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Tweet Kimball: A woman for all seasons

Tweet Kimball took great pride in her Santa Gertrudis cattle herd, including this prize-winning bull.

By Joe Gschwendtner; photo courtesy of Cherokee Ranch & Castle

Last month, we tracked the history of the Cherokee Castle and Ranch after Tweet Kimball acquired it in 1954. Indeed, her impact on virtually everything she touched and those she encountered was outsized. Comfortable in rugged ranch hand garb or equally so in an evening gown and diamond tiara, Tweet’s life was rich at many levels.

Raised an only child of privilege in Chattanooga, Tweet was heavily influenced by her well-read, well-traveled mother. An aunt of Tweet’s married an Italian Count, occasioning several European visits. When there, mother and daughter were in their element, visiting museums and palaces, enhancing a growing collection of fine books, china, art, furniture and jewelry. That Tweet became a Bryn Mawr fine arts major surprised no one.

When husband Merritt was posted to the American Embassy in London, it is said that Tweet’s upbringing had prepared her perfectly for the trappings of a diplomatic life. After finding themselves a suitable country home and unable to have their own children, the Kimballs adopted sons Kirk and Richard.

Postwar English life and its social demands sat well with Tweet. Constant exposure to royalty and aristocrats expanded her social circles and fed a lifelong penchant to entertain. Fluid among English royalty, including His Royal Highness, Prince Edward, she likely had major exposure to Winston Churchill as well. However it occurred, Sir Winston would become her most admired statesman.

On return stateside, the Ruddock marriage was unraveling and divorce soon followed. Tweet’s eventual choice of Charlford Castle as her new home was logical; clearly, she had grown almost accustomed to them after her English exposure and quite comfortable in those surroundings.

Yet, Cherokee Ranch’s open range and livestock showcased Tweet at her cowgirl, rawhide best. There, she was as tough or as tender as she wanted to be. One story has her snaring a stray calf and returning it uphill in the back of her Lincoln Continental. She was also known to get right into the middle of daily operations, which could include cattle births and castrations. The proof: her boots were as manure-encased as anyone else’s. When not in the saddle, Tweet rattled around the ranch in a Chevy Suburban. This gave great pause to all who knew of her rapidly failing eyesight. Tweet’s loyalty to ranch hands was well known, and they and their families were frequently welcomed at seasonal events and the Waterloo event that celebrated her birthday.

As an aging queen of the castle, Tweet systematically continued collecting and cataloging art, entertaining as often as she could. Invitations to her soirées were legendary; hand-typed by Tweet herself. Right up until the month of her death, Cherokee Castle was the scene of 13 catered events in one month. What Tweet had, she shared with the world and also with the people of Douglas County, its naturalists and its wildlife. As the 21st century approached, Mildred Genevieve Montague Kimball remained a woman in full.

In May, readers can look forward to the third piece of this series, “The Heart of Tweet Kimball.”

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