Archive for July, 2008

Well shod

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

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Swimming in our lake at Roundrock has grown even more pleasurable this year because of how we now shod our feet. Libby gave me these water booties as a gift this year after I had given her a pair. We acquired them in the winter, so we faced several months of anticipation and apprehension as we waited for our first chance to use them.

We got them at a dive shop in Kansas City. A coworker had worn them to the office when she dressed as a scuba diver for Halloween, and I asked her where I could get a pair. What I like about them was that they have hard soles. Most aqua socks I have seen have soft soles, and that would not work on the rocky Ozark ground.

Though they are ample sized for our feet, they fit snugly around our ankles, thus keeping out pebbles and other debris in the lake. The old high-top sneakers I used to wear never stayed snug, and when I took them off after our swims, I could usually pour out a few rocks along with lots of water.

So along with being caressed by the warm lake waters and being washed of the sweat, grime, and pests when we swim, we can wade with comfort. The right tool for the job.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • William Clarke Quantrill was born on this date in 1837. Considered one of the bloodiest, most ruthless leaders of anti-Union forces (he was never formally a part of the Confederate military), he made repeated raids back and forth across the Missouri/Kansas border. He died in a skirmish with Union forces in Kentucky, but more than forty years after the war, when a crazed old man in Canada claimed that he was Quantrill, citizens from Lawrence, Kansas traveled there and killed him just to be sure.

7.26.2008 – Part Two

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

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In order to devote the proper time to hydrating ourselves, we jumped in the truck and drove a mile or so over to the property of one of the other land owners, sipping our drinks the whole way. He and I had worked together in the early years to get the roads improved and to discuss what to do about interlopers. I hadn’t seen his property in at least a year, and I know he’s been having ongoing problems keeping his lake from leaking away. (His lake is on top of the ridge and he has hardly any watershed feeding it. Leaking is not his big problem; filling is.) My neighbor wasn’t there when we drove through, but he’s been building a connected series of buildings that he is making look like an old western town. It’s really imaginative and clever.

By the time we got back to our bit of woods, we were fully hydrated again and so changed into our swimming gear. From time to time we could hear the rumble of thunder from far away, but the sky overhead was blue and clear, and Libby suggested the sounds might be coming from jets flying over to have a look at us changing our clothes.

We stumbled down to the lake and waded in without hesitation. The level is down at least a foot from full pool, and the leaking seems as vigorous as ever, but some rains in recent days have kept it recharged. I think it could drop another ten feet and we’d still have enuf water for swimming.

My first task upon entering the water was to fetch Peregrine the floating log and accompany it to the north side of the lake where I’ve been setting it free to watch its peregrinations. Peregrine was nudging the dam, not too far from the overflow spillway. No water has gone over the spillway in weeks, so I don’t think the log was drawn there from moving water. My guess is that it is blown to the east by the prevailing wind coming down the Central Valley. Perhaps three quarters of the old log floats below the surface of the water, which doesn’t give the wind a lot of purchase, but two weeks is plenty of time to move the log across the lake.

We didn’t do much but paddle around in the warm water. I tend to visit most areas where there is shoreline because I can get a closer look at what’s growing up on the land that way (without the bother of walking through the tick-laden scrub to get there). This is the season of the yellow and orange flowers. (That butterfly weed you see above is growing on the rocky outcrop on the north side of the pecan plantation. Very eye catching when seen from up on the dam.) I spotted what looked like hummingbirds working some tall flowers on the north shore, but when I tried to float close to them — doing my best imitation of a log — they flitted away. The hummingbird moths working the flowers on the dam were not so skittish and let me float very close.

I swam/waded to the many new "islands" that are forming around the willows that grow in the shallower parts of the lake. This is really kind of depressing for me since they are so difficult to eradicate and they break the unbroken expanse of the water that I like to see. Many of these willows were looking a bit ragged though. I suppose it could just be a reaction to the heat, but they looked droopy. Could this be a sign that they are giving up the fight to spoil my fun?

