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Archive for August, 2008

Sunday swirlings

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

We’re having a bit of a celebration here at Roundrock Journal. My web master recently upgraded me to the latest version of WordPress, and that fixed a number of minor inconveniences. No longer will I have to cut and past HTML code in order to add pix to the posts. The punctuation will no longer go wonky when I apply any formatting to the text. And best of all, I seem to be able to preview my posts again. I only had sporadic access to that feature before. So thanks, Web Master! I couldn’t do it without your help.

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The nearly invisible sliver in Cedorum’s palm calls out for identification. Head on over there and identify the thing, will you? (I’m curious.)

Meanwhile, the news from Alabama is that Rurality is merely “busy, busy, busy” but that no misfortune has befallen the Queen of All Blogs. She hopes to get back to posting on her blog after the first craft show is out of the way.

Alas, it sounds as though Beemused in the Country will be going away, but there’s a silver lining in this dark cloud.

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The latest edition of the Festival of the Trees may already be up over at Exploring the World of Trees, coming to the world from lovely Spain. Head over there and revel in the world of trees in all their splendor.

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And don’t forget International Rock-Flipping Day coming up next weekend. On September 7, go to the woods or the wilds and turn over some rocks, then take a picture or a video of what your find. Make a sketch. Even write a poem. Then post it on your site and link it to the coordinating blog. For more information, go here and here.

And remember, Ted of Beetles in the Bush (another fine Missouri blog) notes that it is critically important to return the rocks to their original positions once you’re done. He wrote extensively about this very thing and the negative consequences of leaving no stones unturned in this post.

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What’s Pablo reading now? I’m still grinding my way through The Age of Reason. Yes, I know it’s an important work in the history of our nation, but, ugh! I have a couple of weeks before I have to get going on the next selection for the book discussion group, so I should finish this Paine book and use my free time to pick up some things I might like. I’ll let you know.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The Nineteenth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution on August 26 and Marie Byrum became the first woman to vote in Missouri history five days later in 1920.

Saturday Matinee – 8.30.2008

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

#1 Son with chainsaw @ Yahoo! Video

The Saturday Matinee returns, but only through the generous assistance of my web designer who corrected a serious flaw in my picture-taking technique.

You will, of course, remember that perhaps five years ago I had planted a small maple tree in some pretty good soil at the bottom of a ravine just north of the pecan plantation. I wrote about it most recently in this post, lamenting its failure to grow an inch in all of the time it’s been there in the ground. It occurred to me recently that maybe it just wasn’t getting enuf sunlight. I tucked it up in the ravine so that it might benefit from wetter soil, but I think that may have been at the price of sufficient sunlight.

And that brings us back to this tree that #1 Son Seth is shown cutting down in the video. This tree grows between the maple and the life-giving sun. I asked him to cut it down, and I captured the process. He begins by making a too-small wedge cut. Then he goes to the opposite side of the tree and begins his back cut too high. He notices something in the forest. Then he starts a new back cut that is better placed. And the tree comes down.

Yes, that’s a sweet ponytail you see coming out of the back of his hat.

I’ll go back in the fall after the scrub is leafless and clean up the fallen tree. I’ll also take out the rest of the trunk, though I don’t suppose it would do any harm just to leave it like that.

As to the flaw in my picture-taking technique . . .

I had turned my camera 90º when I shot this video. I wanted to get a more vertical image. Unfortunately, that meant that the actual video was on its side since you can’t tilt the camera with video the way you can with a regular still image. (I won’t make that mistake again.) Fortunately, my web designer found some plug in that can correct this goof, though it does cost a bit in image quality, and for that I apologize to both of you who will read this.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • He was reported to understand French, German, Spanish, shorthand, and demonstrated a knowledge of Morse code as well as the makes of cars. He could predict the sex of babies in the womb and picked in advance the winner of the Kentucky Derby six years in a row. On this date in 1935 a newspaper named him “Jim the Wonder Dog” because Jim was, indeed, a dog who lived in Sedalia, Missouri.

