Ferals – May 2020

In December 2016 when I became aware of feral cats on my school’s campus, I started trapping them to have them spayed or neutered through our local SPCA’s TNR program. (TNR stands for Trap-Neuter-Return.) Since then I’ve been feeding them every day, and I also monitor the feeding station via a trail cam that runs 24/7.

Some kitties who used to be “regulars” at the feeding station only stop by occasionally now. Others visit every couple of weeks, and one kitty is waiting for me every single morning. <3

“Cali-1,” a beautiful little calico girl, is my daily visitor. Over the last few months she’s finally come to trust me enough to rub around my legs each morning and let me touch her (sometimes).

The daily walk to the feeding station

As usual, I saw Cali-1 on Monday, May 11th, but I didn’t see her the next morning. This was a little concerning…. It was even more concerning when I didn’t see her the next morning, either.

Since everyone knows I’m the “crazy cat lady” at school, I sent an email with her picture to my co-workers who live on campus, asking them to keep an eye out for her. Aside from the very real risk of predators (I’ve seen bears, foxes, and a coyote on the trail cam, and there are hawks nesting on campus that are now busy feeding their babies), I was actually more worried that she’d gotten locked inside of a building or shed somewhere. No doubt you’ve heard the expression, “Curiosity killed the cat.” Sadly, this has played out in the worst possible ways a couple of times over the last few years….

On Thursday, May 14th, one of our maintenance guys, Robby, texted me to let me know he’d just seen a cat in a basement boiler room. This room is kept locked unless he’s in there. He followed up a few minutes later saying he’d seen the cat again, and that it had run back into “the tunnels” behind the boiler room.

While I’d heard of the tunnels that run under some of the roads at the school, I’d never been in them before. Knowing that the kitty–most likely Cali–was going futher away from the only exit was incredibly worrisome, so Wayne and I grabbed some flashlights and other supplies and went over to see if we could find her. I didn’t think she would be brave enough to come to me if I called to her, but I needed to do something!

Aside from the fairly open boiler room, there are a number of small, subterranean rooms in this area (dubbed the “catacombs”), and beyond the rooms are tunnels. Various pipes go through holes in the walls in the tunnels, and there’s space around some of the pipes just large enough for a scared cat to squeeze through. The cat Robby had seen earlier could be anywhere….

When we went down one tunnel, there was a room (of sorts) behind a 3/4 wall on the left.

When Wayne looked over the wall, he saw Cali-1, frozen in place! He called for me to come look, but by the time I got there, she had vanished….

It was pitch black, but I put some tuna on a plate at the far end of the tunnel, then we went back outside to come up with a plan.

Robby needed to leave, and I knew I’d have the lock the door when I left, so I was determined to wait there as long as necessary. I really, really hoped that Cali would find the food, come through the tunnel, and then run out through the open door.

I called local veterinarian offices to ask if they had humane traps available (no), but the SPCA in town did have traps available for people to borrow. I set up a chair outside of the building (with a view of the door), and quietly waited there while Wayne drove into town to pick up the trap. He also went by the house to bring over one of our camping lanterns and some of our solar garden lights.

When he got back, we ventured into the tunnels again. The plate of tuna was untouched. We left one of our flashlights near the back part of the tunnel, and set the solar lights and lantern towards the other end. Putting out more plates of tuna, I hoped to lure Cali into the main part of the basement. Then, in a room just off the boiler room, I used more tuna to set the trap. And we continued to wait….

We hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and by early evening we were both really hungry. I still didn’t want to leave, so Wayne called a local Mexican restaurant to order dinner and went to pick it up. It was a strange place and strange circumstances for a “picnic,” but it was so very good!

I kept hoping that Cali-1 would just run out of the open door–or that I’d hear the trap being tripped–but finally around 7:30 that evening we locked the door and came home….

The next morning at 7:30 am, Robby texted me to let me know that Cali-1 was in the trap! He’d come in early to check on her, and since he had to leave again, he’d put the trap outside of the boiler room.