The dragonflies were thicker than ever. Females were depositing their eggs in the water in sudden, swooping flights, and I think the fish in the water were feeling frustrated because they couldn’t react fast enuf to snatch the dragonflies in the instant they made contact with the surface of the water. Even so, we saw many ripples in the lake caused by frustrated fish feeding frenzy.

The hours passed. We floated about. The big clouds were massing themselves to the west. Among them, Libby spotted the crescent moon, which seemed odd so high in the sky in the middle of the day. She wondered if an eclipse was pending. It turns out one is, Friday.

Missouri calendar:

  • Watch for young hummingbirds at feeders.

Today in Missouri history:

  • In the treaty of Edwardsville of 1819, the Kickapoo Indians trade their lands east of the Mississippi River for lands in southwest Missouri.
  • The great national Railroad Strike of 1877 ended on this day in St. Louis. Unlike in other major cities, the strike in St. Louis was mostly nonviolent – despite armed citizen vigilante groups – and resulted in some gains for the workers.
  • Baseball player Casey Stengel was born in Kansas City on this date in 1890.

7.26.2008 – Part One

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

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It doesn’t happen often, but I found our visit to Roundrock last Saturday to be unsatisfying. I’m not sure why, though it was no doubt a combination of factors including, I fear, a stressed mental outlook resulting from dehydration. (Also, I managed to buy gas for $3.66 a gallon and I was actually happy about that. Depressing!)

We left the house and drove through a thick fog much of the hundred miles to Roundrock. I was eager to see what our forest was like in the mist, but by the time we got there, the fog had lifted and large, puffy white clouds filled the blue sky. The sign at the big truck stop nearby flashed the outside temperature as only 77 degrees (that’s Fahrenheit, by the way, not centigrade), and I worried that it would actually be too cool on this day at the end of July in the Ozarks to swim. The humidity, it turned out, was thick enuf to hang your hat on, which I suppose accounted for the fog. Regardless, it certainly felt plenty hot enuf to swim.

We stopped just inside our entrance, and I got out to meet with my first disappointment of the day. This is where I had set up the game camera on our last visit, hoping to get some shots of interlopers. The camera was still there, which I expected, but it seems that my old nemesis — dead batteries — prevented it from taking any pictures. From what I can tell, I need to put fresh batteries in it each time I intend to use it for a two-week period. This seems more than a little extravagant, not to mention wasteful, just to get a bunch of photos of deer and invisible animals. I like the idea of seeing who visits Roundrock in my absence, so I’ll probably try setting it up again (properly) soon.

But then it was on to our other chores of the day. The first was to drag the 100 snaking feet of corrugated plastic pipe out of the tall grass around the pine plantation (where it was getting lost in the grass and would be a hazard should we ever try to mow the area again). I had put it there when we’d first planted the pines (three years ago?), intending to cut it into one-foot lengths to put around the trees to keep gnawing critters from them (which may have saved a few, he says in retrospect). We stopped beside the pines, but the tall grass and thick humidity kept us from finding enuf motivation to get out of the truck. Libby suggested we save this chore until after the tick-killing frosts come, and I agreed instantly.

Then we gave some thought to firing up the pole saw and cutting away more of the branches that reach across the road and scrape on the side of the new truck, but, fortunately, we decided against that hot work as well. The heat (or rather, humidity) was enervating, and it almost seemed as though the whole trip was going to be a bust.

There was one chore that I did want to get done regardless of whatever else might develop. Many of you will recall that I had planted a small red maple tree in some good soil in a draw just north of the pecan plantation. The tree has been there for nearly four years, but it hasn’t grown much. When I was showing Libby the various incursions the cattle had made when they invaded Roundrock a month or so ago, we followed one track up this draw, directly toward the maple. The poor tree had taken a direct stomp by one of the cattle. It was smashed to the ground, but it was still alive. The fencing we had put around it was trampled, and the thin wooden post we had anchored it to was snapped at ground level. I intent was to put the fencing back up with a stout steel fence post, but I’m starting to have second thoughts about those (probably the subject matter of an upcoming post). Instead we used two substantial wooden posts that you see in the photo above. I think they are plenty strong enuf for the job, at least for a while. Now how do I get that little maple (lower left inside the cage) to grow faster?

