Home to a Notorious Rebel Family
After the 1854
Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, pro-slavery Missourians and free-state Kansans fought over whether Kansas should enter the Union as a slave or free state. The fighting was so intense that the conflict was called "Bleeding Kansas."
In 1861, when the Civil War began, most Bates County, Mo. residents supported the Confederacy. Because Bates County bordered Kansas, guerrilla warfare from both states was rampant.
Federal authorities considered the Toothman family, who came to Missouri from Virginia, Southern sympathizers. John Toothman, the 23-year-old son of Enoch and Christina Toothman, rode with Bill Turman, a local bushwhacker. These guerrillas often sought refuge on Hog Island, an area formed by the Marais-des-Cygnes River. John Toothman joined in the ambush of a Union foraging party on May 15, 1862, in which three Federal soldiers were killed. He was later arrested and confined at Fort Lincoln, Kan.
"There is a strip of land between the Marais-des-Cygnes, and a long connecting slough, known as "The Island." This has long been infested with more or less bushwhackers, who have carried all their plunder off to it for safekeeping. Lately, they have been increasing in strength and boldness, until they had become the terror of all good citizens for miles around."
Lawrence [Kan.] Republican
Nov. 6, 1862
In October 1862, the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry received orders to march into Bates County and break up the rebel encampments on Hog Island. The Kansas troops took over the Toothman home, about two and a half miles north of Hog Island. They made camp around the house, used the fence rails for fortifications and dubbed it "Fort Africa."
Women of the Toothman household were present when the soldiers arrived and were questioned about the presence of guerrillas in the area. The adult males, probably rebel sympathizers if not outright guerrillas, made themselves scarce during the occupation of their farm.
"We camped within Toothman's yard, throwing up a rail barricade and raising a flag. We named the place, "Fort Africa."
Lt. R. Hinton
Clues to the Past
Even though there appears to be nothing left of the Toothman farmstead or Fort Africa, clues to the past remain beneath the ground. By using a combination of research with historical records and archaeological investigation techniques, archaeologists are piecing together bits of the past to reveal the history of the Toothman property.
An 1859 land survey shows no structures on the Toothman property but a house was on the property by 1862 when the First Kansas camped here. None of the accounts from the time of the Battle of Island Mound describe the house or its exact location. In order to find the location of the Toothman house, archaeologists have carried out investigations that included metal detecting, geophysical survey and excavation. Archaeologists plan to do more work in the future to try to definitively determine the location of the Toothman house.
An 1875 plat map shows a Methodist Episcopal Church on the property and no other structures. The church was built sometime around 1870 and was probably gone from the property by the 1930s. Archaeologists have uncovered the church site in their investigations.
There are still many questions about the Battle of Island Mound, the Tootman farm and Fort Africa. Artifacts and other evidence provide clues that help to tell the story about what really happened at this site.