© MJH for Buffalo County NEGenWeb Project, 2001

History of Buffalo County
and Its People

by Samuel Clay Bassett





By John W. Williamson

    A score or more of times I have been requested to write my personal recollections and experiences with the Pawnee Indians on their last buffalo hunt, which ended in a battle with their old enemy, the Sioux. So many stories have been written--all claiming to be authentic--that I have hesitated to pen for publication a true history of the battle which ended so disastrously for the Pawnees, knowing that it will differ, in many respects, from accounts which have been printed heretofore.
    In the spring of 1873 the Pawnees at the Genoa Agency numbered 2,400. Of this number 600 were fighting men, or warriors. I had come to the agency three years previous and was working for the Government at the time the Pawnees left on their last buffalo hunt. At that time buffalo were feeding in the valleys of the Platte, Loup, Niobrara and Republican rivers and their .tributaries. The nearest buffalo to Genoa were as far west as Plum Creek Station (now Lexington), and a place consisting of a few low houses where Arapahoe now stands.
    It was the custom of the Pawnees to hunt buffalo twice a year. The summer hunt was for meat, tent material and moccasin leather, and the winter hunt for robes and meat. The Government, in order to avoid clashes between the Pawnee and Sioux, had divided the hunting grounds. The Sioux were confined to that part of the country north of the Niobrara River, and the Pawnees to the country south of the Niobrara to the Kansas line.
    To keep the Indians confined to the territory assigned them and to prevent them from molesting homesteaders who were pouring into the state and filing on land, trail agents were appointed to accompany the Indians.
    In May, 1873, the Pawnees held a council meeting and decided to leave the agency on the summer hunt in July. Major Burgess, a Quaker, was agent at


Genoa, and through him the Indians made their request for permission to hunt and also for the appointment of a trail agent to accompany them. Texas Jack (John Omahander) had acted as trail agent the previous year and made application for reappointment. George Clothier, of Columbus, also applied for the position. I did not apply for the place and was surprised when one of the chiefs came to me and informed me that the council had decided to request the Government to appoint me to accompany them.
    The Pawnees were made up of four different bands: The Skeedes, the Kitkahas, the Chowees, and the Petahowerats. Each band has its head and subchiefs, but Petah La Shauro was the supreme head of the Pawnee Nation, and, if I am not mistaken, was the last chief to have that distinction, the position ending with the death of this noted Indian, who had always been friendly with the white people. It was the custom to allow each band to send an equal number on the buffalo hunts.
    On the 2d day of July, 1873, the Indians, to the number of 700, left Genoa for the hunting grounds. Of this number 350 were men, the balance women and children. Most of the men were armed with bows and arrows, old fashioned muzzle loading rifles; a few had seven-shot Spencer carbines and some carried Colts powder and ball revolvers. All were mounted, and in addition took with them 800 extra ponies to pack home the meat and hides.
    Two hours before we started for the hunting-grounds Chief Petah La Shauro sent for me. As I entered the council hall the old man extended his hand and addressed me in his language, which was interpreted for me, although I understood Pawnee to some extent and could speak the language fluently. In substance the chief said:
    "You are a young man. You have never hunted buffalo. I have instructed my people to take good care of you and obey you. I want you to feel at home on this trip. You will be the guest of my son, Sun Chief."
    The old chief was about sixty years old at this time, a magnificent specimen of physical manhood for his years. I consider him, intellectually, the greatest Indian I ever met.
    Had he been an educated white man he would have taken his place as a leader in state and nation. He was kind, considerate, sympathetic, but firm and just in his position as head of the tribe.
    After leaving Genoa we followed up the Valley of the Platte beyond Kearney. Near Plum Creek Station we crossed the river and went up the south bank of the stream. Not finding buffalo, we turned south to the Republican River and up the valley to a point called Burton's Bend, where we crossed and went south to the West Beaver, near where Beaver City now stands. Before we reached the Beaver, signs indicated that buffalo had been in that vicinity recently, and scouts were thrown out, and a suitable location selected for a camp and preparations made for the anticipated slaughter. No sooner had a halt been made than scouts came riding in and reported that a herd of 300 buffalo were feeding on the south slope of the divide between the Beaver and Prairie Dog.
    Among white men this announcement would have created excitement and confusion. If the Pawnees were excited it was not apparent by any outward signs. There was no confusion, no haste. At the command of the chief presiding that