As we were busy getting this job done I noticed something annoying in the forest. The horseflies have already made their appearance. They weren’t as bad as I expect them to be in August, but I can remember a Roundrock visit that lasted about twenty minutes because the horseflies were so vicious, and I wasn’t looking forward to that again.

Libby and I wandered about the pecan plantation, where the leaks from the dam seem about as strong as ever, and took note of the changing of the wildflowers. The surviving pecans are looking fine — they’re actually beginning to look like trees, which warms my cynical heart. Then we decided it was time to hydrate (tea — unsweetened, of course) before falling into the loving embrace of the lake.

Missouri calendar:

  • Mink kits travel with their mothers along streams.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Platte County, Missouri residents organize the Platte County Self-Defensive Association in 1854 with the object of settling Kansas with pro-slavery men.
  • A.W. Terrill was sworn in as president of Hardin College in Mexico, Missouri on this date in 1873. The college was named for a man who was denied citizenship after the Civil War but later rose to become governor.

Round rocks

Monday, July 28th, 2008

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I have been told that I don’t feature my round rocks enuf on this humble blog. I suppose with the waves and waves of new readers that come by here (/sarcasm) there are always people who don’t know about them and think this blog is about some place in Texas.

Well, unlike that place in Texas, which has only one round rock that doesn’t even look all that round, I have hundreds of round rocks. They come in all sizes, from as small as a golf ball to larger than a bowling ball. Many of them seem perfectly round while others are egg shaped. We’ve found a few that seem to be cojoined and have peculiar shapes, including one Libby calls the platypus skull. Some are smooth while many are pocked and pitted like the surface of the moon. Some have eroded to expose their shale core, which has quickly eroded away, leaving a hollow within the round rock.

My round rocks have an extra-terrestrial origin, too. They are not from outer space, but they were created by a visitor from there. A meteor strike in the area hundreds of millions of years ago in the shallow sea that covered the area at the time created a mineral rich soup in which the round rocks congealed.

I’ve given away a few of my precious round rocks, but it’s felt like giving away my own children. I suppose I could do it again, but maybe not.

Missouri calendar:

  • Wild plums ripen.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Governor Thomas Crittenden offered a $5000 reward for the arrest and conviction of members of the Jesse James gang in 1881.

Sunday specialties

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

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Someone we know took this photo and sent it to me after I made my virtuous vultures post a while back. She noted the large nostrils on the beak of this bird and suggested that they were how these high-soaring birds can find offal so quickly. The chicken gizzards I had left before the game camera at Roundrock were partially hidden beneath trees, yet the vultures had found them quickly — faster even than any land-based critters had.

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Alas, my heavy lifter is moving away (again). #1 Son Seth, who can always be cajoled into going out to the woods with me and doing all of the hard work, is heading off to graduate school in a couple of weeks. He’ll be down in the Missouri Ozarks at his college in Rolla, studying environmental engineering, and maybe he could still find time to meet us halfway at Roundrock. But by and large, my muscle man is off living his own life now (or will be soon). My other offspring are off living their lives too. Expect to read accounts of my aching muscles in future posts about our visits to the woods.

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You have only two days to get your submissions to Beau over at Fox Haven Journal for the next Festival of the Trees. His deadline is July 29, so don’t delay! You can send him your links to foxhavenjournal [at] gmail [dot] com or by using the handy online submission form.

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The late, lamented Homesteading Hickory Hills. You will be missed, Ron. We’ve been given a second chance! Head on over to Ron’s brilliantly bodacious blog and let him know how much better the internet is with him around, won’t you?

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One year ago I was writing about yellow coneflowers. That plant didn’t come up on the dam this year.

Two years ago I was seeing fire rings that probably weren’t there.

Three years ago I was pondering some bent wire that had puzzled me.

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What’s Pablo reading now: I’ve picked up The Age of Reason by none other than Thomas Paine. It’s been on my reading shelf for more than ten years, and I’m embarrassed to have neglected such an important work for so long.

Missouri calendar:

  • Warblers begin to gain weight for energy during migration.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The Zebulon Pike, the first steamboat to reach St. Louis, arrived on this date in 1817. It made the trip from Louisville in a mere six weeks.

Anachronistic Post

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

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I don’t have a video for you today, so I thought I’d try something a little different. (Actually, it’s not that different. I think I did a post like this once before.)

What you see above is the road along our northern property line. (That’s north to the right.) On my walk that day, this was the road out and on about another mile past the farthest point you can see here to where I had left my truck.

There was nothing between me and the icy wind but a three strand barbed wire fence (and in some places the strands were broken). It’s odd to think that Libby and I were cutting branches along this road recently that were encroaching.

I don’t long for the bitter cold, but it would be nice to get a respite from the Ozark heat.

Missouri calendar:

  • Blazing star blooms on prairies and roadsides.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Etienne de Bourgmond was made a captian of French forces in what would be Missouri on this date in 1720. His expedition to the west forged bonds with the natives that allowed the French to maintain influence in the region for most of the next century.
  • Joseph Robidoux filed a plat of a town that he called St. Joseph in 1843.

Prolechariot

Friday, July 25th, 2008

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I think I was being gently taunted in a comment last week about a secret I’ve been keeping from the excellent readers of this humble blog. I traded in my old green pickup back in May for the new red pickup you see above. (If I was being gently taunted, perhaps the taunter picked up some slight evidence from the image in this post. Or this one. Or perhaps he has some other source of information.)

In any case, here’s the lowdown. The big green CHEVY had 198,00 miles on it. I was eager to top 200,000, and then we would just drive it until it died (preferably not while we were down at Roundrock though). The truck decided to die before then. A compressor had been making warning sounds for a few weeks (even a couple of trips to Roundrock, I think), and when I finally took it in for service, the mechanic told me that for $1,100 I could have the compressor replaced. If I chose not to, I could face the inevitable failure of two other essential components in the engine as well when the compressor finally died since they were all on the same devilish belt.

The truck would continue to limp along until its fore ordained catastrophic failure, but it was certainly no vehicle for making hundred mile trips deep into the Ozark wilderness. So we began shopping for a replacement.

The big green CHEVY had always been much more truck than we needed. The engine was more powerful than any of my uses had ever called for (except maybe that year that we moved our daughter, Rachel, from her Iowa dorm back home — that required the entire bed of my truck, an entire rental trailer I pulled behind it, Libby’s entire minivan, and much of the boyfriend’s parents’ SUV). With gas prices now doing what they’re doing, that big engine made even less sense. The bed of the truck was also much larger than I ever needed (except for the time I lent the truck to a friend who filled it to the rim with apples for his cider festival). Ironically, it was the cab in that oversized truck that proved to be too small. It had a bench seat in the back that was adequate, but getting in and out was always a clumsy, humiliating affair, and unless you were an eleven-year-old, it was no place to sit for long rides. #1 Son Seth did join us for many Roundrock trips, sitting on that bench seat uncomplaining, but even Max (the dog who doesn’t know he’s a dog and who’s still around though not making trips to Roundrock much anymore) didn’t like it. Plus the whole truck was so big that although we could fit it in the garage and get the door down, there were only inches to spare all around.

We looked at a couple of makes of smaller trucks with four doors, but I pretty much knew all along that I was going to settle on the TOYOTA Tacoma that you see above. Well, not that one exactly. I was thinking of a more muted color that might blend into the forest better for those times when we are at our campsite in the trees, hiding from interlopers.

