The Diaries of Reuben Smith, Kansas Settler and Civil War Soldier

Edited by Lana Wirt Myers

A Kansas Notable Book

In 1854, after recently arriving from England, twenty-two-year-old Reuben Smith traveled west, eventually making his way to Kansas Territory. There he found himself in the midst of a bloody prelude to the Civil War, as Free Staters and defenders of slavery battled to stake their claim. The young Englishman wrote down what he witnessed in a diary where he had already begun documenting his days in a clear and candid fashion. As beautifully written as they are keenly observant, these diaries afford an unusual view of America in its most tumultuous times, of Kansas in its critical historical moments, and of one mans life in the middle of it all for fifty years.

“Readers of military history, especially those with an interest in the guerilla war in Missouri, will find the hundred-plus pages devoted to Smith’s wartime service great reading. . . . Recognizing the readability of Smith’s writing, Myers lets it flow, with just enough commentary to put things into context.

—On Point: The Journal of Army History

“[Lana Wirt Myers’] historical context provides the necessary framework without interfering with the flow of Smith’s narrative. Reuben Smith has left us with the record of a life well lived that is certainly worth reading.

—Journal of the West
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From his moving account of traveling from England by ship to his reflections on settling in the newly opened Kansas Territory to his observations of war and politics, Smith provides a picture that is at once panoramic and highly personal. His diaries depict the escalation of the Civil War along the Kansas-Missouri border as well as the evolution of a volunteer soldier from an inexperienced private to a seasoned officer and government spy. They take us inside military camps and generals’ quarters, to the front lines of battle and in pursuit of bushwhackers William Quantrill and Cole Younger. Later, they show us Smith as a state representative and steward of the Kansas State Insane Asylum in its early years. In historic scenes and poignant personal stories, these diaries offer a unique perspective on life in the Midwest in the last half of the nineteenth century.

Editor Lana Wirt Myers’s commentary and extensive notes provide the context and information needed for a full understanding of Reuben Smiths remarkable stories.

About the Author

Lana Wirt Myers is the author of Prairie Rhythms: The Life and Poetry of May Williams Ward, named a 2011 Kansas Notable Book.