You decide

Friday, August 29th, 2008

I mentioned in an earlier post that my game camera had caught an image of what might have been a critter I haven’t seen at Roundrock before. Libby is skeptical that the image shows any critter at all. I leave it for you to decide.

The first image is my “control” shot. Based on the time stamp, this shot was taken shortly after Seth and I set up the camera.

Now compare it to this image taken a week later.

Notice what I’ve circled. Does that look like some sort of canid to you? Coyote? Farm dog? Dire wolf?

I know it’s not an Ozark Howler because it’s not black, doesn’t have horns, and doesn’t have burning red eyes.

Based on the time stamp, this shot was taken shortly before Libby and I arrived last Sunday. It almost seems as though the critter is looking directly at the camera (if critter it is and not some trick of light and shadow).

So far I haven’t captured anything on the game camera that would justify getting a better quality model, but a few more mysteries like this one might whet my appetite.

What do you think?

Missouri calendar:

  • Thirteen-lined ground squirrels begin to gorge.

Today in Missouri history:

  • A boy named Joyce Hall was born on this date in 1891. He began selling postcards door to door and eventually turned his business into an international success known as Hallmark Cards, based in Kansas City.
  • Jazzman Charlie “Bird” Parker is born in Kansas City, Missouri on this date in 1920.

8.24.2008 – Part Two

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

When we last saw our heroes, they were just stumbling back to where they’d left their truck after investigating the (still) mysterious sound coming from the northeast corner of the property. Let’s see what they have to say for themselves now.

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When we got back to where we’d left truck after investigating that (still) mysterious sound coming from the northeast corner of the property, we needed to decide how to spend our time next. Sure, there were plenty of chores to do, plenty of wood to be cut and brush to be cleared, plenty of this, and plenty of that, but who wants to do chores? My hope for a while has been to do no more than simply walk in the forest with my love. I just wanted to walk aimlessly through the trees with no more intent than to see whatever there was to see.

So we left the truck there in the road and struck into the forest again, this time going more or less westerly. Over the years we have crossed this part of our woods more than a few times, but I think the seasons have been different (or the direction, or the purpose, or the mood) because it seemed like undiscovered land to me, and that is a good thing. We had the loppers with us, and we would occasionally stoop to liberate a small cedar from its earthly toil or clear a way through the grasping branches of the Blackjack oaks intent on lacerating our forearms. After a fair bit of traveling I came upon a fallen tree that looked like it might serve as a seat for two weary hikers. The old log was rotted though, and I wasn’t sure it would hold. So I kicked it to get a feel for how solid it was. Immediately a loud buzzing started. One yellow and black insect emerged and began scouting around, so we gave up our idea of sitting there and moved on.

I watched for interesting sights, including round rocks, which are known to frequent this part of the forest. At one point, in a particularly open and flinty part of the forest, we spotted a sawed log on the ground. You can see it in the photo above. We see these more often in the western part of our woods, and you’ll remember that long before we came to this land, it was part of a cattle ranch. My working hypothesis is that the cowboys who worked the ranch had cut down certain trees to allow the grass to grow under them more luxuriously to feed the cattle. It was hard to imagine grass growing in the flinty ground around that area, and maybe that idea didn’t work. I don’t know.

I began to suspect, though, that we had hiked farther than I first realized. I looked about and saw some familiar landmarks, and then not too far off to our left I could see exactly what we needed: comfy chairs. We had hiked as far as our new campsite. Essentially that morning we had hiked from the northeast corner nearly all the way to the southwest corner of our woods.

The chairs knew our names and called to us seductively. We were powerless to resist and soon found ourselves leaning back and looking at the blue sky through the green leaves of the hickory tree above us. We might have fallen into a stupor there had our lunches been with us rather than in the cooler back at the truck a half mile away. We needed to eat (to keep up our strength, of course), and there was the obligatory swim in the lake, so we pushed out of the chairs most reluctantly and started back.