day the hunters formed in the shape of a letter V. At the point rode one of the scouts with a spear decorated with colored feathers. There was no noise, no disorder as the procession moved over the prairie. The eye of every hunter was on the bunch of feathers on the end of the spear carried by the scout. Suddenly the feathers disappear. It is the signal that the hunt is on. With military precision that V shaped formation straightens out, and 350 Indians and one white man sweep down the valley into that herd of buffalo. Each hunter selects a buffalo as his legitimate prey and cuts it out, and riding up by the side of the flexing animal shoots it down. Jumping from the pony the hunter plunges his knife into the throat of the buffalo. In a short time the animal is skinned, the meat cut from around the bones, rolled into strips and bound together with thongs cut from the hide and placed on the pony and brought into camp and turned over to the women, who cure the meat and tan the hides. For drying the meat the women erect willow poles, where the meat is placed in strips and in a few days is cured, and when ready for transportation on the backs of ponies, resembles dried lute fish, used by Swedes and Norwegians as a Christmas delicacy.
    In this hunt one of the chiefs took charge of me and showed me how to cut out and kill my first buffalo. So expert were the Pawnees in killing buffalo that not one animal escaped death out of the several herds attacked.
    That night there was a great feast in camp. What Christian people would call a prayer meeting was held, and the Great Spirit thanked for his kindness in sending his red children a bountiful supply of meat. While the feast was going on a long pole was placed in the center of the camp and on this was hanging a large piece of cooked meat as a burnt offering to God.
    After leaving the south slope of the Beaver, we moved to the Valley of the Prairie Dog, then down that stream to the Kansas line, where another herd of buffalo was killed and the meat cured. Retracing our steps, we went up the Valley of the Prairie Dog for fifty miles, killing several small herd of buffalo en route. On the fourth day of August we reached the north bank of the Republican River and went into camp. At 9 o'clock that evening three white men came into camp and reported to me that a large band of Sioux warriors were camped twenty-five miles northwest waiting for an opportunity to attack the Pawnees. They said that the Sioux had had scouts out spying on the Pawnees for several days, anticipating that we would move up the river where buffalo were feeding. Previous to this white men had visited us and warned us to be on our guard from Sioux attacks, and I was a little skeptical as to the story told me by our white visitors. But one of the men--a young fellow about my own age--appeared to be so sincere in his efforts to impress upon me that the warning should be heeded that I took him to Sky Chief, who was in command that day, for a conference. Sky Chief said the men were liars; that they wanted to scare the Pawnees away from the hunting grounds so that white hunters could kill buffalo for hides. He told me I was a squaw and a coward. I took exception to his remarks, and retorted, "I will go as far as you dare go. Don't forget that." The following morning, August 5th, we broke camp and started north up the divide, between the north and south forks of the Frenchman. Soon after we left camp Sky Chief rode up to me and extending his hand said, "Shake, brother." He recalled our little unpleasantness the night previous and said he did not believe there was


