Wyoming’s Fabulous Spanish Diggings

I taught History of the American West and Wyoming History for more than 40 years and during that time attempted to visit as many of the places we studied as I could. Last Saturday, for the first time, I was able to take a trip to the Spanish Diggings, a site rich in hard quartzite rock used by ancient people. My first impression of the area is that it is spectacular, and the dig sites are incredible.

Dig sites

Dig site broken stone

The area lies between Guernsey and Lusk in both Platte and Niobrara counties in a remote and difficult to reach area. The major section of the site was deeded to the state many years ago, but the only way to reach this valuable resource is by crossing private land on a rough two track in an area of wheat strips.

Thanks to Patsy Parkin, President of the Platte County Historical Society, a group of 40 of us spent a memorable day going through the site. Our tour was led by Randy Brown of Douglas, a man who has taken numerous groups through the site. Mr. Brown took our group to the Barber Site and to the Dorsey Quarry #2, along with other unnamed areas.

The Spanish Diggings may be as old as 10,000 years or more. Some believe 5,000 years is closer, and some think the digs date back a mere 1,000 years. Although what year they started might never be known, we do know, the rock quarries at the site were likely not abandoned until trade goods made of iron reached the area. This would mean that the site, used for centuries, has been unused since the early or middle of the 1800s when the first trapper/traders reached the area.

Broken Rock Everywhere

Not only are the dates of use a mystery, but how the large rock outcroppings were worked is also a mystery.  Dozens of huge fields of broken rock can be found in an area of 400 square miles, smaller rock, some worked on two or more edges can be found strew about for miles in every direction. The size of many of the broken pieces, some half the size of a living room recliner and thousands the size of basketballs, leads me to believe that they had more knowledge of levers, and physics than most believe.

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Taking a break on rock broken thousands of years ago

 

Who Built It?

Early visitors to the sites dismissed the idea of the Plains Indians having anything to do with the diggings. Odd, because we now know that they are the very people that built and used the dig sites for at least one hundred generations. Locals and experts, more than one hundred years ago, saw the diggings as something taking more knowledge than the primitive peoples of the Plains and Mountains could possibly have acquired. How these first visitors explained the teepee rings in the area has not been recorded. What was their theory if it was not the first peoples of the area? They came up with an idea far more bizarre. They believed it was the Spanish, the Conquistadors. The fact that none came within hundreds of miles of Wyoming and the additional fact, if it were the Conquistadors, they would have needed to stay for years seems to let that idea pass by common sense. But the name stuck – the Spanish Diggings.

So what do we know? First, the diggings were a project of native Indians of the plains, possibly before they were divided into modern tribal distinctions. Another thing we know is that it was not a project of short duration as evidenced by the hundreds, more likely, thousands of teepee rings in the area.

Two great mysteries remain. The first of these is the most puzzling, nowhere on the site has anyone discovered a fire pit or anything resembling a cooking site. Second, in modern time there is no water at the site. There are several dry stream beds in the area that may have been more active hundreds or thousands of years ago as running water or at least spring runoff having left behind potholes of water.

A Park

When John B. Kendrick was governor of Wyoming (1915-1917) he proposed making the entire area a drive through national park. The governor’s idea died out with World War I but was brought up once again during the Great Depression.  When the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps were putting together what was to become Guernsey State Park under the careful watch and design of the National Park Service, there was talk of expansion to the Spanish Diggins. This time, the idea nearly became a project for the CCC, but as did the first idea, it died with war, World War II.

the area

Our view from one of the small mountains in the dig area – that’s Laramie Peak at the top of the photo, 40 miles west

What did I learn?

Many things. If the Spanish Diggins go back as far as 10,000 or even 12,000 years, which is very possible, considering the absence of fire pits, the first stone workers were appropriately Stone-Age people. Stone Age people used primitive weapons and tools, arrowheads, spear points, hammers, and wedges. These people would have been from the Paleo-Indian culture, a nomadic hunting, and wandering people. They also show better than a rudimentary knowledge of hammers, wedges, use of levers, and an understanding of basic physics. Maybe they were more advanced than most people believe.

It is more than likely that thousands of years later, during the Archaic Period, around 7,000 B.C. that stone was being quarried in this local site. This was a period of time when stone weapons and stone tools were made by the tens of thousands by native peoples. From that time on, hundreds of generations used the Platte/Niobrara County site to mine the rich purple quartz.

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The stone the ancients were digging for – these have been worked a bit

 

To almost borrow a line from an old Four Seasons, song –

Oh, What A Day!

