Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Weather Gods

Last night we walked the dog and enjoyed the 60-degree evening. This morning, we had "Thunder Snow," winds gusting to 30 plus miles an hour, and electricity going off and on. March has roared in as if Mars himself has awakened and is testing his powers. So, when we finally had power restored, I opened my email and found a press release from Vermont Life and this gorgeous spring scene. It made me feel so good, I just wanted to share it with you, and giving folks a little free publicity doesn't bother me at all (even if they're Yankees!) There is a headline at the top, "Spanish Horses," and this sent up a couple of antennae. There is an article on screenwriter John Fusco (Hidalgo, Young Guns) and his horsebreeding operation on his Vermont farm. With the accompanying photos of the horses running through lush grass with Vermont hills behind them, yes, I'd say it is worth subscribing for. I had the pleasure of sitting beside John on a flight from Milwaukee to Rapid City a couple of years ago, and while he does take creative license with history, his compassion for people and animals, and his passion for storytelling, is evident.

A Confederacy of Union Generals

Seated, left to right: Maj. General John Reynolds, as portrayed by Mike Riley; Maj. General George Meade, as portrayed by Andy Waskie; Lieut. General Ulysses S. Grant, as portrayed by Larry Clowers; Maj. General John Gibbon, as portrayed by Bob Hanrahan; Standing, left to right: Brig. General Rufus Ingalls, as portrayed by Pat Fairbairn; Lieut. Charles Phillips, as portrayed by Tim Henry; Captain Henry Landis, as portrayed by Steve Harris; Brig. General David McMurtrie Gregg, as portrayed by Carl Popadick; Captain Edward Baird, as portrayed by Bill Gollatz; Lieut.Colonel James Sanderson, as portrayed by Jeff Jefferson; Major General Godfrey Weitzel, as portrayed by Joe Funk; Major General James McPherson, as portrayed by Scott Thomas; Brig. General Andrew Humphreys, as portrayed by Jerry McCormick; Major General William Sherman, as portrayed by Tony Rosati; Captain Lewis Weitzel, as portrayed by Dan Moran. Thanks to Andy Waskie. If you have some interesting reenacting photos you'd like to share, send them on!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Colorful Characters

The United States Senate of the 1850s had some colorful characters, not the least of whom were Jefferson Davis and Sam Houston (left). An insightful and articulate woman, Varina Davis provides rich word portraits of the men who served alongside her husband in his "autobiography," which she wrote. (Talk about getting in the last word!) Her description of Houston, who was nearly a generation older than her husband, is priceless:

He was considerably over the ordinary height--six feet four at least. He had a noble figure and handsome face. . . . He rejoiced in a catamount* skin waistcoat; it was very long-waisted, and his coat was left ostentatiously open to show it. Another waistcoat, which he alternated with the catamount, was of a glowing scarlet cloth. His manner was very swelling and formal. When he met a lady he took a step forward, then bowed very low, and in a deep voice said, "Lady, I salute you."

It was an embarrassing kind of thing, for it was performed with the several motions of a fencing lesson. If she chanced to please him . . . he generally took a small snakeskin pouch from his pocket and pulled out from it a little wooden heart, the size of a twenty-five cent piece, and presented it with, "Lady, let me give you my heart." These hearts he whittled all day long in the Senate and he had a jeweller put a little ring in them. There was a certain free, stolid manner that suggested his long residence with the Indians.

Varina went on to recall the story Jeff had shared of meeting Houston in a sutler's store in the West, many years before. Houston had visited with Jeff at length then declared, "The future United States Senator salutes the future President."

How right Sam Houston was, though their futures, just like ours, take turns we cannot imagine.

*For you whippersnappers out there, a catamount is a mountain lion.

Southern News

Look for a new whole wheat doughnut at Krispy Kreme. More fiber and 180 calories, versus 200 for an original glazed doughnut. How could they improve on the origial glazed doughnut, you might ask? Well, they can't, but for people trying to be more health-conscious, this may be the next best thing. Let me add that, as Tom and I have traveled the country, we have seen more excited debate over Dunkin' Donuts v. Krispy Kreme than the folly of Pickett's charge or the debacle on the Little Bighorn. (As the outraged guest speaker one night back East, I had to wait behind the ravenously rude roundtable members for chocolate Dunkin' Donut holes, which I might add, were gone by the time I got there.) Likewise, folks in Massachusetts waited in line for weeks when Krispy Kreme opened up there. Back when I was a schoolkid, Krispy Kreme had its store in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, but other than that the doughnuts were used as fundraising tools. So, if Boy Scouts or the Beta Club had to raise money, they sold Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I sold dozens at a time and could eat a dozen at a time. Let me end the Great Doughnut Wars right now by saying, Krispy Kreme is as addictive as cocaine.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Real Deal