cause for alarm, and was so impressed with the belief that he had not taken the precaution to throw out scouts in the direction the Sioux were reported to be. A few minutes later a buffalo scout signaled that a herd of buffalo had been sighted in the distance and Sky Chief rode off to engage in the hunt. I never saw him again. He was killed by the Sioux. He had killed a buffalo and was skinning it when the advance guard of the Sioux shot and wounded him. The chief attempted to reach his horse, but before he was able to mount, several of the enemy were on him. He died fighting. A Pawnee who was skinning a buffalo a short distance away, but who managed to escape, told me how Sky Chief died.
    A young Indian who was riding near me when buffalo were reported in sight borrowed my gun and rode off to engage in the hunt. He too, was killed, and I never saw him or my gun again. We had not proceeded a mile after the departure of Sky Chief when I noticed a commotion at the head of the procession, which had suddenly stopped. I started to ride up where three of the chiefs were talking when a boy of sixteen rode up and stopped me.
    Dismounting, he tied a strip of red flannel on the bridle of my horse, and after remounting told me a buffalo scout had signaled that the Sioux were coming. What significance was attached to the flannel tied on the bridle I was never able to learn. We were only about a hundred yards from a large canyon when the Sioux were reported coming and orders were shouted down the line for the squaws, children and pack ponies to take refuge in the canyon. The warriors were preparing to ride forth to meet the enemy. Coming up to Chief Terra Recokens, who was surrounded by several leading men of the Skeedee band, I suggested that we fall back down the canyon two miles, where there was a small grove of timber, and make a stand. The chief was in favor of adopting the suggestion, but Fighting Bear of the Kitkahos rebelled. He had fought the Sioux before and said we could whip them in an open fight, and it was finally decided to adopt his suggestion and make the stand on the ground we were on. It seemed but a short time after the squaws and pack ponies had disappeared over the edge of the canyon when the first Sioux appeared in the distance. Down in the canyon arose a chant. It was the war song of the Pawnee Nation, sung by the squaws as they stood side by side and rocked back and forth. Louder and louder grew the song as the enemy approached. I loaded my two revolvers and made up my mind to do my share in the fighting. As the Sioux kept coming over the hill it became apparent that they outnumbered the fightng men of the Pawnees four to one. I afterwards learned that there was between twelve hundred and fifteen hundred in the band, under command of Chief Snow Flake. I was later informed that he belonged to the Brule band of the Sioux and that most of his warriors were also of that band. The Sioux were about a mile and a half away when the Pawnee chiefs noted that they were greatly outnumbered and suggested to me that I go out and parley with them with a view of warding off the threatened attack. I rode out 300 yards, accompanied by Ralph Wicks, a half-breed interpreter, who afterwards studied law and was admitted to the bar in Oklahoma. He died a few years ago. Waving a handkerchief as a token of peace, I attempted to stop the Sioux, but on they came--the whole bunch of them. Suddenly the war whoop of the Sioux sounded and several puffs of smoke from as many guns


and the whistle of bullets warned me that it was time to beat a retreat. The battle cry of the Sioux was answered with a cry of defiance from the Pawnee warriors, which denoted that a warm reception awaited the enemy. . All the Indians were mounted, and as I reached the edge of the canyon the 350 Pawnees had hurled themselves against the enemy. Just as I reached the canyon my horse, which had been struck by one or more bullets, stumbled and fell. It took less than a minute to strip off the saddle and bridle and place them on my buffalo pony a squaw was holding for me. Mounting my horse I rode up from the canyon. The Pawnees were putting up a splendid fight, but the odds were against them. I blazed away with my revolvers, when the chiefs noticed that the enemy was surrounding the head of the canyon and gave orders to retreat. I did not understand the command given, but when I noticed the squaws cutting the thongs that bound the packs of meat to the ponies and mounting with the children, I concluded it was about time to make a dash myself. A moment before the retreat commenced I saw Fighting Bear engaged in a duel with a Sioux chief. I presumed he was a chief from the war bonnet he wore. Both chiefs were fighting with tomahawks. Taking deliberate aim at close range I fired at the Sioux. The bullet struck the mark and wounded the Sioux, which gave Fighting Bear an opportunity to finish him. Jumping from his horse the Pawnee chief scalped his enemy, remounted and grabbing the dead Sioux's horse by the bridle joined in the retreat down the canyon.
    It was in the retreat down the canyon that the greatest loss of life occurred among the squaws and children, the Sioux riding down each side and firing down upon them. As the Pawnees reached the river and crossed to the opposite bank, the Sioux succeeded in cutting off 700 ponies and had started down the stream to cross at another point to attack the Pawnees when the sound of a bugle stopped them. Looking across the river I noticed a company of United States cavalry emerge from the timber. When the Sioux saw the soldiers approaching they beat a hasty retreat. In company with Fighting Bear and two other chiefs I crossed the river and conferred with the officer in command, who suggested that the Pawnees return and gather up the meat left behind and bury the dead. But the Pawnees could not be induced to comply with the suggestion. They were firm in the belief that the meat had already been poisoned by their enemies and the wounded put to death.
    We camped that night on the banks of Red Willow Creek. There was nothing to eat. All our supplies had been left behind on the battle field. I had always understood that an Indian is devoid of emotion. But that night I was convinced that at times an Indian gives vent to his feelings the same as a white man. Seated on the ground, rocking back and forth, the warriors who had fought so valiantly a few hours previous, pulled hair from their heads, while the tears rolled down their cheeks. While this demonstration was being enacted the squaws kept up an incessant wail for the dead.
    A mile from where we camped lived a man named Frank Byfield. He kept a few groceries, flour, bacon arid other supplies for buffalo hunters. He freighted all his goods from Plum Creek Station, a distance of seventy or eighty miles. I bought from Byfield thirty sacks of flour and signed a receipt for the same and the Government later reimbursed him.