With incredible relief, we quickly got ready and drove over to the school. Looking a little worse for wear, Cali-1 was waiting for us.

May 15, 2020
May 15, 2020

Instead of releasing her right away, I sat down beside the trap to assess her condition. She had some scrapes and swelling on her face (from hitting against the trap) but otherwise she seemed to be okay.

I had such mixed emotions at this point. I haven’t ruled out the possibility of someday bringing this kitty home and trying to socialize her, but my house isn’t currently well cat-proofed, and certainly not cat-proofed for a feral…..

Also, knowing that she’d been locked in a building for days–and then locked in a trap for hours–I was concerned that confining her in a cage–initially–in my house would be yet another traumatic situation for her. And so with tears in my eyes, I carried the trap around to the feeding area to let her go….

When I opened the trap, she immediately went to the feeding station and started to eat. And then she drank and drank a lot of water. It was SUCH a relief to know that she was safely out of the building, as this story could have had a much sadder ending….

But now that Cali-1 was safe–and since I had a trap on hand–I decided to try to trap “Max,” a large, beautiful male feral.

Max, short for “Maximum-Sized Cat”

Max had first shown up during the winter of 2019, and I’d planned to trap him over this year’s Spring Break. However, since our break started in mid-March–right as quarantine measures were just starting due to Covid-19–I knew I’d have to postpone.

Unlike Cali-1, Max is just a semi-regular visitor to the feeding station. Some days he’s there in the morning, and some days I don’t see him at all, not even on the trail cam. But again–since I had a trap–I called the SPCA. When I learned that they had resumed their TNR program (despite the pandemic), trapping Max became the next mission…..

Before we put this plan in motion, I was delighted to see Cali-1 again each morning. At first, she (understandably) kept her distance from me. The swelling on her face gradually went down, but I could still see the cuts and dings on her pretty little face.

For a few days after freeing her from the “catacombs,” we brought her canned food or tuna, in addition to a bowl of dry food and fresh water. Wayne was concerned that she might have hurt her mouth or teeth while beating herself against the trap, and I figured the extra nutrition would be good for her.

On Monday, May 18th after Cali-1 had eaten her fill, I removed all food from the feeding station. I mixed up the remaining canned food and tuna, and set the trap for Max. And then I waited….

One hour, two hours, three hours–no Max. I texted Robby to let him know I was going to go home for a while, but asked him to please contact me if he saw a cat–ANY cat–in the trap. (I didn’t THINK that Cali-1 would be hungry enough to risk going into a trap again so soon, but who knows how cats think….)

I went back over to school after about an hour, and lo and behold, Max was in the trap!

I’ve trapped a lot of cats since I started this in December 2016, but Max was the first feral who totally flipped out on me when I picked up the trap to take it to my car. He snarled, and screamed, hissed and flung himself from one end of the trap to the other, and I was afraid I was going to drop him! But once I got him in the car and covered the trap with a blanket, he quieted down.

I stopped by the house to pick up Wayne, then we drove into town to deliver this big, scared kitty to the SPCA. Due to my school obligations, I asked if I could pay to “board” him for a couple of days. In addition to conflicts with my work schedule, I hoped this would give him a chance to heal in a safe environment after his surgery.

And so on Wednesday, May 20th, Wayne and I went back into town to pick up the Max-cat. Like Cali-1, he also had injuries to his handsome face from flinging himself against the bars of the trap….

When we got back to school, I asked Wayne to take some pictures as I released Max. Wisely, I kept the blanket over the trap when I got him out of the car.

One more time I lugged the heavy trap–and heavy cat (13 pounds)–to an area near the feeding station. Cali-1 was watching from a safe distance as I removed the blanket.

Well, there are no pictures of the actual release: As soon as I opened the trap door, Max shot out at warp speed, flew past the feeding station, and disappeared over the hill! For a brief second Cali-1 watched in stunned surprise, then SHE took off and disappeared over the hill, too! 🙂

The next day, Thursday, May 21st, I didn’t see Max, but Mama-Cat, my “original” feral, showed up! I’d trapped this kitty in December 2016 when I saw her feeding her 4 kittens by dragging food out of a dumpster. It’s always good to see her. 🙂

She was there the next morning, too:

Cali-1 and Mama-Cat walking with me to the feeding station.