Not often, but every now and then, I do believe I was born in the wrong century. I should have been a young woman, say 20, say living in Nebraska, say in 1876, say when Buffalo Bill Cody was about 30. I would have positively, utterly shamelessly, thrown myself at him. I would also have been standing in line.

Born on February 26, 1846, near Davenport, Iowa, nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, exemplifies America like William Frederick Cody. He was the spirit and the action and the ideal in one magnificent man. Magnificent though he was, he was also a lousy husband.

Bill and Louisa (below, with their daughters) had a rocky relationship at best. The beautiful, spirited, Italian, took one look at this hunk and thought what women have thought for ages--she would tame him. They would have a nice little business, raise kids, go to church, and be normal people. Poor Bill tried. It just wasn't in him. Instead, he left Lulu at home so he could make history. Being the wife of a legend is a lonely life. Children would be born or die, and Louisa was mostly alone through it all. At one point, the couple tried to divorce and the judge would not allow it.

If hers was lonely, his life was full. As a boy, he looked on helplessly as pro-slavers mortally stabbed his father. He became a Jayhawker, a freebooting Union soldier, in part to avenge the death of his father, in part because he was drunk when he enlisted (the photo above was taken in 1865; Bill was 19 and already a combat veteran).

After the war, former Confederates were among his confidants, like Texas Jack Omohundro, a Virginian who had served with Gen. J. E. B. Stuart. Cody scouted for the U. S. Cavalry and was called the "paragon scout" by Gen. Phil Sheridan. He guzzled rot-gut whiskey in Western saloons and sipped tea with European royalty. Like George Custer, he fought Indians but counted many as his friends. He took the "first scalp for Custer" in hand-to-hand combat with Yellow Hair in 1876 (left), and years later travelled to South Dakota to meet with his old friend, Sitting Bull, and broker some kind of peace when the Army was getting excited about the Ghost Dance. He killed thousands of buffalo to feed and make way for railroad crews...then lamented their loss. He possessed the range of experience and emotion.

I spent a summer at the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody, Wyoming, and it was among the best moments of my life. I encourage you to visit the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and then stop in at the Irma Hotel in downtown Cody, named for Bill's daughter. While there, hoist a couple at the bar. It was given to Bill by Queen Victoria. I invite you to spend some time in North Platte, Nebraska, at Cody's home, Scout's Rest. Drive through the Salt Creek Valley near Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where Bill grew up. Hop a freight train (or just grab the Amtrak) west and gaze upon the endless landscape he knew like the back of his hand. Read his autobiography. Find a way to spend a little time with this man who introduced the rest of the world to cowboys and Indians. You'll be captivated, just as I have been. Buffalo Bill.... Despite all the hype and hysteria, Cody was the real deal.

More Bill

In Lake County, Illinois, "Buffalo Bill" is literally, Buffalo Bill, a 1,000 pound bison. According to the Chicago Sun Times, James Taylor, who owns Bill, keeps him as a pet and reports that Bill does pretty much as he pleases. Pointing to a battered fence, Taylor demonstrated that Bill doesn't like being penned in. He once found the beast outside the fence butting his head against the trees. Talk about stubborn! Once, Bill tossed a 1,200 pound trough into the pond and the Taylors had to get the tractor to pull it out. "Some days he's in a good mood and some days he's a jerk," Taylor told the reporter. (I'm sure Louisa Cody would have said the same thing!)

More Names We Can't Let Go

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that a pedestrian named Frank James was run over and killed during Mardi Gras. I know it's a morbid thought, but wouldn't it make an interesting book to collect all the obituaries of Frank and Jesse James over the years?

Speaking of Frank and Jesse (as we often are), I stumbled over this 1860 census online and just wanted to share it with you. The first line is Reuben Samuel, Frank and Jesse's step-father and Zerelda's third husband. The second line is Zerelda, though I think the census taker was a little creative with the spelling; then come Alexander James (Frank); Jesse; their sister Susan, and a baby. The census indicated the family's real estate worth around $5,000 and personal property over $1,000. Quite well off for the day. There is still something exciting to me about seeing everyday records, like this census, that puts legends into the context of the real world in which they, and our ancestors, lived together. There is also something quite poignant in seeing this record, before the war, before their lives were turned irrevocably upside down...and before Frank and Jesse became world famous.

