“The ballot is stronger than the bullet.”  -Abraham Lincoln

“The ballot is stronger than the bullet.” -Abraham Lincoln

The Illinois state slogan is “The Land of Lincoln” and while we were in Southern Illinois in September, we found this to be true because we were confronted with a bit of his history completely by chance.  While heading up to Great Cities State Park in Makanda, we found one of the three sites for the Alexander County Courthouse where Lincoln practiced law.

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As you probably already know, I am obsessed with county courthouses and am determined to visit every county in the United States.  This can be an issue sometimes when we are on the road towards our destination, but I am lucky to have a husband who enjoys the thrill of a good travel hunt and, in this case, encouraged me to go find one.  On Illinois State Route 3 we found a roadside park with a large historical marker.  We do not often stop to read the historical markers, but thankfully we did in this case.

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We found the Alexandra County Courthouse once resided in Thebes, just a mile or two back from where we turned on to Route 3.  Since this was what I like to term “encouragement from serendipity,” we turned around and drove to the once bustling village to find a tiny community quietly living along the Mississippi River.  Driving up to the shoreline, we were pleasantly surprised with a view that was breathtaking.  Here we stood in the shadow of the Thebes Bridge crossing over the great river as it had done since it’s opening on April 18, 1905.

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The Thebes Bridge’s total length is 3,959 feet and is 104 feet above the Gathering Blue and was designed by Polish American engineer Ralph Modjeski in the continuous truss bridge style. The truss bridge is one of the oldest types of modern bridges and most commonly found in America.  However, many of these bridges are being demolished and replaced with new structures because of the time and wear on the metal making it unsafe for those using them. Thankfully this does not seem to be the case for this beautiful structure. (https://www.johnweeks.com/river_mississippi/pagesC/umissC14.html

As I am looking at this bridge and in awe of its presence, Scott points to a building high on the bluff behind us and says, “Now that house has one of the best views around here!”  I had to agree with him and found myself a bit jealous of whoever was lucky enough to own the building.  The views over the past 170 years have probably been extremely impressive and I couldn’t wait to get up there to see the view; at least I hoped we would be able to see a view from there.

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Having the GPS in front of him, Scott drove to where it showed the building and we were stunned to find an extremely steep road that was not one for the faint of heart. (Keep in mind I was not the one driving; also keep in mind, I am a terrible passenger.)  He made the turn into what we thought was going to be a drive way to a privately-owned home, only to find a public, historical building; we had found the former Alexander County Courthouse.

In the early 1830’s two brothers, the Sparhawk brothers from New Orleans, settled in what is now Thebes calling it Sparhawk Landing.  On October 15, 1835, this settlement was platted by Franklin G. Hughes and Joseph Chandler.  Later, in 1843 Sparhawk Landing was renamed Thebes and, finally, in 1844 the townsite was laid out to become the town we were visiting. (Thebes History http://genealogytrails.com/ill/alexander/thebeshist.html)

Alexander County which was created out of Union County in 1819; it was named after early settler and physician William Alexander of America, Illinois.  He became the Speaker of the House of Illinois Representatives in 1822, making this the county seat of the new county.  However, soon after, the village of America was found to be in the newer Pulaski County, causing the Alexander County Courthouse needing to be moved to Unity, Illinois, in 1833.  In 1842 the courthouse and county records were burned, therefore, moving the county seat to Thebes. 

An architect named Henry Ernst Barkhausen came to America in 1835 and settled near Thebes where he operated a woodyard and ferry across the Mississippi to Missouri.  In 1845 he was contracted to build the two-story structure out of local stone and trees from the area. The land, a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, was donated by George and Martha Sparhawk.  Completed in 1848, the total cost of the construction was $4,400.

As we wandered about the amazing building, we found there was actually a fantastic view both of the Mississippi River and the 170-year-old structure.  I was pleased to see the natural stone and that my hand embroidery piece portraying a stone wall looked much the same.  It always amazes me when art takes on a bit of nature, it helps to preserve the beauty we find around us daily.  

Sitting on the wooden stairs, looking out at the massive body of rushing water while the barges passed under the massive iron Thebes Bridge, I could envision the steamboats of the past making their way while transporting people and cargo to various ports along the Big Muddy.  These large ships were moved by large paddles powered by steam and it was the main source of travel along the river.  Here you would find people of many statuses from the Southern Belle to the gambler to the slaves and you would find the cargo hold to be full of cotton, grains, and everything a river settler might need to survive.  These machines revolutionized travel and life along the shores of the Mississippi River Basin.