When Mama-Cat shows up (usually every few weeks), she is the undisputed “alpha.” She is one vocal and opinionated girl!

The next day, Saturday, May 23rd, I didn’t see Mama-Cat or Max, but Cali-1 greeted me and she was finally, finally willing to come over to me again. <3

When we got home, I literally breathed a sign of relief when I saw Max on the trail cam memory card. He’d shown up late on the previous day. 🙂

On Sunday morning, May 24th, I saw Max–“in person”–while I was putting food in the feeding station. Most TNR programs “tip” a feral cat’s ear to make it easier to recognize that they’ve been spayed or neutered and vaccinated, and Max’s ear seemed to be healing up well. He still has some cuts on his face, but those will heal with time….

Cali-1 was lucky; if I hadn’t noticed that she was missing–and if Robby hadn’t spotted her when he went in the boiler room–we might not have found her. Max is lucky, too; after his hormones settle down, he will be less inclined to fight, and he will no longer be capable of adding to the feral cat population.

So counting Max, I’ve trapped a total of 12 cats and kittens over the last 3+ years. The kittens were all young enough to be socialized and adopted through the SPCA, and I’ve continued to see some of the adults that I trapped and returned to the campus.

Orange Girl: She used to be a “regular,” but now I rarely see her.
Orange Girl – February 1, 2020
Black Kitty: She’s frequently seen on the south side of the central campus.
Ah, if I could only brush this girl….
Cali-2: She’s seen occasionally on the west side of the central campus
White & Orange Male – TNR, early March 2017. Last seen late March 2017.
“Phantom Floof” – Untrapped. Last seen March 2019.
Possibly the black cat–found dead–in one of the buildings….

ALL cats who spend time outside face certain risks–and ferals are at even greater risk. I know that I can’t fully protect them. As an animal lover, that’s a hard truth to accept….

I can, however, provide food, water, and shelter, and with the local SPCA generously offering to spay/neuter and vaccinate ferals, at least these cats have some protection against diseases, and they are no longer producing kittens.

I am so thankful for Wayne’s ongoing help and support with all of my crazy animal and wildlife adventures (long stories, there…), and for Robby’s help in rescuing Cali-1. As I’ve said since I started caring for these cats, you do the best you can. It’s certainly easier when you have kind people in your life who are willing to help. <3

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Monterey, VA & West Virginia – March 1, 2020

On Sunday, March 1st, we did a nice long ramble to Monterey, VA on Rt. 250 West, into West Virginia, and back to VA via Rt. 33 East. 🙂

The town of Monterery is sometimes called “Little Switzerland.” In a couple of weeks this tiny town will be packed with tourists for their annual Maple Sugar Festival.
We split an entrÊe at High’s Restaurant in Monterey before continuing our drive.
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A Little Genealogy Research and a Lot of Beautiful Scenery!

On Saturday, February 22, 2020, we decided to go to the Bedford Museum and Genealogy Library in Bedford, Virginia. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find any information on my ggg-aunt, Tabitha Ann Rhodes, but as she’d married John K. Oliver from Bedford County and lived there for 12 years, I figured it was worth a shot.

The young woman working at the museum was quickly able to locate cemetery information and two folders containing letters and files on John Oliver, but it was all a mixed review.

I’d learned of the location of the cemetery previously from another researcher, and what they had at the museum confirmed what she’d posted on findagrave: There are 7 graves in the small, overgrown Oliver cemetery, and only one is marked with an inscribed stone.