First we wandered over to the pond. Nothing much was happening there — or I should say, nothing much was happening that we could see– and we headed back into the forest. At this point we were close to the road that runs along our northern boundary. We could have gone over there and had an easier walk, but we wanted to stay in the trees and enjoy them. And so we did. But in what seemed like too short a time, we saw the TOYOTA pulsing red through the trees ahead. We had returned.

Lunch back at the shelter tarp overlooking the mostly full lake was quiet and reflective. We are fairly certain we saw Libby’s turtle rising to the surface of the pond periodically. It does this for a minute or two than disappears for twenty minutes, coming up elsewhere when it is ready. There was plenty of iced tea (unsweetened, of course) and some fresh cherries whose pits we cast to the ground before us. (I hope they don’t sprout. I think the critters will get them.) We skipped our customary post-lunch stupor and headed for the lake, changing clothes first though. I had run into another nest of chiggers sometime during my ramblings that day, and my pants were again covered with the minute, crawling tormentors. When I peeled down my sock I found that they had crawled through the fabric. Dozens were on the skin of my ankles. This was not good, but I hoped a swim in the lake would wash them free. I would be feeling their itch by now, and I don’t, so I think I escaped them. This time.

The lake was as fine as we expected. Peregrine had not traveled far in the week I was away. In fact, unless some heavy rains come, Peregrine won’t be going anywhere. It stranded itself on dry ground when the lake receded. The horseflies were present during our woodland walk, but they weren’t bad, nor did they bite us. Out on the lake, with only our heads above the water, they hardly knew we were there at all. I found that I could stand in parts of the lake that were over my head on past swims. This meant I could stay in one place without any effort and study the shoreline and the trees that rose form it. I enjoy seeing familiar things from new angles. We paddled about. Sometimes Libby’s path and mine would intersect. Sometimes we would drift on our own.

I don’t think we stayed in the water as long on this visit as we have on past visits. I was the first to get out. We had things to get back to in suburbia, and that was on my mind.

Missouri calendar:

  • Male white-tailed deer rub velvet off antlers: watch for their “rubs” on small trees.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Meredith Miles Marmaduke was born on this date in 1791. He served as governor for nine months following the suicide of Governor Reynolds, and though he failed to be elected, he was the father of a later Missouri governor.
  • Missouri’s first state elections were held and Alexander McNair was elected Missouri’s first governor in 1820.

8.24.2008 – Part One

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Libby and I chose Sunday to go down to Roundrock last weekend. Actually, we had chosen Saturday, but our slumbers were disturbed by lightning and thunder, and we woke to rain with a big storm cell to our west on the radar.

We should have gone then. The woods are certainly more lovely in the rain, but that wouldn’t have been the case on Saturday. The storm drifted south rather than southeast, and it mostly dissipated by mid-morning. We would have been dry in the woods with mild temps had we gone down on Saturday. Sunday was fine though.

Our first task was to retrieve the game camera Seth and I had placed at the entrance to see if we caught any interlopers. It reported nine shots. I was excited, so I slipped the memory card out of the game camera and into my personal camera to review them. There was only one shot of an “interloper” and it is the one you see above. As readers know, that’s my new TOYOTA: Prolechariot. I expected this shot, actually. Note the time stamp. That’s accurate. (Disregard the year. That’s not accurate.) That was the time Seth and I set the camera in place, and then we drove on into Roundrock. Another shot I expected and did not get was of us driving out of the woods at the end of the day. Our passage should have triggered the camera as much as this time had. What lesson can I take from this? Could this mean that interlopers may have come and gone without triggering the camera? Maybe, but we were only away for a week, and it’s possible no one had come by in that time.

The camera did provide two completely black shots. That’s about par. There were a few shots of the trees, perhaps moving in the breeze and triggering the camera. And then there is the shot of a critter (or is it?) that I intend to share with you in the coming days. I need to scrub the image a bit first, and even then you might doubt that anything is there. (I’ll leave you with this hint: it is not Bigfoot.)