Shortly after leaving Red Willow Creek we killed a herd of twelve buffalo and then moved on to Arapahoe, which at that time consisted of a few log houses. Here I hired a homesteader for $5 to haul twelve of the wounded to Plum Creek Station.
    At Plum Creek Station a company of soldiers were stationed. Here the wounds of the injured were dressed by the army surgeon. Barclay White, superintendent of Northwestern Indian agencies, had his headquarters in Omaha at this time and to him I wired what had occurred, and he made arrangements with the Union Pacific Company to provide box cars for bringing the Pawnees to Silver Creek. From Silver Creek the Pawnees walked across the country to Genoa--a sad return from the last buffalo hunt in a country that had been their home so many years.
    The loss of the Pawnees in the battle on the Republican was 156, including men, women and children.
    Several weeks after returning with the Pawnees I received a letter from Nick Jenese, trail agent for the Sioux. He said the Sioux had lost fifty warriors in the battle. Jenese was a Frenchman who married a Sioux squaw and had been adopted into the tribe. He attempted to prevent the Sioux from leaving the Niobrara Valley to attack the Pawnees, but they placed a guard over him and rode away on a raiding expedition which cost them the lives of fifty warriors and $10,000 in money, for the Government took that amount of money out of the annuity fund of the Sioux and turned it over to the Pawnees to pay for the meat lost and ponies captured. I had in my pack at the time of the battle a memorandum book containing $2 in money and several letters. Jenese sent the book and letters to me by express, but the buck who went through my pack kept the money.
    Some time during the fall I was sent by the Government to the battle field to bury the dead. At Plum Creek Station I hired a liveryman named Coles to assist me. We drove to Arapahoe, where I hired four more men. I recall now the names of only two of them. One was the famous "Wild Bill," who was murdered a few years later by Jack McCall in Deadwood. The name of the other man was Frank Martin.
    We arrived on the battle field early in the evening and commenced our gruesome work, finishing before dawn and hurrying back to Arapahoe, as the Sioux were reported to be on the war path. At one place on the battle field were the charred remains of several children, who had evidently escaped injury and had been left behind in the retreat, only to meet horrible death by torture at the hands of the Sioux.





    The plants which we cultivate and grow upon our farms has much to do in the development of our agricultural resources, and also in the growth and development of civilization among a people, a nation.
    The history of no people is complete which does not include a history of its cultivated plants, and especially those which have proven most useful and helpful.
    No plant has done and is doing more to transform Nebraska from what was in years gone by termed a "short grass country," that is a country producing forage of short growth and in very limited quantities, to a land upon whose cultivated fields there is being produced in great abundance forage of highest feeding value for our domestic animals.
    A history of the introduction of this valuable plant into the state and the preservation of such history in the archives of our State Historical Society, that it may be of use to coming generations and in the writing of a satisfactory history of our state, is certainly of importance, and with this object in view the writer ventures to contribute the little which he has been able to learn of the matter with the hope that others may be induced to add of their knowledge of the subject.
    In the 1890 annual report of the State Board of Agriculture Dr. C. E. Bessey, writing of alfalfa, says: "It is said the Greeks and Romans grew it, and that to these countries it was brought from Persia, and possibly from regions still farther east. Its cultivation certainly dates back two thousand or twenty-five hundred years.
    Dr. Bessey mentions, "Upon the soils of Nebraska it has been shown to grow with great readiness, and when once established is likely to endure for a long time."
    In a paper published in the 1894 annual report of the State Board of Agriculture, Prof. C. L. Ingersoll, director of the state experiment station, mentions that alfalfa was first planted on the state experiment station farm in the year 1892.


