History From the Horse's Mouth
Autobiographies, Memoirs and Diaries

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We can guess what those "Olden Times" were like, and we can read historians' interpretations (almost always subject to "political correctness" of the historians' day, among other potential shortcomings), but nothing speaks quite like the words of the eyewitnesses and the participants themselves. Whether the writer is chronicling his or her experiences for the benefit of an employing monarch, writing a private journal account, or writing an informal account for the benefit of their own grandchildren, firsthand accounts continue to have a lasting value.

Early Explorers

Historic Figures

Just Folks

Civil War Memoirs

Other War Stories


Early Explorers & Travelers, Travel Memoirs

The Journal of Alexander HENRY the Younger, 1799-1814 icon

Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 icon
by Sarah Margaret FULLER

The Overland Stage to California: Personal Reminiscences and Authentic History of the Great Overland Stage Line and Pony Express From the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean icon

The Overland Diary of James A. PRITCHARD From Kentucky to California in 1849 icon

A Journal of Travels into the Arkansas Territory During the Year 1819 icon

A Webfoot Volunteer: The Diary of William M. HILLEARY - 1864-1866

A Journey Through the West: Thomas RODNEY's 1803 Journal from Delaware to the Mississippi Territory

The Account: Alvar Nunez Cabeza De Vaca's Relacion Cabeza de Vaca and a few surviving companions were the first Europeans to walk across the mainland of North America. His account of this epic trek between Florida and Mexico (1527-36) was later published in Spain (1542). This new annotated translation by two Florida academics provides us with one of the earliest records of a pristine America and its native peoples. In addition, this it is a readable and gripping chronicle of adversity in which would-be conquistadors ultimately acculturate themselves to Indian life. Another modern translation is Cyclone Covey's Cabeza de Vaca's Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America (Univ. of New Mexico Pr., 1984. reprint). Recommended for both specialists and general readers.

The Dominguez-Escalante Journal: Their Expedition Through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico in 1776

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Historic Figures

I Remember, a Girl's Eye View of Early Days in the Rocky Mountains

West With the Night icon
Memoir of Beryl Markham, pioneering aviatrix

A Reminiscence of the Parker H. FRENCH Expedition Through Texas and Mexico to California in the Spring of 1850

Journal of the Sufferings and Hardships of Captain Parker H. FRENCH's Overland Expedition to California...

Defending Mexican Valor in Texas: Jose Antonio NAVARRO's Historical Writings, 1853-1857 icon

The Diary of Samuel Pepys (2 Volumes) icon
Fascinating firsthand accounts of the Plague, the Great Fire of London, and the day-to-day life of Restoration England under Charles II. Pepys' diary is clearly written for himself, without an eye to future publication, and lays his life bare. Probably the most famous published diary!

Dear Papa, Dear Charley: The Peregrinations of a Revolutionary Aristocrat, as Told by Charles CARROLL of Carrollton and His Father, Charles CARROLL of Annapolis: With Sundry Observations on Bastardy, Child-Rearing, Romance, Matrimony, Commerce, Tobacco... icon

The Boy Captives: Being the True Story of the Experiences and Hardships of Clinton L. Smith and Jeff D. Smith icon

Personal Memoirs & Recollections of Editorial Life icon
(1852) by James Tinker Buckingham

More from William BYRD: Commonplace Book of William BYRD II of Westover icon

From the prolific Virginia diarist, William BYRD:

The Journal of Lieut. John L. HARDENBERGH of the Second New York Continental Regiment From May1 to October 3, 1779 in General SULLIVAN's Campaign Against the Western Indians icon

POLK: the Diary of a President, 1845-1849, Covering the Mexican War, the Acquisition of Oregon, and the Conquest of California and the Southwest icon

Outstanding! Witness
by Whittaker Chambers.
One of the best books I've ever read.  Though it was first published in 1952, I find it as fresh and contemporary as if it had been written yesterday. The characters' names have changed (i. e., from "Communists" to "Progressives," but the same themes continue even now.  It's a horrible, fascinating story, beautifully told by a masterful writer.