As I started going through the family history folders, I realized that some of the information was quite accurate, but some was not. An Addie Lawless was listed as the third wife of John K. Oliver, but there were no dates and absolutely no information given. I’m not sure who Addie was, but the professional genealogist who did the research on this seriously missed the mark. Tabitha Ann Rhodes Oliver was John K. Oliver’s third and final wife, and I have the marriage license and chancery suits to prove it! 😉

As I was in one room going through records for my family, Wayne was in a room across the hall trying to learn more about his family history. While most of his ancestors were from Appomattox, the books at the Bedford Museum and Genealogy Library covered Wrights from all over southern Virginia. Much more than “comprehensive,” the amount of information was actually overwhelming, especially since it was hard to know where to begin searching!

But as I flipped through the handwritten and typed pages in the Oliver folders, I mentally listed what I did know about Tabitha Ann Rhodes Oliver and the Rhodes family. Robert P. Rhodes and his wife, Mildred Marshall Rhodes, apparently had no sons, but they had a lot of daughters: Tabitha Ann (m. John K. Oliver in 1855 in Nelson County), Sarah Jane (m. John William Anderson in Albemarle County in 1846), Elizabeth Columbia (m. John Walker Clements in Nelson County in 1848), Cynthia Frances (aka “Aunt Fannie”), Eliza M., Cornelia Edna, Mary M., and Evalina or Adaline (whom I can’t find at all after the 1860 census when she was 17 years old). After John K. Oliver’s death in 1867, Tabitha Ann returned to her family’s farm on the Rockfish River in Nelson County, as she was listed there in 1870 and 1880 Nelson County census records.

Two of the Rhodes sisters, Cynthia Frances and Cornelia Edna, went to live with the Anderson family in the Avon area of Nelson County after the death of their sister, Sarah Jane Rhodes, in 1873 to help with the children. (Cynthia and Cornelia were both mentioned in the will of John William Anderson, which was written in 1899 and recorded after his death in 1902.)

In 1878, Tabitha and two of her sisters, Eliza and Mary, deeded their Rockfish land to their nephews, James T., Willard O, and Samuel M. Anderson (sons of their sister, Sarah Jane Rhodes and John William Anderson), even though they retained the right to remain on the property during their lifetimes. Eliza and Mary Rhodes apparently stayed on the Rhodes land in Rockfish at least through 1910 (according to census records), and family stories say that at some point after that a fire destroyed their home. Tabitha was not listed as living with her sisters in either the 1900 or 1910 census.

Cornelia Edna Rhodes died in 1904 and was buried in the small family cemetery where John William Anderson and Sarah Jane Rhodes Anderson were buried. In 1910, Cynthia Frances Rhodes (Aunt Fanny) was living near her nephew, Charles Willard Anderson (another son of Sarah and John W. Anderson), and three of his children (John E., Lewis, and Sallie) were living with her.

Mary and Eliza Rhodes both died in 1917, and Cynthia Frances “Aunt Fanny” Rhodes died in 1918. They were all buried at Hebron Baptist Church cemetery.

But again, where was Tabitha Ann Rhodes Oliver? The 1890 federal census records were lost in a fire, so I have no idea where she was living then, though it seems likely that she was still in Rockfish with her sisters, Eliza and Mary.

In 1894 Ann T. Oliver (sometimes she was known as T.A. Oliver…) was the plaintiff in a chancery suit in Bedford County against Frances A. Oliver (a daughter of John K. Oliver by his first wife) and her husband, Benjamin K. Milam. (She was the defendant in another chancery suit in 1882!) This shows that Tabitha was still alive in 1894 and still had ties to Bedford County, even if she no longer lived there.

I haven’t been able to find any information about when she died, but I find it a little hard to believe that after her death her body would have been taken to Bedford County–a distance of close to 60 miles–to be buried near John K. Oliver as wife #3…. At some point I’ll try to go to the courthouse in Bedford to see if there are deeds or other documents that might provide additional clues, and I’ll also make another trip to the Nelson County courthouse to look again for possible death information (which is sketchy, at best).

When we finally left the Bedford Museum, we headed north towards Big Island, the area of Bedford County where Tabitha lived for 12 years. Beautiful country….

We were close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, so we made a quick stop at the (closed) visitor’s center along the James River.