Irish Confederates

This is a subject near and dear to my heart and I have thoroughly enjoyed Irish Confederates: The Civil War's Forgotten Soldiers by Phillip Thomas Tucker. A slim volume, a quick read, this book is full of soldiers and politicians, some of whom you know, like Pat Cleburne, of course, and the meeting of the Irish Brigade and the 24th Georgia at Fredericksburg. Included is the tale of Dick Dowling, the Houston saloonkeeper who defended Sabine Pass. (Tom and I have visited the monument to Dowling on the Sabine which is one of the most impressive I've ever seen. The story bears repeating.)

Others are lesser known, but equally compelling like the Mitchel family of South Carolina. John Mitchel was a founder of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States. Three of his sons served in the Confederate Army: Willie was killed in Pickett's Charge; John died defending Fort Sumter in 1864; James commanded the Montgomery Guards, Irishmen from Richmond. The Mitchels believed the same ideals were at stake in this war that they had defended in their homeland.

Tucker, an accomplished historian and author, acknowledges that Irish participation in the war is generally assumed to be in the Northern units, while their former countrymen in the South are forgotten. From his introduction Tucker writes, "Irish Confederates were in general longer-term residents of America than the Irish in the North. These Southerners of Irish descent, consequently, possessed a larger stake in the American dream, in part because they had encountered less anti-Irish and anti-Catholic prejudice and more opportunity in the agricultural South than had the Irish in the large northeastern cities, such as New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. In overall terms, the Irish of the South more successfully assimilated into mainstream southern life and society. . . ."

Irish Confederates gives us yet another piece of that incredible Civil War puzzle. McWhiney Foundation Press, 127 pages, paper.

Jest of the Day

Why did the Southern Baptist cross the road?
To fry the chicken on the other side.

Why did Sherman's bummer cross the road?
To steal the fried chicken from the Southern Baptist on the other side.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bigger-Than-Life Bowie

Of all the Alamo characters, none intrigues me as much as Jim Bowie. Though born in Kentucky, Jim and his brothers moved to Missouri and then to New Orleans seeking their fortunes. Among his other enterprises, Bowie traded in slaves, buying them from the pirate, Jean Lafite. He wasn't much of a home body. He gambled, brawled, caroused, drank--the kind of man a woman falls for but should never marry. Bowie was already a frontier legend when he saw opportunity for wealth and adventure in Texas. The bigger-than-life Bowie was well-suited to the bigger-than-life Texas. (Bigger-than-life also brings to mind Jason Patric (above) who played Bowie in the 2004 movie, The Alamo. Jason is the grandson of Jackie Gleason, who was probably more like Bowie in his excessive zest for life).

In Lone Star Rising, William C. Davis describes Bowie thusly:

For all his penchant for opportunism and a lenient attitude toward the law, he was also a man of unshakable bravery, one who inspired calm and confidence in dangerous moments, a man with a strong sense of fair play, a sense of humor, a fondness even for Methodist hymns. Most of all, he carried with him an aura that attracted men to him, and that infused them with confidence that in a crisis, Bowie's side would win.

The British historian, Thomas Carlyle, said of Bowie (left), "By Hercules! The man was greater than Caesar.... The Texans ought to build him an altar."

I can't think of him without smiling.

Jim Bowie was about 40 years old when he died at the Alamo.

For an excellent essay on his life, visit
or, Jim Bowie reenactor, Jack Edmondson at

Southern News

Louisiana--It's almost time for the Jonquil Jubilee in Gibsland, a hamlet in Bienville Parrish. More than a quarter of a million bulbs have been planted in the tiny town that has been named, "The Daffodil Capital of Louisiana." Historic homes in the neighborhood will also be open on March 3. Tom and I were in Gibsland a couple of years ago and can vouch for the loveliness of the community, though we were there for more gruesome reasons. There is a monument several miles south to mark the spot where Bonnie and Clyde were killed as well as a museum in town devoted to their story. In other news, Virginia just apologized for slavery and Vermont is trying to secede.

