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Museum coordinator is Civil War re-enactor

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Bushwhacker Museum Coordinator Will Tollerton doesn't just study and display history, he acts it out.

A member of the Independence-based Holmes Brigade, Tollerton plays the part of a northern soldier in Civil War re-enactments, most recently with 80 - plus soldiers wearing Union Blue, running pell-mell and firing black powder muskets at the site of the Dec. 7, 1862, Battle of Prairie Grove, Ark.

"What strikes me most is the noise level and the difficulty of listening for commands," Tollerton said. "You get a sense of the confusion and wonder, what am I supposed to do?"

The 28-year Laclede native from north central Missouri had been fascinated by such things for most of his life until being chosen in September 2011 to succeed Terry Ramsey at the Bushwhacker Museum at 21 W. Walnut St.

His father, James, is a Linn County farmer who organized a car and tractor show and volunteered at Laclede's Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing Boyhood Home State Historic Site. Tollerton's mother's maiden name was Deborah Lipka.

"I was very much aware of state and local history from an early age," said Tollerton, who graduated from the Truman State University, specializing in European history, and spent two years cataloging artifacts at the Museum of Missouri Military History in Jefferson City.

"There are a significant number of well-known generals like Pershing who came from this state, including World War II Gens. Maxwell Taylor and Omar Bradley, so our military heritage is deep and broad."

Acknowledging his Union perspective, Tollerson said his understanding of the South has been enhanced since he began working in Nevada. "I have a deeper appreciation of the war in this region, especially the border war," he said.

"The Missouri-Kansas border was where the Civil War began, the flashpoint in the struggle over slavery. I had the other perspective growing up, but since coming here I have come to appreciate the frontier southern people who inhabited Vernon County."

Tollerton, an only child, is a gardening enthusiast who goes home to help grow corn and soybeans at the family farm, where his favorite tasks are cutting brush, making bonfires "and generally cleaning things up.

"I expect this (history) career will be my primary livelihood," he said. "If anything, farming in the future might be a side business."

He is a member of St. Mary's Catholic Church and a third degree member of the Knights of Columbus.

Maj. Alan Brown, National Guard historian at the Jefferson City museum, said Tollerton "is a good up and coming young man who has a passion for history and is very knowledgable.

"He was hired as a temporary technician for two years to catalog, tag, take photos of and place close to 20,000 items in a shelving system," said Brown, who visited Tollerton and the Bushwhacker Museum about a month ago.

"It took someone who could do detail work and get it right and we kept him busy. Will just seemed more mature than average. What sets you apart from others is to have a passion for history. A lot of people don't have that and it doesn't take long in speaking with someone to tell whether or not they enjoy it.

"They take the time to do some reading and start developing an eye to put two and two together. Your museum is a real neat little spot."

Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays during its May 1-Oct. 31 tour season, the Bushwhacker will feature Civil War paintings by Dan Woodward of Rolla from April 14 through August and a three-section exhibit sent by the Missouri Humanities Council and Missouri History Museum in St. Louis from May 25 through July 21.

Tollerton said the themes of "Slavery," Guerilla Warfare" and "Divided Loyalty" will be portrayed.

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