It happened that at the same time the old truck was failing, #1 Son Seth learned for certain that he was not going back to Africa with the Peace Corps and so should start his life back in the States again. This meant looking for a real job and/or a graduate school, and either would require that he have reliable transportation. He and I went to the TOYOTA dealer because he was interested in the Prius hybrid, which he subsequently bought. While we were there I casually asked about four-door Tacomas with the smaller engine and four-wheel drive. The salesman who had helped Seth was, of course, happy to indulge me as well and began parading a half dozen of these smaller trucks past me. Each was not quite right — a sound system far too elaborate for my ears, leather seats, a sun roof, custom paint jobs, and all sorts of other expensive doodads that I didn’t feel the need to pay the extra money for.

Finally he drove the truck above from the back lot for my consideration. It met our minimum and maximum requirements, and it was within our budget, so it was a sale.

When I brought the red truck home I welcomed suggestions for naming it. (Libby calls her red HONDA Blanche. Adam’s TOYOTA goes by the name of Kodiak. Aaron’s CHEVY is called Bluebird because of its color. We have friends who have named their FORD Cheeseburger and their VOLVO French Fries. Really!) The winner would get powdered sugar donuts.

Among the suggestions were Roosevelt, Rodney, Butch (from Linda ), Quadriga de Sol (Chariot of the sun), Phoebus (Apollo), Bender, Red Baron, Omega Red, Clifford, Buckbeak, Thoreau, Crimson Dynamo, Stanley, Ensign Wesley Crusher, First Ensign Wesley Crusher, Red Shirt (the doomed crew members from Star Trek), Moulin Rouge , Big Red, Code Red, Awesome, Boba Fett, Camionneur Rouge De Roche (I don’t even know how to pronounce that), Red State Rambler, Come-here Rouge, Nipponatron, Bob Ziomek, Todd, Monty (as in Python), and the one I chose, Prolechariot (because it’s red and it’s a working truck). Prolechariot was suggested by #3 Son Aaron, though he has yet to collect the powdered sugar donuts, being way out in western Kansas as he is.

I’ve had it down to Roundrock three or four times already, and I’ve confirmed that it is perfectly suited for the job of hauling us comfortably and our gear capaciously. It even dances across the muddy places on our road where the old truck would bog down and dig furrows.

I’ve had the new truck for two months, but I haven’t yet put two thousand miles on it. We got ten good years out of the old truck, and I hope to do at least as well with this truck. It’s a long way to 200,000 miles.

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Missouri calendar:

  • Squirrels bear summer litters.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Joseph Corby was born on this date in 1847. As a civic leader in St. Joseph, Missouri he gave the growing town its first telephone system, its first street railway, its first power plant, and its first fireproof building.

Pink flower of mystery

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

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I thought I’d have no trouble identifying this pink flower. So distinct, so pretty, it had to be on the website I visit or in one of the many guide books I have. But I haven’t had any luck.

It grows happily on the fringe of the pecan plantation below the dam. The soil is not very good where it is growing, but the area has remained wet or at least moist most of the spring and early summer. It was the only one of its kind I saw in the area, so maybe I caught it at the beginning or end of its growing season. My thought is that the photo doesn’t show the petals (sepals?) in their full open position. Maybe that is why I can’t find a match for it.

My best guess is that it might be related to Sabatia angularis , commonly known as rosepink. Thank plant does like marshy ground on the edges of meadows.

Next time I’m at Roundrock, I intend to return to this spot and see if there are any more like it.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Henry Shaw was born on this date in 1800. After becoming a wealthy tradesman in St. Louis, he retired at the age of 40 and began work on a public garden at his estate outside the city. Today the work is known as the Missouri Botanical Garden, and it is considered one of the finest in the world.

Update on the bag experiment

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

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The bag experiment had seemed to go so long without any significant changes that I found myself visiting it less and less on our trips to Roundrock. I was surprised, then, when Libby and I steered our feet over to it on our last trip and found things in this state.