The steamboat was the main source of travel in this area from the late 1700’s until around the 1880’s.  People used this mode of transportation for business, personal travel and for entertainment.  You could find a showboat paddling up and down the Mississippi River; these boats were floating palaces with every type of luxury found at popular resorts of the era.  It was a slow mode of travel and that was the cause of its demise.  With the railroad being unified so all of the rails from the North and South were the same, the speed of transport was much better for travel and the moving of items.  Granted the steamboats were still in use until the 1940’s, but they were not used like they had been.  It was the end of an era and culture.

Coming out of my time travel trance, Scott and I moved on towards our state park destination of Giant City State Park just north of Jonesboro, Illinois.  As we drove through the Trail of Tears State Forest (actually within the Shawnee National Forest), Scott realized we were going to be passing through the town where where a pivotal moment in Lincoln’s political career happened on September 15, 1958.  Before the Great Debate of 1958, Lincoln was just a regular man trying to get through life working as a boatman, store clerk, surveyor, militia soldier and lawyer, but in 1834 he was elected to be in the Illinois Legislature.  From there he moved through the political arena, as most do, and found himself in a political fight for a seat in the House of Representatives for Illinois.   Which brought him to the Great Debate of 1958, more importantly Jonesboro, Illinois, September 15.

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1958 were a series of debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in Illinois, a free state.  The main theme of these seven debates was the expansion of slavery in the new and future territories of the United States. Granted, Lincoln lost the seat he was trying for, but he later had the transcripts from these seven debates causing him to open a door of opportunity for him to receive the nomination as the Republican candidate for the 1860 presidency.

Eventually, we arrived at one of my favorite places, Great City State Park.  We had originally thought about using this site for our viewing of the total eclipse on our trip in August.  Makanda, the town just outside of the park, was the location where the eclipse would happen for the longest period of time.  However, because rain was predicted that day in that area, we chose to visit Indian Cave State Park in Nebraska instead.  Unfortunately, we were not able to see the eclipse due to rain, while Makanda, Illinois, was basking in the eclipse they counting on.

As we were driving down the road, passing the Jonesboro area, a thought came to mind, “Whatever happened to the Alexander County Courthouse?  Where did it go if it were not in Thebes?”  I, being in the passenger seat, began to hunt through the interwebs to find the answer.  It was relocated to Cairo, Illinois; just down river from Thebes.  With this information, Scott drove us to Cairo to find where the county seat had been moved.  There we found a city in shambles and an old downtown almost a ghost town.  

Cairo sits just North of the the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers confluence, a point called Fort Defiance State Park.  This city, once a bustling port town, was home to writers, generals and gods.  It is the location of Neil Gaiman’s award winning novel American Gods, the movie Cairo Time, and documentary Between Two Rivers.  No matter how “famous” these media outlets make the name of the city, it is a city in economic decline because the railroad impacting the barge traffic causing the loss of income, the interstate bypass causing people to go around the city, and people leaving the area to shop causing tax dollars to go elsewhere.  Because of this situation, the area has dilapidated buildings, loss of tourist money, and a community left frustrated. I cannot, however, leave you thinking this city is not worth visiting because this would not be truth.  

Your first impression of this place is a city that is dying; but if you will stop and speak to members of this community, you will find people who are doing their best to rebuild by cleaning up their communities, encouraging the arts, and helping each other out as much as possible.  I find myself rooting for this place and her people because there is such a determination.  Here will you not only find the determination, but you will find a people who know their history and are encouraging the use of it to bring in tourism.  They have the Victorian building such as the library, federal building, and private homes, but what about the Alexander County Courthouse?  

In 1859 the courthouse was moved to Cairo and it was housed in a beautiful building, after the completion in 1865. After contacting the county courthouse, I found that sometime before 1963 the building above was destroyed by fire and had to be demolished for safety issues.  The building of the new courthouse was started in 1964 in the same location as the first building.  This is one of the things Scott and I have found with many of the old county courthouse buildings that are now of a modern designed; rarely are they because the citizens wanted something modern.  However, has seemed to happen in a few cases.  Concerning this county, it was fire and so the citizens of Alexander County decided they needed to move forward.  

During my research to find out this moving county courthouse drama, I found the reason and it was Abraham Lincoln who explained it.  From the book More History, Mystery, and Hauntings of Southern Illinois by Bruce Cline we are given this story:

“In the early 1800s, when Illinois was still a young state, there was great debate about where the county seat of Alexander County should be.  Would it be Cairo or Thebes?  According to an old story told by Abraham Lincoln, it happened in this fashion…

Thebes was already the county seat, but Cairo was growing rapidly and thought it should be moved there.  Tempers were flaring and the Thebians said that Cairo was no more than a daub of mud on the tail of the state.  That statement did not set well with the fine citizens of Cairo.