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Published in: on October 5, 2016 at 9:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Been Away Too Long

It has been three years since I have used this blog. Way too long, but I am back. Where was I?

Writing, I guess. I have published six books since I last posted. You can find them all here. I will not be away that long again, maybe a few days.

The End of the Old West

As I was writing an introduction to a book that I am working on several thoughts crossed my mind. The book, about Fort Laramie and the American West, has been a much more than interesting research project. Fort Laramie may be more a symbol of the old west and last frontier than anything else.

Fort Laramie 1849-1890

Throughout most of its active years, Fort Laramie was the most important fort of the West. The fort protected an area that was mostly unsettled when it was established as a military fort in 1849. One could argue that the 41 years the fort was active, were the defining years of what many called the old west. Yes, there were people, quite a few, in fact, Native Indian Tribes who would soon be displaced, and a few hunters, trappers, and wanderers, and with Fort Laramie, Soldiers.

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Here I am at Fort Laramie Trapper and Trader Days Last Summer

 

 End of the Frontier

During the active years of the fort the country rapidly expanded. The Gold Rush, Transcontinental Railroad, Telegraph, Pony Express, Civil War, and economic woes in the east all lead to the end of the old west. By the time 1890 rolled around, Benjamin Harrison was president and the United States Census Bureau announced the end of the frontier. In 1893, Fredrick Jackson Turner wrote an article for the Chicago World’s Fair, stating that there was no longer a line of Frontier in America. With the closing of Fort Laramie in 1890 also came the disgraceful Massacre at Wounded Knee and statehood for Wyoming. When Owen Wister published the first Western in 1902, The Virginian, the old west was gone.

Wild West

What about the Wild West? If it ever was, which it was not, it was a part of the old west. The Wild West was a creation by pulp writers turning out dozens of dime novel westerns and a few years later, Hollywood expanded the myth.

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My part of the Wild West – 30 Miles from home last March

 

Fort Laramie was the first sign, or last sign, of civilization to an American people who farmed the land or lived in cities on the east and west coasts and in the south. It was also a sign of things to come, and 41 years after it opened, the buildings were sold off for salvage.

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4th of July at Fort Laramie

 

The Time’s They Are Changing

At my age, we just returned from our weekend 50-year high school reunion, I am not always in favor of the changes I see taking place. It was no different with the ending of the frontier, some saw it as a good sign, others hated the Idea of everything settled. Such is life, change and time march on.

best shot

Thanks for reading it’s great to be back.

Wyoming the Almost A Square State

Remember one of the first puzzles you put together as a kid, sure we all do? It was the wooden map of the United States. Just find the shape of the state and put it in the correct place, which was properly embossed into the cardboard or wood backing for young learners. Every state had a unique shape and this made learning where each state was located fast and easy. But wait a minute, hold on here, what about Colorado and Wyoming, they are square, or almost so, properly rectangles. How did they get their rather non-unique shape? Not sure about Colorado as I am a Wyoming guy, but as for Wyoming.

Wyoming is the only state whose territory was taken from all four of the major land accusations of the United States. Parts of Wyoming have been claimed by five different countries and parts of Wyoming came under the rule of a dozen Spanish kings between 1479 and 1821. Not that it’s important but there were four kings named, Charles, four Phillips and four named Ferdinand.  

France also ruled parts of Wyoming under kings, Francis One and two, three Henry’s, Charles IX and four guys named Louis. At long last the little Emperor himself, Napoleon, gave up the French claim to Wyoming when Jefferson made the greatest land purchase in history, the Louisiana Purchase, in 1803.

Wyoming was also part of:  Utah Territory, Washington Territory, Nebraska Territory, Colorado Territory, Dakota Territory, and Idaho Territory.

It took thirty boundary changes to come up with the present day shape of Wyoming, an almost square rectangle- ahh, the government at work.

Oh- then we named it after a valley in Delaware.

Wyoming where mule deer sleep in your front yard, bear’s wander through local parks, elk, moose and pronghorn outnumber the people, mountain views are everywhere and people ski in the morning and play golf in the afternoon. It really is like no other place on earth.

It’s good to be back.

Wyoming Funny Guy Bill Nye

Like all states Wyoming has had its share of colorful characters, none more colorful than Edgar Wilson (Bill) Nye. Nye came west to Wyoming in 1876 and stayed seven years until 1883. He settled in Laramie and found his true passion and maybe what he was put on this earth to do – writing humor.

 

Nye practiced law, became postmaster of Laramie and worked for the local paper before started his own, The Laramie Boomerang, (still a six day a week paper) his newspaper columns became so popular that they were reprinted far from the small town in Southeast Wyoming being picked up by papers all over America and reprinted by more than a dozen newspapers in Europe.