Notice how the bag on the right is decomposing into shredded strips. This is especially ironic since it was the one for which no claims were made about its biodegrading qualities. The bag on the upper left is also well on the way to nothingness, but the ultimate irony is the bag at the bottom. This one came all the way from the great state of Oregon where I was told it would decompose in a matter of weeks. It’s been there since December of last year, surviving an Ozark winter, spring, and now summer. It’s beginning to shred as well, but it’s not doing nearly as well as its companions.

Compare the three to this post in which they came together for the first time.

I’m not sure how much longer I should let the experiment run. The bag on the right will soon begin blowing around the area, and as I understand it, the molecules themselves will never decay, so there will be litter even if the bag "decomposes."

I also don’t know what conclusions I can draw from this experiment, but I’ll ponder that some.

Missouri calendar:

  • Wild black cherries ripen.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Mormon leaders near Kansas City signed an agreement with the county legislature on this date in 1833 agreeing to leave the area. This was a culmination of many years of ill will, legal redress, and even violence for the area and the persecuted minority.

Shooting the interlopers

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

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I get the feeling that I was being gently chided about my skill with a game camera on another blog recently. Be that as it may, the game camera has provided some fun diversions for us and an occasional post here on Roundrock Journal .

We’ve put the camera in quest of a different prey now. I’ve often wondered just how often we get visitors at Roundrock when we’re not there. Our encounters with neighbors on the weekends seem to happen frequently enuf to suggest (to me) that their visits are more common than our random meetings might otherwise indicate.

Why not use the game camera and point it at the road to catch snaps of two-legged, talking mammals as they pass through? This presents a bit of a challenge. Game aren’t aware of what the camera is, so they aren’t shy of it. I’ve even read that when the flash goes off at night, it doesn’t disturb them any more than a bolt of lightning would. But humans are different. I had to contrive a way to get pictures of them without their foreknowledge.

There are technical difficulties too. The camera will not catch a passing car. The moving car will trigger the camera, but by the time the shot is taken, the car is past. I’ve tried this in front of my house in suburbia. Yet people tend to interlope in our woods with their cars and trucks and ATVs.

So my plan was to aim the camera up the road so that I could get a shot of the vehicle as it is moving away from or toward the camera rather than past it. But even this was problematic. I think if an interloper saw the camera in advance, he or she might stop and turn around before a shot could be taken. I guess that would keep them away, but the point is to see who visits not who doesn’t. Thus I had to find a trunk that was fairly well hidden but that still gave a good angle to the camera. It also had to be free of scrub before it so the shot could be clear and the scrub’s movement in the wind wouldn’t trigger the shot. Finally, the trunk had to be close enuf to the road to allow the camera’s sensor to be triggered.

I found one tree just beyond the pond that might have worked, but it wasn’t ideal. Libby suggested a different approach. We could put the camera on a tree just inside our entrance, catching vehicles as they came in. If we did it right, they wouldn’t even see it as they passed through its trigger range. What you see above is what we settled on.

That tree is one of two that our road passes between just as it crosses our property line. The neighbor’s meadow is just behind it. (I hid it with some branches after I took the shot.) The road dips and turns just past this point, so I think most drivers will slow down a bit and get pictured. From the back anyway.

My thought is that the driver will not be aware of the camera upon entering, and the shot will be taken. Then, later, when the person is driving out, he or she may see the camera, but by then the deed is done.

My hope is that no one will happen to see the camera on their way out, but that’s unlikely. So my next hope is that no one will molest the camera when they see it.

My plan is to check the camera just as soon as we return to Roundrock (this coming weekend?). I expect among the first shots will be a few of me and my truck.

Missouri calendar:

  • May apple fruits ripen and fall on ground.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The Convention of 99 began meeting on this date in 1861. Initially formed to decide Missouri’s stance toward the Civil War, the Convention soon became an extra-constitutional force that established an interim government that had no legal standing but that brought Missouri through a political crisis at the start of the war.