Just before the election was held to decide the location of the county seat, a Cairo man came up with an inspired scheme.  He fetched a green animal hide and stuffed a large boulder inside.  He tied this bundle behind his mule and drug it around the countryside.  The next day he made sure that the townsfolk of Thebes made notice of the strange marks on the ground.  He suggested  that the marks were made by some species of large serpent.  Rumors were spread that dogs, cats and small farm animals were missing.

Greatly alarmed, the citizens of Thebes took up arms and went in search of the great serpent that was supposedly decimating the small animals of the farms.  So frenzied were the Thebians in their search for the mystery serpent, that many of them did not make it back to town in time to cast their votes for the county seat.  Cairo won the vote hands down.” {31-32}

What A Crazy Transition!

What A Crazy Transition!

My last post here was in February when we came back from the Enchanted Rock trip.  I was a bit shocked at how long it had been because it has been an extremely busy and fast moving month or so.  See, we purchased our RV on February 24, 2017, and did a test run at Eisenhower State Park for Spring Break, but never returned to reality!  I know, shocking!

We met with a man in Krum, Texas, who had a 1982 El Dorado Firenza for cheap and the bones were good and so was the engine.  It was originally from Alaska and the man he purchased it from had done some basic work to it but eventually decided he just didn’t want to continue the work.  We looked at it and thought this might be a great opportunity and bought it.

 There were so many things we didn’t like about the RV and they were just cosmetic so we decided to do some major changes on the inside.  We took out the bathroom for future plans later, the wall between the kitchen cabinet, the kitchen cabinet, the stove area, and the ugly 80’s couch looking thing.  We decided it all had to come out to fit what we needed it to be so we took a sledge hammer and began knocking out walls, counters, stoves, and couches.  Like I said, good bones, scary interior.

The floorplan was pretty much for a double bed-marine shower set up and we needed a space for two twin beds, kitchen area, and a sitting area.  So we decided to take out everything except the closet area and bed space.  This left a very big area to do what we wanted.  We were actually able to get the two twin beds in and get it somewhat ready for basic living.  This doesn’t mean we were able to get cabinets, counter, bathroom, or pantry in yet, but it is a work in progress.  At this point in time, we are paying off some bills and getting money situated so we can take a full two weeks to finish the rig, but that is more towards October at this point.  We are just living day to day.

During the demolition, we have found some pretty interesting things about this rig.  It was paneled with some 1980’s wood looking paneling, the ceiling was covered with wine-colored velour that was tufted with giant velvet buttons, had a rather odd sepia colored wallpaper and orange-red carpet.  It definitely brought back the 80’s and caused me to question my thoughts about taking it back to its original interior.  The answer would be “no, not a chance.

Because we were set up to spend a one-week spring break tour with Eisenhower State Park in March, we decided to just take the full week to live as we would full time.  This was where the “sudden” happened and we found ourselves in a whirlwind of change.  I packed everything we thought we would need from food to clothing, seating to entertainment, and It was one big mess, but we were packed and we headed off on, what I thought would be a two-hour drive.

It took me almost five hours to get to Eisenhower State Park from our apartment in Bedford, Texas because the side mirrors were not working.  I would get them into place only to have the wind from driving push them back to where all I could see myself.  This was not going work for my safety or anyone else’s.  I stopped to have Scott help me get the mirrors right and was off again. The driver side mirror acted correctly from that point, but the passenger mirror would not stay in place.  This meant I was either having to stop every time it did this, meaning I was stopping every five to ten minutes.  I ended up driving in the right lane at 55 mph extremely stressed because I could not see anything but my own reflection in the right side mirror. I know, stupid decision, but the girls and I made it safely to the parking lot of Eisenhower State Park.  I stopped, got out, shut the door when the driver’s side mirror crashed to the ground.  I was relieved to be there in one piece.

Once I was signed in at the office, I was given my spot and what a beautiful sight it was.  I was given a pull through which meant no backing in with the two useless mirrors.

This was the second weekend in March and spring break was in full gear, come to find out it was the first of three weeks called Spring Break and I was only supposed to do one week.  I contacted the Park Host Coordinator, Kate, and she was shocked to find I was scheduled for the full month of March!  Wait, we weren’t supposed to be full time Park Hosts until June 1!  Something was not right. Scott and I discussed what we were going to do and we decided we would give a 60-day notice to our apartment and move out.  Obviously, the park needed us and we thought we were ready for the move.