President Washington's Diaries 1791 to 1799 icon

Thomas Jefferson: Writings...

The Commonplace Book of William Byrd II of Westover
"William Byrd II (1674-1744) was an important figure in the history of colonial Virginia: a founder of Richmond, an active participant in Virginia politics, and the proprietor of one of the colony's greatest plantations. But Byrd is best known today for his diaries. Considered essential documents of private life in colonial America, they offer readers an unparalleled glimpse into the world of a Virginia gentleman. This book joins Byrd's Diary, Secret Diary, and other writings in securing his reputation as one of the most interesting men in colonial America.

"Edited and presented here for the first time, Byrd's commonplace book is a collection of moral wit and wisdom gleaned from reading and conversation. The nearly six hundred entries range in tone from hope to despair, trust to dissimulation, and reflect on issues as varied as science, religion, women, Alexander the Great, and the perils of love. A ten-part introduction presents an overview of Byrd's life and addresses such topics as his education and habits of reading and his endeavors to understand himself sexually, temperamentally, and religiously, as well as the history and cultural function of commonplacing. Extensive annotations discuss the sources, background, and significance of the entries."

John Paul Jones' Memoir of the American Revolution: Presented to King Louis XVI of France

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin...

George Washington's Diaries: An Abridgement

George Washington: Writings
Bringing together 450 letters, orders, addresses, and other significant historical documents penned by America's first president during the course of his life, a substantial anthology is arranged chronologically beginning with a journal written at age sixteen.

Black Frontiersman: The Memoirs of Henry O. Flipper, First Black Graduate of West Point

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Just Folks

Life of F. M. BUCKALEW: The Indian Captive

The Diary of a German Immigrant

Lost and Found, or Three Months with the Wild Indians: A Brief Sketch of the Life of Ole T. NYSTEL Embracing His Experience While in Captivity to the Comanches, and Subsequent Liberation from Them

I Would've Been a Lumberjack But I Couldn't Hack It icon

Anna: Letters of a St Simons Island Plantation Mistress, 1817-1859 icon
by Anna Matilda Page KING

Sun Over Cerro Gordo: Vivid Memories of an Iowa Farmboy icon

The Prisoners of Perote: Containing a Journal Kept by the Author [William Preston STAPP], Who was Captured by the Mexicans, at Mier, December 25, 1842, and Released from Perote, May 16, 1844 icon

The 1854 Oregon Trail Diary of Winfield Scott EBEY icon

Nineteenth-Century Theatrical Memoirs icon

The SCHRAMM Letters: Written by Jacob SCHRAMM and Members of His Family from Indiana to Germany in the Year 1836 icon

Four Years in the Coleman Jail: Daughter of Two Sheriffs

Theatrical Management in the West and South for Thirty Years. Interspersed with Anecdotal Sketches: Autobiographically Given by Sol. SMITH, Retired Actor icon

Dramatic Life as I Found It...with ... Anecdotes and Biographical Sketches of the Principal Actors & Actresses...in the Mississippi Valley

Dorothy's World: Childhood in Sabine Bottom: 1902-1910 icon
Rains County, Texas

Diary of Mary Susan GREGORY, School Teacher, Augusta County, Virginia, 1873-1876

Recollections of a Handcart Pioneer of 1860: With Some Account of Frontier Life in Utah and Nevada
by Mary Ann  HAFEN

Upper Beaver Creek: Pioneer Life in Colorado
by Mabel HALL

Old Times in West Tennessee Reminiscences--Semi-Historic--Of Pioneer Life and the Early Emigrant Settlers in the Big Hatchie Country

Our Pen is Time: The Diary of Emma FINLEY: A Memoir of Social Life in Holly Springs, Mississippi on the Eve of the Civil War

Journal & Letters of Philip Vickers FITHIAN, 1773-1774: A Plantation Tutor of the Old Dominion

Mary Savage CONNER of Adams County, Mississippi: A Young Girl's Journal, 1839

The Gold Rush Diary of Ramon Gil NAVARRO icon

The Oregon Trail Diary of Rev. Edward Evans PARRISH in 1844

Covered Wagon Women: Diaries & Letters From the Western Trails 1840-1890 icon

Florida's Vanishing Era: From the Journals of a Young Girl and Her Father 1887-1910 icon

