Josephus Toothman: The Notorious Guerrilla of Island Mound
There is a lot that we don’t know about the Toothman family whose farm was garrisoned by the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers in October of 1862 and dubbed “Fort Africa”. Two of the biggest questions concerning the Toothmans have been whether their farm was the intended destination for the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers and which son was the prisoner held at Fort Lincoln in Kansas. Recent research has uncovered documents that help to shed some light on these questions. The Enoch and Christiana Toothman family consisted of two sons, Josephus C and John Fleming Toothman. Enoch and Christiana also had five daughters, Amanda, Martha, Mary, Emizetia (she would later go by Emma) and Isabelle. Of the two sons, Josephus or Joseph, was the eldest. He was sympathetic to the southern cause and was very active in guerrilla activity in Bates County during the summer of 1862.
An undated document found on Fold3 lists charges and specifications against Joseph Toothman. This document lists three charges which include the murder of Federal soldiers, desertion, and being a guerrilla. According to the document, Joseph was involved in an ambush against Federal troops on or about 22 July 1862. Two men were killed and a third was mortally wounded. The witnesses are listed as McMullen, Armstrong and Miss Toothman, a sister of the prisoner. It is unknown which sister bore witness against her brother or as to why she gave testimony against him. It could be that she didn’t approve of his actions or was in some way coerced.
The second charge of desertion states that Joseph switched sides at the Battle of Lone Jack in August of 1862 to fight with McComb’s company (newly recruited Bates County men). Joseph was one of several of Bates County men to abandon the Enrolled Missouri Militia and fight for the Confederacy. Fighting alongside your friends and neighbors was likely more appealing than fighting against them and Joseph had already shown his sympathies with the attack in July.
The third charge specifically states that Joseph considered himself a soldier in the Confederate army. He was arrested for being armed and without furlough papers, so he was charged with being a guerilla. This was “on or about” 26 September 1862. A clear picture of Joseph’s standing in regards to the Border troubles is beginning to emerge.
The document from the U.S. Union Provost Marshal’s Papers, 1861-1867 database found on Ancestry.com, along with the Pierson letter found on Fold3, offer clues that the Toothman farm was the intended destination for the 1st Kansas. It tells us that Joseph was confined on 11 October 1862 by order of Major B. S Henning. It goes on to state that he was sent to Fort Lincoln for confinement on 21 October 1862. This answers the first question as to which brother was a prisoner at Fort Lincoln.
The documents also answer the question about the Toothman farm being the intended destination. Capt. Henry Seaman was given command of the expedition at Island Mound by Henning, who was at Fort Scott. Both men were aware of Joseph in late September of 1862. Seaman would have been aware of the Toothman farm before his being given the expedition. The unknown sister as a witness shows that someone had been to the farm prior to the 27th of October. Joseph was transferred to Fort Lincoln a mere 6 days before the 1st Kansas arrived at the Toothman farm. All this shows that Seaman would have been well informed as to the farm’s advantages as a base of operations and the family that lived there. It’s no surprise that with Joseph’s arrest and confinement, Enoch and John Toothman were not at the house when the expedition arrived.
It’s possible that Joseph struck a deal while in Kansas. He is released from confinement on 6 February 1863 and enlists in the 6th Kansas Cavalry the very next day. It seems his enlistment was a condition of his release. Was this the result of his providing sensitive information while in confinement? An account published in the Daily Times from Leavenworth, Kansas on 4 November 1862 names Toothman and Cockrell as being in command of the rebels on the Island. It’s logical that Josephus would have had intimate knowledge of the activities and plans of those on the Island. Even if he wasn’t in command, he surely would’ve have known what was going on in his own neighborhood.
Many of the newspaper articles reporting on the Battle of Island Mound referred to the Toothman farm as being home to a “notorious guerrilla” echoing the very same phrase used in the charges against Joseph. We now know to whom this phrase refers. Those articles along with these three documents help to shape a better understanding of the Island Mound story. Research continues not only on the Toothman family but other families who made the vicinity of the Island their home. This research will help form a richer understanding of Bates County and the events that took place here during that period of upheaval. Josephus’ actions in 1862 set in motion the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers placement in history. What more might we learn from the myriad names and families forgotten to history?
For more information on the Battle of Island Mound: