Born in New York in 1815, Lyman Draper grew up with an interest in the pioneers that first crossed into the land beyond the mountains - what he referred to as the Trans-Allegheny region.
As a young man he was known as a bit of a scholar. He held a variety of jobs and moved around the country. He attended Granville College in Ohio for two years. In 1836 he spent a year at Hudson Valley Seminary in New York. One of the highlights of his life was his association with Peter J. Remsen. Remsen had married Lydia Chadwick a cousin to Lyman Draper. Remsen took Draper under his wing. He paid for his college and his travels. Draper at times worked for Remsen but mostly acted as a companion to Lydia while Remsen traveled on business.
The years from 1844 to 1852 were his ‘nomadic years.’ He traveled by horseback, coach, wagon and train. And everywhere he went he made notes. Notes and more notes. It was his mission in life to set to paper the stories of pioneer, soldier, Indian and scout. He traveled through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois and Virginia. He planned dozens of volumes on what he learned. He estimated that he traveled over 60,000 miles. When accommodations were unavailable as in the backwoods regions of Kentucky and Tennessee he simply stayed in the homes of those he visited often spending weeks or months with a family. It was in these cabins that he made notes from the families that had few written records of their own. He interviewed and listened to all of the stories they could tell of their lives and of their parents and grandparents.
In 1852 Peter Remsen died and Draper was forced to make some life changes without the benefactor he had long depended on. He moved with Lydia and her adopted daughter, Helen, to Madison Wisconsin. Lyman and Lydia were married there the following year.
In 1854 he became corresponding secretary for the Wisconsin Historical Society a post he held from 1854-1886. In Wisconsin he continued his massive correspondence, trying to obtain by mail what he had not gotten during his travels.