I began my research into the "Skirmish at Island Mound" after moving to Butler, Bates County, Missouri some 4 years ago. I had read The Sable Arm and was perplexed as to why so little was known about such an historic event. As I began my research I learned that even the location of the engagement was in doubt and local sources failed to shed additional light upon the engagement. Still, a trip to the Missouri State Capital at Jefferson City rekindled my desire to find out as much as I could about the action, because sitting right there in the lobby of the State Capital was a diorama depicting the engagement. I had many questions that drove my research, and with the help of wonderful individuals, such as, Mr. Arnold Schofield, Mr. Jim Fisher, and others my research began to take on a life of its own. This is the story of my research and what I found.
Perhaps it is best to start with the material I had to "go on" as I began my research...
The most familiar source for information regarding the "Skirmish at Island Mound" is the report of Captain Richard Ward to Captain James Williams dated October 31, 1862, which can be found in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (commonly referred to as the O.R.). Ward's report basically details the events that transpired from the time the expedition left Fort Lincoln, Kansas on October 26, 1862, up to the date the report was written. To me, Ward's report prompted many research questions, much more so than it answered any. Why did the go to the Toothman farm? Where was the Toothman farm? What was the size and composition of the expedition? What transpired between the time the expedition arrived at the Toothman farm and the actual battle (Wednesday, October 29, 1862)? How did the engagement unfold? Who were they fighting against? etc. etc.
I developed a Research Matrix and used these nagging questions to drive my research farther. Mr. Bill Fannin of the Missouri State Museum, in Jeff City, had devoted a lot of time to the study of Island Mound and was kind enough to share with me what he had found out about the engagement. Mr. Fannin's research had turned up two more contemporary accounts of the engagement from Moore's Rebellion Record that I had heard of but had not yet seen. Also, Mr. Fannin had conducted a map study of the probable location of the Toothman Farm and the engagement.
Ironically, the exact location of the Toothman Farm was a matter of some debate, even here in Bates County. It would appear (based upon my experience with the records) that when the county's deed and land records were indexed the Toothman farm was overlooked. A thorough search of the microfilmed deeds (with the help of very talented and experienced geneologists in Bates County) eventually turned up the entry for the Toothman's purchase of their farm. With the legal description of the Toothman farm in hand, I next endeavored to locate Platte maps from the 1850s and 1860s that might show where the Toothman house was located upon the farm. Unfortunately, the earliest available Platte maps are from the 1870s (thanks in part to Jim Lane and his Kansas Brigade in 1861). The 1870s Platte maps showed a structure located in the extreme northwest corner of the Toothman farm, but the structure was labeled with an "M.E." denoting a Methodist Episcopal Church. Conversations with people much more knowledgeable into 19th Century life than I, informed me that it would have been very uncommon for an existing home to be converted into a church in post-Civil War Bates County. In fact, it would seem that a neighborhood desiring a church would go through great pains to erect a new, pristine structure. So where was the Toothman house? The location of the house became more critical as I my research uncovered more contemporary accounts of the engagement, which spoke of movements, distances,and directions in relation to the Toothman house. The current landowners were kind enough to give me access to their land and I was finally able to definitively (at least in my mind) locate the site of the Toothman house. There in a cluster of trees surrounded by acres and acres of fields is the old well that served the occupants of the house.
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