We took the last week in March and packed up the apartment.  Fortunately, I was able to go through all of my personal stuff over the previous six months and was down to what was going into the RV and two totes which sent into storage.  Scott had been busy working and was not as fortunate so most of his things went into storage along with the items we both were not ready to let go of.  It had been a rough time, but we were done and out of the apartment.  We had lived in a 2,000 square foot house, moved to a 547 square foot apartment, then lived in only the 14′ x 12′ bedroom plus the bathroom and kitchen, now we though we were ready to move into a 25 foot RV.  Our world was not only going to change, but it was going to change in a way we were not really prepared for.  They say March comes in like a lion and exits as a lamb, this would not be so for us and we had no clue what was getting ready to happen.

To be continued.

 

 

 

 

 

50th Texas State Park and Loving Every Minute of It!

50th Texas State Park and Loving Every Minute of It!

Scott and I finally made it to our 50th Texas State Park, Pedernales Falls State Park, just outside of Johnson City.  We were able to do a little hiking and just enjoy being in the outdoors. While we were there, we took a few minutes and did a quick Outside Our Box so we could celebrate our latest goal achievement.

We had such an amazing time getting lost on the hike and seeing some of the Pedernales River.  The camping looked to be clean and comfortable so we will be looking to visit again so we can kayak the river eventually.

Thanks for all the support all of you have shared and all the encouragement.

Time For No Regrets

Time For No Regrets

 There are times have to go through frustration to find our strength and purpose.  We have been dealing with many health issues but are we going to allow them to stop us?  There are times it seems we will never achieve the things we want to because it feels too difficult, but that is when we find answers if we will just stop and figure out how to overcome it all.

Scott and I were both told by our parents to continue with the traveling and to do what it is we love.  This is what we love to do, but with us in our 50’s is it too late?  Take a look at the video and see what the answer to that is.

Don’t forget to give our video a “thumbs up” and “subscribe” to our YouTube channel.  We really appreciate all of you and your time.

Come and Take It and Remember Goliad!

Come and Take It and Remember Goliad!

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Labor Day Weekend Scott and I traveled to the Austin-Bastrop area to visit our friends John and Faye, but also to mark off a few more Texas State Parks.  On Friday we had spent the day around the city of Bastrop and visited the two parks called the Lost Pines; Bastrop State Park and Buescher State Park.  It was a wonderful time and really made me feel appreciative of the people who worked tirelessly to save them from total destruction of fire.

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Saturday morning we got up and made plans to visit two more parks.  Leaving before we ate, we decided to find a place to have breakfast on our way to one of the two planned parks.  A sign we passed said Gonzales was 22 miles ahead when Scott stated that he thought something historical happened in Gonzales, but wasn’t sure.  As we neared the city, he remembered it was where the first battle of the Texas Revolution occurred.  This caused a huge change in our plans; it had become a trip about Texas History.

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Texas History is something both Scott and I have been interested in for quite some time.  I think it is mostly because we are not originally from Texas and we did not actually learn this state’s history in school.  It was not shoved down our throats so we feel as if it is our choice to learn it.  What I love most is to find out what historical thing has happened that has impacted this country and why it matters to me as an American and now a Texas Transplant.

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While eating breakfast at the Rodeo Restaurant, an authentic Mexican restaurant, we made some decisions about what our sudden travel plans were. There was so much to see and learn about in Gonzales considering this was where the first Texas Revolution battle happened.  We decided to do as much as we could until noon and then we would travel down to Goliad for the rest of the day.  There we would visit Goliad State Park and Presidio la Bahia. This would give us a Texas State Park to mark off, many more counties to cross, and history to visit.

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Gonzales is one of those towns with the County Courthouse in the center of town and the downtown circling it on the four streets around it.  It is full of Texas Revolutionary history, pioneer history, and Civil War history.  You can see proof of all this by just walking around an eight block area of the courthouse. Here you will find a large statue dedicated to those who were the Old Gonzales 18 (the 18 men who stayed behind to battle Santa Anna’s men), the Immortal 32 (the 32 men who, after the Gonzales Battle, went to the Alamo to fight), as well as the wives and daughters (those who created the first battle flag of Texas).  This was the history we had come to see, to witness, to remember.

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We went from the the square to the Gonzales Memorial Museum where, we had been told, that the actual “Come and Take It” cannon was housed.  We drove to the other side of town with only forty-five minutes to spare before they closed for the weekend.

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This Cordova cream limestone building was built in 1936 for the Centennial of the Texas Revolution.  It was one of many, many, many buildings, statues, and monuments built with the Cordova cream limestone which was only used for this special date in Texas history.  Within the fossil covered stone walls you will find artifacts from the Texians who fought for Texas to be a free nation, but the most treasured by Gonzales people is the actual cannon Santa Anna tried to take from the town in 1835.