Your Assignment

I would pay money just to watch Jason Patric peel potatoes. Tune in to the Western Channel or go to your DVD case and take out Geronimo: An American Legend. Watch it for the tenth time. Marvel at Wes Studi (What a face!!!) in the title role and Patric as Charles Gatewood. We have a friend, Ric Reed, a reenactor and wrangler from Osceola, Missouri, who worked on this movie. Apparently, there was a scene where Ric's character is standing with Robert Duvall's character, Al Sieber. They have just buried someone and Ric and Bob sing "Amazing Grace" over the grave. Sadly, that scene was cut, but it's one we would love to see.

Twisted History

NASA: The Early Years

Friday, February 23, 2007

Forget the Alamo!

The flag went up at Barry Crawford's house today, so that must mean this is the anniversary of the beginning of the Siege of the Alamo. Every year during the anniversary, Barry, who is a professor of religion and devotee of Western history, flies the emblem (above) that is believed to have flown over the mission. How could an event that really involved so few people prompt academics in Topeka, Kansas, to wave a flag a hundred and fifty years later? For the next two weeks, on this blog and on Tom's, we'll feature authors and armchair historians who remain fascinated with the birth of Texas. You know, forgetting the Alamo is a capital offense in the Lone Star State. Keep reading, because you wouldn't want to end up in the chair, now would you?

Killing Time in Killeen

One sunny spring Texas day, around 6:30 a.m., Tom and I found ourselves addressing the Killeen Rotary Club. We stumbled in, not having slept much because we were camped at nearby Mother Neff State Park where the scenery is punctuated by the boom of cannon from Fort Hood. Anyhow, who is awake at this hour for heaven's sake? I mean, people are up, yes, they're moving around, but who's really alert? After a few minutes with these rabid Texans, we were. It's a large, dynamic group and at that early, serene time of the day, speakers were blaring that familiar tune, "The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You." The energy in that room could have lit Las Vegas. We stuffed down our breakfast burritos and stepped on the stage.

"Good Morning," I enthusiastically greeted the crowd. "Tom and I are thrilled to be in Killeen, but I'd like to begin our presentation with a little food for thought: It took Virginians to make a state as great as Texas!"

A few were perplexed, a few nodded knowingly, and I proceeded to brag about how Stephen Austin (above, right) and Sam Houston (left) were born in the Old Dominion. Tom just wanted to crawl in a hole at my display of provincialism. As soon as he had the chance, he took the mike away from me and I barely got another word in. Now I have this blog. . . .

Your Assignment

Go to the William C. Davis shelf in your den, and take down Three Roads to the Alamo. Read it for the third time. Go back to your William C. Davis shelf and take down Lone Star Rising. Read it for the second time. Wait one hour. Jack should have another book on Texas finished by then.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Washington's Shadow

This is a holy day in the annals of Virginia history--the birthday of the father of our country. Both countries, if you read your Confederate history.

In this month of Lincoln mania, the name of his fellow Kentuckian, Jefferson Davis, uncomfortably pops up every now and then. Would Lincoln have been as great without Davis? (Now there's a question for Brian Dirck!).

The first and only president of the Confederate States of America, Davis held his second, yes second, inaugural on this day in 1862, in the shadow of Washington's equestrian statue in Richmond (above). The new nation wanted everyone to get the point--the Confederacy was carrying on the ideals of the American Revolution, not the Yankees in the North. Having been installed in Montgomery as the "provisional president," Davis was now the elected and bonafide leader of the fledgling nation.

It was a miserable day. There was a cold, cold rain and Confederate reversals filled the news. Fort Donelson had fallen. Nashville had been captured. The glories and victories of the first days were fading memories as grim reports rolled in.

In the Confederate White House, Varina Davis (left, with her husband on their wedding day), rushed to join the ceremony. A carriage had been dispatched to take her to the square, a short ride. She looked out the coach windows and saw black men with black suits and white gloves walking along beside her. When asked who they were, the driver responded, "Pallbearers." Varina was informed they were normally used for funerals and important events. She dismissed them. This whole day was depressing enough without the escort of pallbearers!

The First Lady of the Confederacy arrived late and stood in the crowd. She saw her husband raise his arms to the heavens, asking for God's blessing. She shuddered. Varina thought he looked like Christ about to be crucified. She turned and walked home alone.
Sisters in Sorrow

I have been working on a book on Varina Davis and Mary Lincoln (right) for several years. The boxes of notes pile up in my office, the manuscript is written, trashed, and rewritten. I keep plugging, and eventually a book will emerge.