    In the 1895 report of the State Board of Agriculture C. Y. Smith, of thstate experiment station, in a paper entitled "Alfalfa in Nebraska," writes, "Alfalfa has no equal today among the forage plants of Nebraska, a statement substantiated by reports on file in the experiment station office of nearly one thousand farmers in the state. Although the last two years have developed a large increase in acreage, alfalfa is by no means a plant of recent cultivation in Nebraska. In 1876 S. P. Baker, of Curtis, Frontier County, received some seed from California costing $22 per bushel. This he sowed at the rate of ten pounds per acre.
    "In 1878 he obtained more seed and experimented on a plat of sixteen acres. In 1878 J. C. Mitchell, of Alma, Harlan County, tried it on upland and got a good 'catch.' From this time on others took hold of it and in 1882-83-84-85 we find it growing with good success in the south and southwestern part of the state." Mr. Smith also adds, "At the present time, 1895, it is found in nearly eighty counties of the state. Boone and Scott's Bluffs counties are well to the front with alfalfa and Valley County is doing well."
    In the year 1895 (see 1895 report of State Board of Agriculture), on the state fair gounds,[sic] at the suggestion of G. W. Hervey, an alfalfa palace was erected, the building itself being of baled alfalfa, and in the building was exhibited the plant in all stages of its growth, roots of alfalfa more than thirty feet in length, and also alfalfa seed.
    The baled hay used in the erection of this palace was largely furnished by C. H. Ballinger, of Dawson County. Mr. Ballinger was at that date engaged in breeding registered sheep of the mutton breeds and found himself unable to compete successfully at the great state fairs of the western states and at the International Fat Stock Show held at Chicago until he began to grow and feed alfalfa to his sheep. No one in the state engaged in the breeding and exhibiting of thoroughbred sheep ever captured as many prizes for sheep exhibited at the great state fairs of the West as has Mr. Balliner, and he attributed much of his success to the feeding of so succulent and valuable a plant as alfalfa. Mr. Ballinger was among the first to grow alfalfa in Dawson County, he having about the year 1890 some four hundred acres devoted to this crop, and in the growing of which for both forage and seed he made a marked success.
    J. P. Nead of Riverton writes that he first grew alfalfa in that county in the year 1882. H. W. McFadden, in a letter recently published in the Independent Farmer, writes: "I saw an ad in a Denver paper (this nearly thirty years ago, making it about the year 1885) of a dry land forage. I sent and got two bushels of alfalfa seed, costing me $30. I sowed eight acres near the public highway, now near Hollbrook, and got a good stand. Some three or four years later I got a seed crop of eleven bushels per acre, which I sold at $5 per bushel. I sold twenty bushels to a banker, also several of my neighbors bought one, two or three bushels and that crop of seed brought more money than the land was valued at. I would like to know if anyone (in the state) preceded me in the growing of alfalfa as a field or acreage crop. I now have fields of alfalfa sowed over twenty years ago that have never been reseeded and produce good yields of feed and seed."
    Martin Slattery, of Shelton, Buffalo County, sowed a field in alfalfa about


