The results of an archeological dig in Jasper County's first county-owned park may change the 153-year-old narrative about one of the many tragic incidents of the Civil War in Southwest Missouri.

The results of an archeological dig in Jasper County's first county-owned park may change the 153-year-old narrative about one of the many tragic incidents of the Civil War in Southwest Missouri.
Chris Duke, an archeological student at Missouri State University in Springfield, spoke to the Jasper County Commission on Tuesday about the results of his research into the Rader Farm Massacre and an archeological dig he conducted on the Sherwood/Rader Farm Memorial Park in western Jasper County at the corner of Peace Church Road and Fountain Road. Duke said he found bullets that had been fired and dropped in an area of the park that plat maps from the 1860s show was timberland at the time, and other artifacts suggesting the bullets and the soldiers who dropped them were fighting on the Union side.

The story
Duke said the current written historical record of the May 18, 1863 encounter, tells the story of African-American soldiers and white soldiers stationed at a fort in Baxter Springs, Kansas, coming into Jasper County to forage for food and stopping at a farm owned by the Rader family to take corn.
The historical record says Confederate guerrillas led by the Thomas Livingston, a notorious Jasper County guerrilla fighter, ambushed these soldiers and killed 18 of them, mutilating their bodies.
Union reinforcements from Kansas returned the next day, burned the farmhouse with the soldiers bodies in it, then burned Sherwood, the third largest community in Jasper County at the time, in retaliation.
The historical record says the soldiers who were ambushed, who were from the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry and the 2nd Kansas Artillery, fled in panic, with the mounted white soldiers leaving their black comrades behind in their haste.
“What really is amazing about these is, the written record as it stands kind of leaves you with the impression that the Union soldiers were massacred,” Duke said. “They were cut down, they didn't really put up much of a defense, they were chased back to their fort in Baxter Springs. Because I'm finding a bunch of dropped rounds, it means they were trying to load and I'm finding fired rounds so some of them were shooting their weapons, so it implies that it may not have been as one-sided as the written record suggests.”
Duke said the accounts of the battle from the time say the surviving Union soldiers fled from the Rader farm to the west into the woods.
“This plot of land is actually west of where the Rader Farm was and according to the plat maps of the time, it was timber,” Duke said. “So it could be that what we're seeing here is their rallying point and they made a fighting retreat.”

Artifacts' tale
Duke said his interpretation of what he found was that the dropped bullets were places where Union soldiers paused, dug into the small sacks they had holding their powder and ammunition to load and fire their muskets, rifles and pistols and fight back against their attackers.
Duke said he found artifacts other than bullets, that match items carried by Union soldiers at the time and not Confederate soldiers.
“I'm interpreting them as Union bullets, because they are associated with a Union button I found — someone tore their button off when they ran into the woods — and there was a cap and it was a Union hunting horn Union cap,” Duke said. “And there was a canteen spout that I found, so someone dropped their canteen as they were running away from the battle.”
Duke said he would expect to find Confederate relics on the land where the Rader farm home was located immediately east of the county's land, but that land is in private hands and the landowner would not give him permission to search there.
Duke said the Union artifacts are historic for another reason. He said the African-American soldiers in this engagement were members of the first African-American unit formed in the Union Army in the Civil War.
“It's called the 1st Kansas Colored infantry,” Duke said. “If you guys have seen that old movie Glory, where they talk about the 54th Massachusetts, that was the first federally recognized group, but these guys were fighting for almost a year before they were mustered, so this is the very first African-American unit of the Civil War, and I believe these are remnants of this unit and one of its very first battles.”

Changing perspective
Steve Weldon, director of the Jasper County Records Center, said Duke's finds are very significant. Weldon said they change the way people should look at this small county-owned park.
“What we're finding out here is that the ground which the park has is significant to the story because, what it basically was, it is the rally ground where black and white soldiers met to put forth the resistance and protect themselves as they made their way back to Baxter Springs,” Weldon said. “It changes the story, it opens a window from a disastrous defeat to a gathering together to defend themselves. On the flag of the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, is the word Sherwood, and I always thought why in the world would they put Sherwood on their battle flag for a miserable defeat and then a revenge action of burning  a town down. What else did they do? Now we know they did fight back, that it was a battle, and it was a battle with black and white Union soldiers against the guerrilla forces.”
Weldon said he and others are starting a grass-roots fund-raising campaign to bring in money to build a small museum and interpretive structures on the property.
Weldon and Bob Wolfe, the owner of Always Buying Books in on North Main Street Road in Airport Drive have received the blessing of the county commission for a campaign that will raise funds to be used in the construction of buildings, fencing and historical displays that will tell the story of this memorial park and the battle that was fought there.
Plans call for three buildings that will be built like the 19th century structures that would have stood nearby to be built on part of the five-acre park and the rest to be seeded in native grasses.

Public presentation
Brad Belk, with the Sherwood/Rader Farm Memorial Park committee, congratulated Duke for his successful defense of his Masters thesis in front of the professors at Missouri State and his graduation on Friday from Missouri State.
Belk said Duke will make a more-detailed, public presentation of his findings in January 2016 at the Joplin Museum Complex.
Weldon said people interested in contributing money can send donations to the Jasper County Commission, Room 101, 302 S. Main St., Carthage, Mo. 64836.
He said the fund-raisers will set up a Facebook page with more information about the project in the near future.