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"The Kansas Primer"

 Collection — Volume: 1
Call Number: RH MS B79


Single volume of photographs pasted onto wooden board "pages" with captions, often rhyming couplets, created by Kansas-based farmer, diarist, painter, and photographer Samuel James Reader.


  • Creation: 1889


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of Samuel James Reader (1836-1914)

Samuel James Reader was the son of Francis and Catherine (James) Reader, born on January 25, 1836 in Greenfield (now Coal Center), Pennsylvania. Reader's mother died when he was four months old, and he and his elder sister Eliza were entrusted to Catherine Reader's sister Eliza ("Liza") James.

The James family moved to Wellsburg, Virginia in 1839, taking the two Reader children with them; they joined Samuel James, for whom Samuel Reader was named, and his family in La Harpe, Illinois in 1841. Francis Reader remained in Pennsylvania and remarried, having more children.

Liza James married James M. Cole while the family were living in La Harpe, and they moved the Readers in 1854 to Hills Grove, Illinois. The Coles had two children, Fannie and Eugene; Reader later helped Eugene Cole farm his land after James Cole died in 1858.

The family moved to Kansas in 1855, where Reader staked a claim for a town lot in Indianola and for farmland in what was then Calhoun County (later part of Shawnee County). Reader spent the rest of his life in Kansas, later dividing his time between the farm in summer and moving to cousin Fannie Cole's house in North Topeka in the winter.

Reader became involved in the border wars between Kansas and Missouri and was on the free state, anti-slavery side. He participated in the no-shots-fired "Battle of Indianola" of August 1856, as well as in the Battle of Hickory Point in September that same year. Reader was mustered into the 2nd Kansas Infantry as quartermaster in 1863 and participated in the 1864 Battle of Big Blue in Jackson County, Missouri.

Reader's sister Eliza married Dr. M. A. Campdoras in 1858, and they had 5 children. Reader courted Elizabeth ("Lizzie") Smith (1845-1898) of La Harpe, IL after the war, and they married in 1867. They had three children: Ruth (1869-1885), Elizabeth ("Bessie"), and Frederick Augustine (1873). Ruth died at the age of 16 and Fred at 6 months. Reader's wife Lizzie died in 1898 after spending over a year bedridden with a spinal disease.

Samuel James Reader developed a fascination with magic lantern shows, buying his own lantern and slides in 1866. He began creating and developing his own photographs. He was also known locally for painting and drawing; his diaries at the Kansas Historical Society are filled with sketches. Reader died at the age of 78 in 1914.

[Information taken from biographical note for the Samuel James Reader papers at the Kansas Historical Society.]


1 volume : Volume consists of wooden boards tied together at one time by two strings; the top string is no longer present. Hand-painted linen cloth panels cover the outer boards. Title page reads, "The Kansas Primer. Soldier Creek Publishing House Shawnee County, Kansas Uncle Sam A.D. 1889." 38 numbered "pages" on boards, missing pages 7-8. ; Volume measures 15 cm tall.

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

The bulk of the photographs are of outdoor scenes; several have been manipulated by Reader through etching and painting or otherwise overlaying graphics on the glass plate negatives from which the prints were created. These additions may include skeletons, apparitions or demons, snowflakes or clouds (including tornado funnel clouds), text, etc. A very small number of photographs are interior shots. There is one photograph per wooden page; all are captioned with handwritten captions, frequently consisting of rhyming couplets.

The bulk of the images are around Indianola (by 1889 already a ghost town, about which Reader commentates in his photographs) and Soldier Creek; there is also at least one image of Fannie Cole's house in what was then North Topeka. Most of the shots are of homes, frequently with people and sometimes pets in front of the homes. Identified individuals and homes of individuals include Reader's sister Eliza M. Campdoras and her family; Reader's daughter Elizabeth ("Bessie"); Reader himself; Fannie Cole; Eda; "Eliza, Grace, and Kate"; the African American Grimes family; and other family and friends.

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, Lorne Bair Rare Books, 2015.

Related Materials

Samuel James Reader Papers, Manuscript Collection No. 483 and microfilm reels MS 1285-1291, State Archives Division, Kansas Historical Society.



Guide to the Samuel James Reader Collection
"The Kansas Primer"
Finding aid prepared by mwh. Finding aid encoded by mwh.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
"The Kansas Primer," RH MS B79, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States