Civil War News

Virginia has opted out of celebrating the bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. Declining to appoint a committee to observe the festivities in 2009, one legislator commented, "He wasn't a Virginian." This decision has created quite the stir, but come on people. Virginia is in the midst of its 400th birthday, there is a national Lincoln celebration planned, and because the nation's capitol is smack dab next to the Old Dominion, Virginians will be well-represented. (I do wonder though, if this means they'll be taking the Virginia flag out of Lincoln's tomb at Springfield?)

I absolutely love both blogs. Keep up the awesome writing. I understand the work involved in maintaining a daily blog. My 5 year old son has a blog that he posts to daily (well, he dictates and I type and post), but it's quite the job. I appreciate the time you and Tom take every day to write. Your writings are truly a respite from present day stress. I read several newspapers every day and its nice to kick back and read your blogs.
By the way, if you get a second and need a laugh, you can find my son's blog at

Clint, Tooele, UT

DG--My Goodness! The competition gets younger and younger! Thanks very much, Clint. It's good to be a respite. And Dinosaur Boy, the photo below is for you.
Twisted History

In a brilliant plan of attack, use of the Confederate secret weapon had been thwarted.

(Thanks to Mike Epstein and Blair Tarr )

Monday, February 19, 2007

On Lincoln, and the Courting Rituals of Nerds

It seems that Abraham Lincoln has been again voted the most revered president in history. Up until John Wilkes Booth shot him, he was likely the most hated president. His death catapulted him to martyrdom. So I have come to believe.

Not long after we met, several years ago now, Tom brought a box of notes over to my house. He already had the title, and he already had a good start on the research. All he needed was inspiration. Then he found me.

"This is a project I think you could get excited about," he said, as he laid the box at my feet.

That was the beginning of The Day Dixie Died. It had started with a story Tom found while researching another book. A lady in the occupied South had hanged herself rather than show mourning for the fallen president. That didn't fit with what we had learned in school. Hadn't the grief for Father Abraham been deep, universal, and flooding forth like the streams from the mountains? This woman's story said, no, there is more, and we set off to find it.

For two or three years, we lived as gypsies, as our friend Carol Neumann called us, wandering from dinner venue to lunch venue to archive to library--eating free, selling books, and researching the dark aftermath of the Civil War and Lincoln's death. The evidence began to pile up--the countless folks jailed for celebrating Lincoln's death, the people killed for shouting he should have been killed four years earlier. And all this was taking place in the North.

In the South, some felt they had been delivered from their greatest enemy and that God had finally heard their prayers. Others, though, realized that this was the greatest blow yet to the fallen country. Whatever their personal feelings for Lincoln, there were thousands, North and South, who never in their wildest dreams could imagine "The Baboon" would one day be named our greatest president.


On the Road

Our research took us on an incredible journey. The first time we were invited to speak to a Civil War Roundtable and then stay at the home of our host, we were pretty nervous--Scottsdale, Arizona, Wes and Sylvia Schmidt. We drove up to their home. Looked nice from the outside. They welcomed us, and we could tell, there was a little trepidation on their part as well.

That night, or the next, whenever we were slated to speak, the person who was supposed to show up at the Arizona Historical Society and open the door, didn't. There we stood, dozens of us history geeks, in the parking lot when it began to storm, and lo and behold, there was a tornado. We could almost hear the wheels grinding around us: "Hey, these Kansans brought a twister with them to Arizona!" Nonetheless, one of the CWRT members invited us back to his office to speak and I turned over the trashcan to use as a podium. Folks, maybe a hundred of them, crowded into the cubicles, sitting on desks and leaning on file cabinets to listen. It was a wonderful evening. We bade a sad farewell to Wes and Sylvia--they were gracious hosts, but we had to move on to California and more talks. And there was no end to the research on President Lincoln. . . .


Civil War News (word is that the North won, but we're still trying to confirm it. . . .)

Scott Porter, from the Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is speaking to the Topeka Civil War Roundtable Thursday night. His research on the battle of Camden Point, Missouri, is intriguing and Scott has found the Missouri/Kansas border war chillingly relevant to the topics he is teaching his students. Next Tuesday, February 27, our friend Rob Hodge (left, center, and right--that's's modern techno hocus-pocus) speaks to the Kansas City CWRT on preservation, history, and moviemaking. He and his partners just won an emmy for their documentary The Battle of Franklin. Good work, guys!