Reminiscences of Ednah Dow CHENEY icon

Reminiscences: A Sketch and Letters Descriptive of Life in Person County in Former Days icon
by Alexander FOUSHEE

Working on the Railroad icon
MARSHALL Memoir, 1956

Recollections of a Handcart Pioneer of 1860: With Some Account of Frontier Life in Utah and Nevada icon

Memoirs of Mary A. MAVERICK icon

Samuel MAVERICK, Texan: 1803-1870; A Collection of Letters, Journals and Memoirs

The Sun Will Shine-Again: an Orphan Boy's Journey Through the Great Depression and the "Big War" icon
by Powell County, Kentucky native Ralph CONLEE

Growing Up in the Cooper Country Boyhood Recollections of the New York Frontier icon

Autobiography of John G. FEE icon

An American Odyssey: the Autobiography of a 19th-Century Scotsman, Robert BROWNLEE, at the Request of His Children: Napa County, California, October, 1892 icon

The Autobiography of Gurdon Saltonstall HUBBARD
Illinois Pioneer

Pinto Beans and a Silver Spoon
by Lula Collins Daudet and Ruth Collins Roberts. Memories of growing up in a pioneer family in northeast New Mexico.

The Best 84 Years of My Life icon
Memoir of Walter Darwin DANIELS of the Wagon Mound, New Mexico area.

Diary of a Forty-Niner icon

Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi
George DEVOL

Autobiography of Emily Donelson WALTON icon
Written history of Emily  Donelson Walton, born Aug. 30, 1837 into a slave owning family of Nashville, Tennessee & married into a slave-holding family in Alabama (age 95); upon the repeated requests of her children.

Ink on My Hands
(1940) Memoir of Clayton RAND, Editor of Neshoba Democrat in Philadelphia, Mississippi

Horse & Buggy Days on Hatchet Creek: An Alabama Boyhood in the 1890s icon
by Mitchell GARRETT

Recollections of a Southern Daughter: A Memoir by Cornelia Jones Pond of Liberty County icon

The Overland Stage to California: Personal Reminiscences and Authentic History of the Great Overland Stage Line and Pony Express From the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean icon

The Overland Diary of James A. PRITCHARD From Kentucky to California in 1849 icon

How I Got Cultured: A Nevada Memoir icon
by Phyllis BARBER

Hear the Train Blow icon

A Nineteenth-Century Schoolgirl: The Diary of Caroline Cowles Richards, 1852-1854 icon

Acadian Reminiscences: The True Story of Evangeline icon

His Time in Hell: a Texas Marine in France, the World War I Memoir of Warren R. Jackson icon

The Compensations of War: the Diary of an Ambulance Driver During the Great War icon

Reflections: My First 83 Years in East Texas icon
by Gillie Thomas OWEN

A Parker County, Texas Cowboy icon
by Leon TANNER and Mary KEMP. Limited Edition. Early 1900s Cowboy's Diary includes period photos and sketches of early area families.

Oil Field Medico, True Experiences of a Physician Who Practiced in Spindle-Top, Batson Prairie and Saratoga During Rough Frontier Days
(1948) by Dr. George PARKER

  Sarah MORGAN: The Civil War Diary Of A Southern Woman
Sarah MORGAN kept a wonderfully detailed diary of her experiences in Civil War Louisiana. This is a great firsthand account of their daily lives at home in Baton Rouge and in New Orleans,  or on the road, fleeing Union troops and gunboats. One brother was a union sympathizer and another fought for the Confederacy. A third brother was killed tragically in a duel: his death haunts the diary throughout. Her father's untimely death early in the war also affects her profoundly and leaves her feeling especially vulnerable. The reader follows her emotions through great pride and righteous anger through the darkest depths. Sarah, her mother and sister had to leave their home in Baton Rouge and spent many days traveling from one place to another, and Sarah describes vividly the great variety of people and situations they encounter. She was both articulate and well-read.

