuel J. Reader lived in a turbulent time and the fact that he took it upon himself to document this time is a benefit not only to the local citizens of Topeka Kansas, but to the nation as well. He is little known outside of Civil War in Kansas circles, but he was a founding member of Topeka and a great chronicler of the cauldron that was Kansas.

His writings can be found online and will be included in the references below.

Topeka pioneers including John Armstrong and Samuel J. Reader later in life.
Topeka pioneers including John Armstrong and Samuel J. Reader later in life.

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stevarino 3 years ago from East Central Indiana

It's amazing how aged Samuel looks nearly 20 years after the war (based on the photo date), and to think he still lived another 30 years after that.

Thanks for the interesting piece of history Nick Burchett!

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