Western News

There is a documentary in the works on screen legend, Dub Taylor. Called, That Guy: The Legacy of Dub Taylor, the film is so named because people remembered Dub's face and not his name. Well, they've been talking to the wrong crowd, because I'll guarantee that everybody in our house knows his name. One of Tom's favorite movies, other than Tombstone, of course, is Bonnie and Clyde, and who can forget Dub as "Melvin," the father of C. W. Moss? But I'll always remember the Dub who was hiding under a table during a fracas in the movie The Undefeated. Trying to avoid the fight, he decided to reach up and grab vittles instead. What he came back with was a handful of "Grits!" Dub's first name was Walter, and as Southerners are wont to do, friends called him "Dubya." Now you know. Another reason for me to love Dub is the fact that he was born in Virginia (add another lustrous name to my list!) Visit the filmakers website at

Saturday, February 17, 2007

South Meets West

Growing up in Patrick County, Virginia, the Civil War was everywhere. The cemeteries are full of veterans or the sons and daughters of veterans. My Grandpa would sit on the front porch in the evenings, while the whippoorwills called from the willow tree, and tell me stories of his daddy and his uncles. His daddy took care of General Lee's horse one time. His uncle deserted at Harpers Ferry because his wife had been terrorized by the Home Guard. I pondered these stories, cherished them.

I lived in the Hollow, the same Hollow where Jeb Stuart first saw the light of day. Later, the Hollow Post Office merged with the Ararat Post Office, and the Hollow ceased to exist, on the maps anyhow. I went to high school in Stuart, posthumously named for our gallant native son.

I followed Jeb. For a time, I lived in Richmond, only a mile or so from Yellow Tavern where he was mortally wounded. Then I followed him to Kansas. Jeb spent most of his adult life in the Kansas Territory--married here, had children here, went to church here, fought the Indians here. The realization of the connectedness of South and West began to hit me. The men who would soon be famous--Stuart, Robert E. Lee, Lewis Armistead, John Geary, Phillip St. George Cooke, Edwin Sumner, William T. Sherman, Joe Johnston, John Brown, Horace Greeley, Abe Lincoln, Bill Cody, Jim Hickok--they all crossed paths, or avoided one another, on the Plains of the West before the Civil War began.

After the war, many who survived came West, some to conquer, some to survive.

"Trust in God, and Fear Nothing"

Few people have more tragic lives than Lewis Armistead, born this day in 1817. His heroic death at Gettysburg, his legendary friendship with Winfield Scott Hancock, these are well-known; his sad life before that may not be as familiar.

Born in North Carolina, Armistead grew up near the mountains of Virginia on the family farm, Ben Lomond, near the town of Upperville. As a cadet at West Point, he resigned after breaking a plate over the head of fellow cadet and fellow Virginian, Jubal Early. Despite this transgression, Armistead was named a Second Lieutenant and served in the Seminole Wars.

The army took him to Mexico and took him West. He had a promising career. But in the span of six years, he lost two children, two wives and the family's home in Virginia burned to the ground. I have visited the grave of his second wife at Fort Riley.

As an historian, I am asked by normal folks why I care so much about the Civil War. The short answer is, the people who lived those times, just like Stuart or Armistead, are as real to me as anyone I know. I am humbled by their ability to endure, and to persevere, and their seemingly unshakeable faith in the face of so much that would challenge it. Lew Armistead's story touches me.

In June, 1985, my grandfather was in the hospital. He was nearly 91, and we knew death was near. The Saturday he died, my father-in-law had a massive heart attack and went into a coma. That night, Grandpa passed away and though I expected it, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. On Monday, my sister was in the hospital having a baby. She had been taking care of Mama, who was having chemo that same week. (Mama would die six months later at the age of 48.) On Wednesday, my house burned down. On Thursday, I went to work and was told the newspaper would close in two weeks and I wouldn't have a job. On Saturday, my father-in-law died. A week. There was barely time to process it. I was afraid to get up and face another day for fear of what it would bring, yet I know these experiences pale in comparison to the burdens some people have to bear.

Robert E. Lee said, "I study history because it gives me hope." It has given me hope and purpose, and allowed me to know incredible and inspiring people, some living, some gone on.

(photo of the Old Hollow Post Office above courtesy of Tom Perry at