Sarah's diary is also a look at 19th century life in the South: relations with family, friends, and romantic interests. Entertainment and pastimes are described in detail.

One quote I especially like, because here she models that fierce patriotism that Southern women were often known for:

"If some few Southern women were in the ranks, they could set the men an example they would not blush to follow. Pshaw! there are no women here! We are all men!"

I bought this because Sarah Morgan (1842-1909) was 8 years older than my great-grandmother Mary Virginia Dowdy (1850-1921), who lived in West Tennessee (Fayette Co.). It was a way for me to get - perhaps - a glimpse into what the times were like for girls and young women in the Union Army-occupied South.  I'm sure Sarah's view is distinctly individual, as any one person's experience would be, but perhaps she speaks at least in part for her contemporaries who grew up in wartime.

NOTE: f you want to read Sarah's diary online for free, you will find it here, courtesy of Documenting the American South at the University of North Carolina.

Volunteers: The Mexican War Journals of Private Richard COULTER & Sergeant Thomas BARCLAY, Company E, Second Pennsylvania Infantry icon

Ranger of Commerce: Or 52 Years on the Road icon
(1929) by Howard W. PEAK, "Dean of the Texas Travelers"

An Authentic Narrative of the Shipwreck and Suffering of Mrs. Eliza BRADLEY

A Summer on the Plains With Custer's 7th Cavalry, the 1870 Diary of Annie Gibson ROBERTS icon

The Diary of Robert ROSE: A View of Virginia By a Scottish Colonial Parson, 1746-1751

The Diary of Henry Boswell Jones of Brownsburg (1842-1871) icon

The Journal of John HARROWER, an Indentured Servant in the Colony of Virginia 1773-1776 icon

I Heard the Anzacs Singing icon

Letters From the Frontiers Written During a Period of Thirty Years' Service in the Army of the United States [1822-53]. icon
by McCALL, George A.

Autobiography of an English Soldier in the United States Army icon

"Surrounded by Dangers of All Kinds:" The Mexican War Letters of Lieutenant Theodore LAIDLEY icon

Making Peace with Cochise: The 1872 Journal of Captain Joseph Alton SLADEN icon

Recollections of a Pioneer Lawyer (Nebraska History Magazine; 3 Volumes) icon

The Course of Empire: First Hand Accounts of California in the Days of the Gold Rush of '49 icon

Personal Recollections of the Stage, Embracing Notices of Actors, Authors, and Auditors, During a Period of Forty Years icon
(1855) by William B. WOOD

Old Man River the Memories of Captain Louis ROSCHE, Pioneer Steamboatman icon

Reminiscences By Sylvester BARBOUR, a Native of Canton Conn. , Fifty Years a Lawyer icon

Lieutenant Henry Timberlake's Memoirs: 1756-1765

  Inspiring! Life Is So Good I recommend this book highly!

The Annals of Elder HORN: Early Life in the Southwest icon

Early Recollections of Robert Hallowell GARDINER, 1782-1864 icon

Dust, Mud and Steam: I Remember icon

William Johnson's Natchez: the Ante-Bellum Diary of a Free Negro icon

The Memoirs of Pauline Udall SMITH icon
Privately printed.

The PARRAMORE Sketches: Scenes and Stories of Early West Texas-With an Introduction to His Grandchildren icon

Mrs. T. N. T. icon
(1949, 1st edition) A memoir by the daughter of an Anglo-French couple of growing up in post-bellum Virginia and of childhood travels on the other side of the Atlantic. Describes life in Gloucester County and Richmond.