Our normal routine when we get to our woods (barring any other chores that would change it) is to drive all the way to the dam and continue down the hill into the pecans where it is easy to turn around. Then we come back up the hill and park near the shelter tarp. That pretty much becomes base for our day’s adventures. We diverged from that routine a bit.

We lingered for a while in the pecans. I wandered about, inspecting the trees (and liking what I found for the most part) and taking photos of this and that. It’s almost time to mow the area again, though I don’t know if I’ll do that this year or not. While we were down there, we could hear the whining of an engine. Just as when Seth and I were there the week before, the sound was coming from our northeast corner. This time it sounded much larger, much closer. At times it sounded like a motorcycle or ATV. At other times it seemed like it might be a chainsaw. In any case, I thought it was time to make good on my vow to hike to the northeast corner and see if anything had changed on our property or on the adjoining property. Thus we drove the truck back up the hill and parked near our northern neighbor’s corn field. This is where the old trail along the property line meets the road.

We started our trek to the corner from there, each of us carrying loppers to help liberate any young cedars from their earthly toil and to work to keep the path open. In the days before our tenure, this path was used regularly by horse riders. We saw plenty of fresh evidence of that, and I even found a horseshoe on the trail once. So imagine a broad trail along which people atop horses could ride unobstructed. Those days are gone. The trail is altogether lost in some places, and where we can still see it, the branches of the nearby trees have reached into the space. I wouldn’t want to be atop a horse in those areas.

The trail to the corner is about a quarter mile, and as we hiked, we chopped. There aren’t a lot of cedars in this area, but we stopped frequently to open the train by lopping oak and hickory branches. Still, we grew closer to the corner and saw no signs of visitors. In fact, when we got to the corner and peered onto the neighbor’s property as far as we could, there was no sign of activity there either. Nor was the engine still roaring. I don’t know where it was or what it was doing, but it wasn’t bothering me or mine in any way, so we hiked back to the truck and planned our next adventure.

Missouri calendar:

  • Elderberries begin ripening.

Today in Missouri history:

  • William Hyde was born on this date in 1836. As a newspaper publisher in St. Louis he was a rival of Joseph Pulitzer. Hyde also delivered the first air mail in history, by balloon.
  • William Least Heat-Moon was born in Kansas City on this date in 1939. He is the author of Blue Highways, Prairyerth, and Riverhorse, among other works.

Greenie

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Remember that post I made here long ago vowing to pay more attention to little details at Roundrock? Well, sometimes I remember it too. Like the time I took the photo above.

When #1 Son was busy cutting up the cedar that had fallen into the lake, I was poking around nearby with camera in hand and happened to see the sunlight glinting on this green gemstone at the end of an oak leaf.

I have it on excellent authority that this is a dogbane beettle (Chrysochus auratus), which is native to the Great State of Missouri (and to many of the lesser states). In all my years of stomping about Roundrock, I don’t think I had ever seen this little critter before (hence that vow to pay better attention). I do have plenty of its preferred food: dogbane. “Preferred” isn’t the right word. “Exclusive” might be better. This beetle only eats leaves of the dogbane plant, and I have plenty of that growing in the open, sunny areas of Roundrock. (And this tells me that the beetle is not munching on that oak leaf.)

In fact, now that I know about this tight relationship, I’ll have to examine my dogbane plants more closely to see if I can find any more of these emerald beetles.

Missouri calendar:

  • Watch for unusual birds; most common in late summer or early fall.

Today in Missouri history:

  • B. Gratz Brown and Thomas Reynolds met on Missouri’s infamous Bloody Island on this date in 1856 to settle their disputes in a pistol duel. Neither man was killed though Brown, a future governor, was shot in the knee had a limp for the rest of his life. Reynolds, also a future governor, later committed suicide while in office.