After that, we just sort of wandered! Given where we were, it wasn’t too far of a drive to Glasgow, VA. There’s not much to see in this tiny town, aside from an oddly shaped mountain and a random dinosaur sculpture….

…but our favorite place to go in Glasgow is a small park where the Maury River meets the James River–and it never disappoints!

I’ve always loved confluences, and this one is so interesting because the rivers are distinctly different, with different colors. When the Maury joins the James, it maintains its individuality far downstream, as if stating, “You are you, and I am me, but together, we are stronger and more beautiful.” (I think this metaphor holds true in other ways, too. <3 )

I absolutely love the color of the fast-moving Maury….

We sent our prayers and blessings out to these amazing Virginia waterways.

As we left Glasgow, we drove up the mountain for this view of the James River downstream from the confluence. It never disappoints, either.

Across the road from the overlook, the rocks show undulating movement from ancient times. It’s so interesting to think of the forces of nature that formed our Blue Ridge Mountains….

At this point we could have continued further west to Buena Vista, VA and driven home on I-81 and I-64, but we opted to drive east until we met Rt. 29 North, then turned onto Rt. 56 West at Colleen, and then drove north on Rt. 151. Gorgeous scenery, all the way home!

There are so many beautiful places in Virginia, and so many “roads less traveled.” We love having the opportunity to get out and explore on day trips like this!

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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Untangling my Rhodes Family Tree

For years I incorrectly assumed that Robert P. Rhodes, my ggg-grandfather, was the son of Matthew Rodes and Nancy Ann Blackwell in Albemarle County, VA. New information in late 2019 (including the will of John W. Rhodes – Albemarle County, VA, 1846 – and the numerous chancery suits that followed) now proves beyond a doubt that Robert P. Rhodes was the son of John W. Rhodes.

John Rhodes married (first) Tabitha Pearson in 1793.

While the evidence is somewhat circumstantial, I am convinced that Robert P. Rhodes was the son of John & Tabitha given that (1) Robert P. Rhodes named his first daughter Tabitha and (2) Tabitha Pearson’s father was named Robert Pearson. I think it is entirely plausible that Robert P. Rhodes’ full name was Robert Pearson Rhodes.

The wife of Robert P. Rhodes, Mildred Rhodes Marshall, was the daughter of William Marshall, Jr. and his first wife, Sarah Rhodes.

Moving this back a generation, John W. Rhodes was a son of Epaphroditus Rhodes. Sarah Rhodes, first wife of William Marshall, Jr., was a daughter of Epaphroditus Rhodes! This means that Robert P. Rhodes and his wife, Mildred Rhodes Marshall Rhodes, were first cousins.

To add to the intertwining of my Rhodes family “tree,” after the death of Tabitha Pearson Rhodes, John W. Rhodes married Mary Ann “Molly” Martin in 1815. Molly had a sister named Mildred Martin–and Mildred was the second wife of William Marshall, Jr.!

Molly and Mildred had another sister, Lucy. She married a White, and after HER husband’s death, she lived with her unmarried son, Willis M. White. (Lucy and Willis are buried at the abandoned cemetery near Free Union, VA that we visited on Sunday, January 26, 2020, but their stones are no longer visible.)

After the death of John W. Rhodes in 1846, Mary Ann “Molly” Martin Rhodes first lived with her nephew, George Martin (who was the executor of John W. Rhodes’ estate), but after George’s death, she went to live with her nephew, Willis White, and her widowed sister, Lucy Martin White. (She was listed on the 1850 and 1860 Albemarle County census.)

1850 Albemarle County, VA Census
1860 Albemarle County, VA Census

George Martin died in 1847 before he had finished his administrative duties for John W. Rhodes’ estate, and this is what started the chancery suits! Part of the issue was that Molly Martin Rhodes wasn’t charged board when she was living with George Martin, and when HE died with numerous debts, creditors were trying to sue her to get back the money that George had owed them. After she went to live with Willis White, she wasn’t charged board, either. Witnesses testified that her nephews (George & Willis) didn’t intend to charge “the old lady” board because she was related AND because she was so old (in her 80s) that they didn’t expect her to live very long!