Memoranda of the Experience, Labors, and Travels of a Universalist Preacher Written By Himself icon

Autobiography of Emily Donelson WALTON icon

An Oil Scout in the Permian Basin icon
by Clarence POPE

Recollections of a Long Life, Sarah Palmer SHERWOOD, 1848-1933 icon 

RODRIGUEZ Memoirs of Early Texas icon

Pioneers Narratives of Noah Harris LETTS and Thomas Allen BANNING 1825-1865 icon

Southern Travels: Journal of John H. B. Latrobe, 1834 icon

Sold! Personal Recollections, 1849-1865 icon by Jane Martin JOHNS

Two Years Before the Mast: And Twenty-Four Years After
"Avast there all you Patrick O' Brian fans! Here is a personal narrative of the seaman's life in the age of sail: 1815-1882, and a classic of nautical literature. Dana was a Harvard student recovering from the measles when he decided it would be more interesting to do so at sea as a common sailor. In 1834 he joined a two-year voyage rounding Cape Horn to deliver cargo to California. All the color and detail of daily life at sea as well as descriptions of various ports. Rousing!"

Born in the Delta: Reflections on the Making of a Southern White Sensibility
Margaret Jones Bolsterli's recollections of growing up in Desha County, Arkansas

The Main Trail icon
West Texas-born Hall became a circuit-riding preacher who would hire on as a ranch-hand or cowboy in order to be accepted by members of his far-flung flock throughout the Southwest.

Texas Ranchman: The Memoirs of John A. LOOMIS icon
Concho County, Texas

Our Children Free and Happy: Letters from Black Settlers in Africa in the 1790s (Early Black Writers Series)

William Johnson's Natchez: The Ante-Bellum Diary of a Free Negro

Dakota Diaspora: Memoirs of a Jewish Homesteader

Priest's Progress: The Journey of Francis Norbert Blanchet from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific in Three Parishes
This brief account of Archbishop Francis Norbert Blanchet's first forty years has been compiled from letters, notes, maps and photographs of those early years in Eastern Canada. This book covers his journey westward ending with his arrival at St. Paul, Oregon in 1839. Maps. Many historic photographs. 100 pages.

Malaga Burning: An American Woman's Eyewitness Account of the Spanish Civil War

A Prairie Almanac: 1839 to 1919  
"This book is an eyewitness story about everyday life of pioneers who settled in Iowa Territory in 1839. The eyewitness, Isaac N. Kramer, was only seven when he traveled on riverboats from New Geneva, Pennsylvania to Bloomfield (now Muscatine) Iowa. By the time he was 21 he had learned all there was to know about pioneer farming and had worked on his father's claim. Everything interested him; he took notes and over the years wrote a history of the county where they settled, describing what they found there on arrival, how they survived the first terrible winter, and tells about all aspects of their lives from schools and religions, to politics and social activities. Drawings of artifacts (farming and housekeeping) described by Isaac help establish the feel of these early pioneer families. Illustrations, indexing, and family lineages add to his story. When he died in 1923 he left as his legacy a book manuscript which forms the basis of this book."

The Alford Brothers: "We all must dye sooner or later."  
Daviess Co., IN; "The Alford Brothers contains a compelling story of three brothers from Alfordsville, Indiana, who serve -- and die -- in the American Civil War. The story is told with 196 family letters: letters written by five brothers, two sisters, a father, a mother, aunts, uncles, cousins, a doctor, and a commanding officer. The letters cover the period May 1861 to October 1862 -- the Civil War service of the oldest brother.
The Civil War, of course, is the central issue. The three oldest Alford brothers relate their daily experiences as soldiers, one brother in the east with the 14th Indiana Infantry and two in the west with the 6th Indiana Infantry. Their combined activities include service in four major military campaigns: western Virginia in 1861, then the Shenandoah Valley, Shiloh and Antietam in 1862.
The daily activities at home also are part of the story. There were special concerns, beyond worrying about the soldier-sons. The large Alford farm had to be worked with three less workers. The farm economy was uncertain and there were debts going unpaid. In the community, there was a Copperhead problem. There was dissension at the church. An insane aunt needed care. And lots of unfounded rumors."