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No, it may not look like much, but for those 18 men who stood against the Mexican army it was a huge issue.  Four years prior to this instant in time, the Mexican government had given the town of Gonzales a cannon to protect them against the Comanche attacks.  Since that time, the Mexican government had begun to show their true colors and were doing what they could to push out the Texians.   Due to a government authority change there had been extremely high duties placed upon the colonists, an increase of military presence, and the seizing of a schooner loaded with supplies.  The Texas colonists were angry and with the order for Santa Anna’s men to take the cannon was the last straw.

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On October 1, 1835, the numbers grew from 18 men to 167.  Because of the efforts of the original 18 men, there was no ferry for the Mexican Army to use to cross the Guadalupe River.  There were comments made from one side of the river to other when, out from the Gonzales side a “Come and Take It” was shouted.  It was from that shout the first Texas Revolution battle flag was created.  The women of Gonzales took a silk wedding dress and made the flag with a cannon in the center with a Lone Star above it and the words “Come and Take It” below so the men would remember why they were fighting.  Early in the morning hours on October 2, the men quietly crossed the river and settled themselves for battle.

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Scott and I found the memorial commemorating this battle just outside of Cost, Texas.  It is five miles south of Gonzales and is about a mile from where that very first shot was taken by the Texians of Gonzales.  It too was put up during the centennial using the same Cordova limestone.  Scott got out and took photos while I worked on our next move.  That move was heading down to Goliad and finding some lunch.

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We made it to Goliad, had a quick lunch, then headed to get the county courthouse.  It, once again, was in the center of the downtown area with old buildings circling the courthouse.  It is amazing to see these very old courthouses and the work they were built.  There was so much true workmanship and care about it.

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I am not sure what I was expecting at Goliad State Park; whatever it was, this was not it.  There was a mission!  This was the Mission Espiritu Santo that was established in 1749 and became a secular church in the 1930’s.  It was just so strange to me to see this huge white mission sitting above the park headquarters.  Many of the camping sites at this site were closed due to the recent flooding, but there were still plenty of spaces and they were rather well kept.

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The park has worked very hard to keep the items in the mission and decorations painted on the walls to be what was actually found there or from the missions in the same time period. Not only have they been able to create a very good replica of what the mission sanctuary looked like, but they created a very nice museum with dioramas.

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As I was discussing this being a Texas Revolution History trip, we had decided to visit Goliad because of the battle that happened the following February after the battle in Gonzales.  The state park was not the actual location of the Goliad battle, it was about half a mile south of the park at the Presidio la Bahia.  At one point there had been a battle after the Alamo fell near Fannin, Texas.  The Texas men that were taken prisoner were force marched back to Presidio la Bahia and eventually massacred there.  I often wonder how many of those souls still wonder about the rebuilt ruins.

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Visiting the Presidio was such an amazing thing to me because for such a long time I had heard the cry, “Remember The Alamo!  Remember Goliad!” to spur on the men fighting the battle of San Jacinto.  We are all taught about the cry “Remember the Alamo!” but rarely are we taught about the massacre at Goliad.  Yes, the Alamo was a massacre as well, but we are all taught about it and taught to remember each of the heros.

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After visiting the the town of Goliad, Goliad State Park and the Presidio la Bahia, we headed back towards Bastrop. On the way we found we were only a couple of minutes from where the Battle of Fannin happened so we made a quick stop.  Here we found something very interesting; we found a Texas Historical Commission site called Fannin Battlegrounds.

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Photo credit: Texas Historical Commission

We found a found area with sidewalks from the north, south, east and west leading to the monument.  Unfortunately it was beginning to rain and we did not get out to walk towards the monument.  However, Scott was able to take a few photos of the grounds.  There was a pavilion built and a bandstand for the Centennial to help honor the men of the Fannin battle as well as those massacred in Goliad.

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This trip was something that had a bit of surprise for me.  While we were visiting the Presidio la Bahia we came across a plaque with the names of the 300 men who died there as a result of the prisoner massacre. On this plaque were two names that caught my attention because if is a family name; Ellis.

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Those names are James and Michael Ellis.  Unfortunately, these men are not direct descendants, but they are distant cousins on my mother’s father’s side.  This however, was not the only pleasant surprise for me on this trip.

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We had only spent a few moments at the Fannin Battleground Historic Site, but turns out there is a second connection to Fannin other than the Ellis Boys.  Even though it was many, many years later, my grandfather’s father was born in Fannin, Texas.  I was elated!  I have always wanted to be a true Texan, and here is link.  I will not be able to become a Daughter of the Texas Republic, but I am a TEXAN and that is important.

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