One of the witnesses was Robert P. Rhodes. Under oath, he spoke of a conversation he’d had with George Martin following the sale at his deceased father’s home. He asked what was to become of his step-mother, Molly.

Robert was reimbursed for his travel from Nelson County to the Albemarle County Courthouse in Charlottesville, Virginia by Willis M. White.

Original document found in the Archives section of the Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA – Jan. 26, 2020

Well, Mary Ann “Molly” Rhodes fooled them all. She outlived ANOTHER administrator of her husband’s estate, and in HER will proved in Albemarle County in 1861, Molly–at the ripe old age of 95!–left everything to her nephew, Willis M. White and his unmarried sisters. 

Her will was not contested. And it is assumed that she was buried in the cemetery where her sister, Lucy Martin White and nephew, Willis M. White, were buried.

HOWEVER, Molly’s son, Thomas W. Rhodes, (who became the 3rd or 4th administrator of the estate of John W. Rhodes!), finally went after his half-brother, Robert P. Rhodes, to try to reclaim some of the money due to him from their father’s estate.

Summons for Robert Rhodes by Thomas W. Rhodes, 1873
Summons for Robert Rhodes by Thomas W. Rhodes, 1874

In the late 1870s, John W. Anderson, the son-in-law of Robert P. Rhodes, ultimately found a way to pay off all the debts to Thomas W. Rhodes (executor of the estate of John W. Rhodes) so that the daughters of Robert P. Rhodes could keep their land along the Rockfish River in Nelson County.

So there. It’s only taken me 30 years to figure this all out. đŸ˜‰

And along the way I’ve learned about Robert P. Rhodes’ sisters and brothers and their families; about the family line of John W. Rhodes and his father, Epaphroditis, and HIS father, Hezekiah Rhodes, and about another daughter of Robert & Mildred Rhodes (Elizabeth Columbia Rhodes Clements) and her family. It’s been a pretty wild ride.

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“Law-Abiding” Ferals – December 22, 2019

I assume that most societies establish rules and laws to help maintain order, and based on my observations this morning, it would appear that communities of feral cats function in much the same way.

The ferals that I feed apparently have some very strict rules and codes of conduct. Over the last three years, I’ve determined that one of these rules is that Mama Cat, whenever she chooses to visit, has first dibs on eating. Before I got there this morning to feed them, the trail cam captured these pictures of Mama Cat waiting in the feeding station:

Cali-1 and Mama Cat
Mama Cat & the gray and white male

When I arrived (albeit later than usual because it’s a weekend) Mama Cat met me at my car, vocally (and quite loudly) reminding me that cats are starving–I tell you staaaarvvvvving–here, and of course she jumped in the feeding station, first. (I always put a little food on top so that Cali-1 can get something to eat while she’s waiting her turn.)

And for whatever the reason this morning, Mama Cat ate and ate and ate some more. Perhaps she felt she needed to reinforce the fact that she would have simply wasted away–wasted away!–if I’d been a single moment later. I don’t know….

At first she ate quickly, ravenously, but then she slowed down. WAY down…. She’d take a few bites, look around, then slowly eat some more. In other words, she was taking furrEVER!

To his credit (and probably due to my presence), the male sat some distance away, no doubt grumbling about this ridiculous and totally unnecessary delay in breakfast. (He looks pretty ticked, doesn’t he?)

Feeling sorry for the two admirably patient–but hungry–ferals, I went back to the car and put a cup of food in another bowl and set it under a piece of equipment.

What happened next surprised me: Mama Cat jumped out of the feeding station, ran over to the new bowl of food (same food, different location) and started eating. Again.

And even though the feeding station was open, Cali-1 and the male kitty didn’t move! At ALL!

So I guess I’ve got some law-abiding ferals, here. It seems that the “Mama Cat Eats First” rule applies and is respected, no matter what. 😉

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