Home-Concealed Woman: The Diaries of Magnolia Wynn Le Guin, 1901-1913  
"In an existence that pinned her indoors, foiled by hardship and weariness, Magnolia Le Guin (1869-1947) could still find a sure faith in God, taking joy in her children or in the cooling weather of October which each year restored her energy and her hope. Here is a record of the inner life of the Georgia farmwife, written in the margins of her husband's account books and on scraps of paper. With a deliberate repetition that mirrors the tedium of one decade, Le Guin tells of difficult childbirths, gnawing fears of illness in the members of her ever-increasing family, the toil required to feed and clothe the brood, the stream of company that taxed her precarious health. Hers was the typical lot of the agrarian poor, but because she needed to ``scribble'' as others needed to breathe, Le Guin has left behind an inspiring account of her ability to survive not only with fortitude but with dignity. The diaries are edited by her grandson, a professor of history at Portland State University and the husband of noted science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin, who supplies a foreword. Copyright 1990 Cahners Business Information, Inc."

Storm and Stampede on the Chisholm  
"As a young man in 1883, Collins spent more than a year on the Red Fork Ranch in Oklahoma, during which time he learned Western lore from both cowboys and Indians. In this 1928 volume, he relates his adventures on the range."

Memphis Tennessee Garrison: The Remarkable Story of a Black Appalachian Woman

Wah-To-Yah and the Taos Trail 1847 Memoir by Lewis Garrard

A Man of the Twentieth Century: Recollections of Warren V. Keller, A Nebraskan

Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin, 1846-1847

Old Times on the Upper Mississippi: Recollections of a Steamboat Pilot from 1854 to 1863  MERRICK

Bound for Idaho: The 1864 Trail Journal of Julius Merrill

Pocket Girdles and Other Confessions of a Northwest Farm Girl  
What's a pocket girdle? Find out in this hilarious collection of stories about rural childhood. 'Marianne's writings catch the true and comic flavor of what it's like to grow up in rural Idaho.' --Patrick McManus"

Indian Summers: A Memoir of Fort Duchesne, 1925-1935 by Virginia Carlson PARKER
While her father supervised an experimental farm, the author lived at Fort Duchesne during 1925-1935. She gives a detailed physical, geographical, day-to-day, and emotional account of life there, and includes her observation of the plight of her friends, the Uintahs and Ourays, who were forced to live in the old Fort converted to an Indian Reservation. It changed her forever and in ways that were in conflict with the opinions of the adults around her. Thought-provoking, sensitive, factual history. She includes Native American Folklore stories.

Sooner or Later: Tales of a Pioneer Family  
Stumbough's anecdotes about her kin read like a chat with a cherished friend. There are tales of esteemed folk, like Ambassador Joseph Hodges Choate, and blackguards, such as bigamist William Hugh Lothian. Stumbough describes her work as "a book of American history in the making." It stretches from Lord Admiral John Hawkins, founder of the slave trade in England, to her own daughter, a pioneer in the field of aviation. Stumbough hasn't written this collection to crow over the achievements of her family and forebears, for she says, "There isn't a reader of this book who isn't related in some degree to the writer and all of the people mentioned above, as well as countless other interesting persons." She makes a bit of family research sound like a good idea. "

Surviving on the Texas Frontier: The Journal of a Frontier Orphan Girl in San Saba County, 1852-1907 (HALL)

Schoolwomen of the Prairies and Plains: Personal Narratives from Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska, 1860S-1920s

Other War Stories

A Front Seat in Hell icon WWII Memoir

Company 'A' Corps of Engineers, U.S.A., 1846-1848, in the Mexican War

Fifty Miles and a Fight: Major Samuel Peter Heintzelman's Journal of Texas and the Cortina War

My Hitch in Hell: The Bataan Death March Captured by the Japanese after the fall of Bataan, Lester Tenney was one of the very few who would survive the legendary Death March and three and a half years in Japanese prison camps. On the march, Tenney witnessed fellow POWs die by the hundreds from thirst, wounds, disease, or savage mistreatment at the hands of brutal Japanese guards. With a keen understanding of human nature, a sense of humor, the ability to think on his feet, and most of all a fierce determination to see his family again, Tenney endured the rest of the war as a slave laborer in miserable Japanese prison camps. My Hitch in Hell is an inspiring survivor's epic about the triumph of human will despite unimaginable suffering.

Surviving Bataan and Beyond: Colonel Irvin Alexander's Odyssey As a Japanese Prisoner of War

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