Pecans seen and unseen

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Can you see the pecan tree in its cage here? No? Neither can I. The pecan I planted here — and perhaps replanted here, and then possibly even planted a third time — died. It must have had a good start though because I returned to it within the last two years to pound a post into that unyielding ground beside it and then erected the fence cage around it.

Now no sign of the tree remains. I decided some years ago to stop fighting nature (at least among the pecans) and no longer replace the ones that kept dying.

But can you see the pecan tree towering over its cage here?

Now that’s more like it. Look at that beauty! It was a mere, bare-rooted stick a few years ago when I first stuck it into that flinty soil. Today it’s beginning to look like an actual tree. Even the browsing deer seem to respect it finally, leaving it unmolested even though it is within easy reach.

I’ll leave the post beside it since a pecan farmer I met once said that keeps the buck deer from thrashing their antlers in the tree to remove the velvet. I considered removing the fencing around it but decided against it. I think the fencing can keep the bunnies from gnawing on the trunk of this tree.

So the pecans are finally beginning to show some success for my years of effort. I knew it would happen. I never doubted it for a minute.

Missouri calendar:

  • “Turkey feet” sed heads of big bluestem grass mature.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Brigadier General Thomas Ewing issued General Order No. 11 on this date in 1863, requiring all people living in Jackson, Cass, Bates, and northern Vernon counties (the Kansas City area and land to the south) to vacate the area unless their loyalty to the Union could be proved.

Sunday scattershot

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

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I was down to Roundrock only last weekend, but poor Libby has been away for a month! I feel really bad about that. If all went according to plan, that grievous circumstance was corrected this weekend.

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So what do you think? Are game cameras bad for wildlife?

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The complete Nature Blog Network. (Well, maybe not complete. There might be one or two not included, but Roundrock Journal is there, down at the end somewhere.)

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Farewell, Diego!

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International Rock-Flipping Day is approaching. On September 7, go to the woods or the wilds and turn over some rocks, then take a picture or a video of what your find. Make a sketch. Even write a poem. Then post it on your site and link it to the coordinating blog. For more information, go here and here.

Also, Ted of Beetles in the Bush (another fine Missouri blog) notes that it is critically important to return the rocks to their original positions once you’re done. He wrote extensively about this very thing and the negative consequences of leaving no stones unturned in this post.

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And don’t forget the deadline for the next Festival of the Trees, being hosted this time around by Dan of Exploring the World of Trees. You can send him links to your posts and pix (or those you find on other sites) to his email address treespecies AT gmail DOT com or by using the handy online submission form. Don’t forget, the deadline is August 29.

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What’s Pablo reading now? I’m back to The Age of Reason. I’ll get it finished someday. It turns out I enjoyed The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe. Tomorrow night is the discussion at the library. I’m looking forward to it. Apparently the last two or three paragraphs of this novel are among the most written about pieces of literature in the English language. Who knew?

Missouri calendar:

  • Cave-dwelling bats begin mating through October.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Citizens of the frontier town of Columbia, Missouri met on this date in 1833 to discuss a revolutionary idea: the creation of a college to give women a practical education. The result of this meeting was the establishment of the Columbia Female Academy, which provided education for women for more than twenty years before closing. By that time the town had established two other female academies.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

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A typical Ozark, late-summer scene. There’s the TOYOTA out in the pecan plantation. The dam to the right is still holding up. The weather was mild for mid-August. The horseflies were not too bad. Chores were getting done. The persimmons in the foreground are happy. But something is still wrong with this picture.

Look more closely:

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That’s better. Now you see it, don’t you. That tree over by the spillway. It’s finally died. The tree had been looking sickly for a few years. I think the construction of the dam may have hurt it to begin with. Presumably, some of the range of its surface roots were buried under the dam, and compacted soil on roots is never good for a tree.

The gouging of the spillway by the overflow is probably the tipping point though. Perhaps half of the roots of the tree were exposed by this. They’ve dried up and died, and so follows the tree.