the year 1887. This field was both mowed and pastured during the fall and winter months for a period of twenty-six years, the field being plowed up in the year 1913.
    H. D. Watson, of Watson Ranch, Buffalo County, found twenty acres of alfalfa growing on this ranch when he took charge in the year 1889. He increased the acreage on the ranch into one thousand and was at one date the most extensive grower of alfalfa in the state. Pat O'Shea, of Stevenson Siding, Buffalo County, sowed five acres of alfalfa in the year 1891. Robert Oliver, of Shelton, Buffalo County, began growing alfalfa in the year 1890. Michael Mousel, Cambrige, Fumas County, began growing alfalfa in 1891.
    John S. Marsh, Guide Rock, Nebraska, writes: "Dr. John E. Smith seeded a field to alfalfa in the spring of 1877. This field was about three miles west of Guide Rock, on land forty feet above the level of the Republican River. To my personal knowledge it stood in alfalfa till the spring of 1907, when it was broken up and reseeded to alfalfa."
    Thomas M. Davis, president of the First State Bank, Beaver City, Nebraska, writes: "In 1876 Capt. J. H. Freas sowed a small patch (of alfalfa) in his dooryard, obtaining the seed in someway, and it grew from year to year and fell down, they not knowing just what it was, nor understanding its use." (This was about four miles from Beaver City.)
    Mr. Davis adds: "I have heard the legend that the first sown in the state was down near the forks of theappa and Beaver, seed being sent by some of the Forty-niners from California in a small sack like a tobacco pouch, to a friend who sowed it, and that it was then called lucern."
    J. H. Gishwiller, of Carancahua, Texas (formerly of Kearney County), writes as follows: "In the spring of 1875 I sowed one pound of seed which I purchased from the D. M. Ferry Seed Co. Richard, or as he was commonly known, 'Uncle Dick' Curry, of Neighborsville, Norton County, Kansas, did the same. We both lost our seed, which cost us, by mail, 75 cents per pound. During the summer of 1875 I made a trip to Utah and Nevada where I saw the plant growing, and being so highly spoken of by the growers, I secured 100 pounds of seed at a cost of 25 cents per pound. This I shipped to Kearney, Neb., and then took it to Almeria, Kans. I sold James O'Kane, of Kearney, seven pounds of the seed and Alexander Kearnes of Nemaha County, Nebraska, eight pounds, but what success they had with it I never heard. The remainder of the seed (eighty-five pounds) I sowed on section No. 13, town No. 2, range No. 22, in Norton County, Kansas, in the spring of 1876. This proved a success and from that sowing I furnished seed to the whole country. Sold seed to Preston & Manning, of Orleans, Neb., in large quantities as early as 1880; also shipped seed to Trumble & Allen at Kansas City in 1881. Sold seed to several of the farmers on the Sappa early, but have forgotten their names. Of my 1876 sowing some of it remained growing on the ground for thirty-two years before it was plowed up."
    A. R. Clark, of Red Willow County, sowed two acres in the spring of 1892 and ten acres in 1893. B. A. Robberts, of Boone County, states that Adolph Vincent, of that county, sowed 300 acres to alfalfa about the year 1890. Mr. Robberts sowed nine acres, Mr. Free forty acres and Mr. Brewster nine acres


in 1893. In the 1895 report of the State B6ard of Agriculture W. S. Delano, of Custer, writes: "Alfalfa is already successfully grown in Gage, Webster, Red Willow, Frontier, Furnas, Dawson, Buffalo, Lincoln, Dundy, Hitchcock, Harlan, Hayes, Nuckolls and Custer counties, without irrigation, and where the permanent sheet water is from 5 to 125 feet below the surface." Mr. Delano first grew alfalfa in Custer County in 1891. Mr. A. J. Leach, in his history of Antelope County, states that Farmer's Bulletin No. 255 of the United States Department of Agriculture relates that alfalfa was introduced into California in the year 1854. Mr. Leach further adds that M. B. Huffman, of Neligh, began experiments in the growing of alfalfa about the year 1892, and that in the year 1900 he had 1,600 acres in cultivation in Antelope County.
    J. C. Mitchell, of Alma, Neb., writes of his experience in substance as follows: "Located in Harlan County in 1872. In 1875 sent to California for 100 pounds of alfalfa seed, costing $25. Sowed the seed in the spring of 1876. By July 1st it stood six inches high and I never saw a finer prospect than that five-acre field was at that time.
    "Drouth and the grasshoppers destroyed the crop. In the year 1885 seeded eighteen acres one-half miles south of Alma, the first field seeded in this section of the country. Twenty-five years later this field was producing more than three tons of hay annually."
    From information collected and authorities quoted in this brief history, it appears that alfalfa was first introduced into California in the year 1854, and introduced into Nebraska in the year 1875; that in the years 1882-83-84 it was being grown in several counties in the southwestern part of the state; that by the year 1890 its cultivation had extended in an experimental way as far north as Boone County; in 1895 it had been introduced into eighty counties, and as far to the west as Scott's Bluffs County.
    The first statistics as to acreage in the state appear to be found in the 1910 United States census returns, which give in Nebraska for the year 1909: Alfalfa grown on 49,495 farms; number of acres 685,282, producing 1,500,000 tons of hay,
    The 1914 annual report of the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture gives as the acreage in the state for that year 1,022,485, and the number of tons of hay 3,208,955, an increase in acreage of more than 45 per cent in five years.
    In 1914 alfalfa is being grown in every county in the state, approximately 7 per cent of our cultivated lands being devoted to this crop, or approximately 3½ per cent of our farm lands.
    Buffalo and Dawson counties in the year 1914 were among the leading counties in the production of alfalfa, Buffalo being credited with 45,914 acres, yielding 137,832 tons of hay, 9 per cent of tillable lands of the county being devoted to this crop.


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