The death of a single tree in a forest is not an extraordinary thing. It happens all of the time, and in dying it creates new niches for other life. It will eventually return its fifty or sixty years of collected solar energy to the ground and enrich the soil. All of this is good and natural.

But if it should fall prematurely — say in another ice storm this winter — it might not be good and natural for the dam. I don’t think the root wad getting yanked out of the ground would be a threat to the dam. First of all, it’s far enuf away from the dam itself not to be a problem. Second, though you can’t tell from this photo, the tree has grown atop a shelf of rock. I don’t think its roots go so deep to leave a large crater should the tree come down.

Should the tree fall across the dam, though, that would be an inconvenience for Pablo. The tree is tall enuf to reach to the lake water itself if it fell in that direction. It would block passage across the dam until I could get out there with the saw and cut it all free. The upper branches would be easy to cut up, but the trunk itself, lying athwart the dam would be harder to clear, especially given the slope of the dam.

Well, I’ve been putting off getting the spillway rerouted. A gubment man had recommended that I direct the spillway behind this tree, to send water down the hillside to the left of it. So I could have the tree knocked down in the proper direction and then pushed out of the way to be cut up at my leisure. I could also get the erosion of the existing spillway filled in. All of that would take a dozer man who knew what he was doing. (Or a dozer woman.) And all of that would take money. Got any?

Missouri calendar:

  • Dabbling ducks return from the north.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Thomas Hart Benton (the senator and grand uncle of the painter) kills Charles Lucas in a duel in St. Louis in 1817. (Some history books list this as occurring on September 27.)

Fast-fish and loose-fish

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

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The deer cross the land at Roundrock, blissfully heedless of things like property lines and fences. They come. They go. They stay for a while, and then they move on. The same is probably true of other critters, though beyond bobcats, turkeys, and Ozark Howlers, few of the critters have a wandering range of the deer. I don’t consider any of these critters to be my critters. They don’t belong to me simply because they make use of my land, and I think it is untenable to believe that any wild animal can be “owned” at all.

I like to think of myself as a friend of the wild things, and I generally manage Roundrock as a sort of informal sanctuary for them. I don’t hunt, and while I have no objection to the sport, I’ve only allowed one hunter to use my land during deer season (and he later reported that he didn’t get anything). My restriction is more for safety and liability concerns than for any “ownership” I might feel toward the wild things. I’m sure some interlopers have hunted on my land: we don’t go there for the ten days of high-powered rifle deer season, so anything might be happening then.

My opinion changes, however, when I think of the fish in the lake. Because the lake is wholly on my property, I’ve come to the attitude that any fish in it are my fish. At the moment, whatever fish are in there got in as eggs on the feet of visiting waterfowl. There are fish in the lake, and those introduced this way are commonly called “wild fish,” which I think is a delightful term. I don’t know what kinds of fish they are. I suspect there aren’t any game fish among them, but I haven’t cast in a line to see what I might pull out. (I have seen some large dimples on the water as the fish have taken insects from the surface, so there may be some surprises awaiting me.) Nor have I stocked any fish yet. I’m waiting for the leaks to resolve themselves (with as much help and Bentonite as I can throw their way) before I take on the considerable investment of stocking.

Certainly then I will consider the fish to be mine. I’ve spent a lot of money on the construction and maintenance of the lake, and I will spend money on the stocking of game fish. I think that given this kind of investment, I can make legitimate claim on the fishies. They will be “fast-fish” in the old whaling terminology.

Maybe this is a contradiction in my values (just as calling a whale a fish as the old-timers used to do is a contradiction). Nonetheless, it is how I’ve come to feel. Of course, when you visit Roundrock, you can catch all you want. I won’t even check your license.

Missouri calendar:

  • Young gray squirrels search for home territories.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Julia Dent of St. Louis married a young Army lieutenant on this date in 1848. Her father objected, saying her beau was no military man. Her father was wrong, for his son-in-law eventually accepted Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and later made his wife First Lady.

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