 

Nye was indeed a first rate humorist, one of the best of his time, later in life he often shared the stage, and equal billing with Mark Twain. Unfortunately Nye’s humor has not been as lasting as Twain’s but in the last quarter of the 1800s he was one funny guy.

 

One of my favorite excerpts from his writing follows. This writing explains his resignation as Laramie’s Postmaster.

 

It is a full newspaper column I have reduced to only four of the thirteen paragraphs.

 

Enjoy!

 

                                                                        Postoffice, Divan, Laramie City, W.T.

 

Sir.—
I beg leave at this time to officially tender my resignation as postmaster at this place, and in due form to deliver the great seal and the key to the front door of the office. The safe combination is set on the numbers 33, 66 and 99, though I do not remember at this moment which comes first, or how many times you revolve the knob, or which direction you should turn it at first in order to make it operate.

 

You will find the postal cards that have not been used under the distributing table, and the coal down in the cellar. If the stove draws too hard, close the damper in the pipe and shut the general delivery window.

 

Tears are unavailing. I once more become a private citizen, clothed only with the right to read such postal cards as may be addressed to me personally, and to curse the inefficiency of the postoffice department. I believe the voting class to be divided into two parties, viz: Those who are in the postal service, and those who are mad because they cannot receive a registered letter every fifteen minutes of each day, including Sunday.
Mr. President, as an official of this Government I now retire. My term of office would not expire until 1886. I must, therefore, beg pardon for my eccentricity in resigning. It will be best, perhaps, to keep the heart-breaking news from the ears of European powers until the dangers of a financial panic are fully past. Then hurl it broadcast with a sickening thud. *

 

*Excerpt taken from—Bill Nye’s  Western Humor

 

                                                        Selected and with an Introduction

 

                                                        By T. A. Larson

 

                                                       University of Nebraska Press

 

                                                      Lincoln, NE  1968

 

If you would like to see the letter in its entirety you can find it here-http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/10/here-roads-seem-to-fork.html

Wyoming Funny Guy -Edgar Wilson (Bill) Nye

Like all states Wyoming has had its share of colorful characters, none more colorful than Edgar Wilson (Bill) Nye. Nye came west to Wyoming in 1876 and stayed seven years until 1883. He settled in Laramie and found his true passion and maybe what he was put on this earth to do – writing humor.

Nye practiced law, became postmaster of Laramie and worked for the local paper before started his own, The Laramie Boomerang, (still a six day a week paper) his newspaper columns became so popular that they were reprinted far from the small town in Southeast Wyoming being picked up by papers all over America and reprinted by more than a dozen newspapers in Europe.

Nye was indeed a first rate humorist, one of the best of his time, later in life he often shared the stage, and equal billing with Mark Twain. Unfortunately Nye’s humor has not been as lasting as Twain’s but in the last quarter of the 1800s he was one funny guy.

One of my favorite excerpts from his writing follows. This writing explains his resignation as Laramie’s Postmaster.

It is a full newspaper column I have reduced to only four of the thirteen paragraphs.

Enjoy!

Postoffice, Divan, Laramie City, W.T.

Sir.—

I beg leave at this time to officially tender my resignation as postmaster at this place, and in due form to deliver the great seal and the key to the front door of the office. The safe combination is set on the numbers 33, 66 and 99, though I do not remember at this moment which comes first, or how many times you revolve the knob, or which direction you should turn it at first in order to make it operate.

You will find the postal cards that have not been used under the distributing table, and the coal down in the cellar. If the stove draws too hard, close the damper in the pipe and shut the general delivery window.

Tears are unavailing. I once more become a private citizen, clothed only with the right to read such postal cards as may be addressed to me personally, and to curse the inefficiency of the postoffice department. I believe the voting class to be divided into two parties, viz: Those who are in the postal service, and those who are mad because they cannot receive a registered letter every fifteen minutes of each day, including Sunday.

Mr. President, as an official of this Government I now retire. My term of office would not expire until 1886. I must, therefore, beg pardon for my eccentricity in resigning. It will be best, perhaps, to keep the heart-breaking news from the ears of European powers until the dangers of a financial panic are fully past. Then hurl it broadcast with a sickening thud. *

*Excerpt taken from—Bill Nye’s Western Humor

Selected and with an Introduction

By T. A. Larson

University of Nebraska Press

Lincoln, NE 1968

If you would like to see the letter in its entirety you can find it here- http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/10/here-roads-seem-to-fork.html

Published in: on January 26, 2013 at 8:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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A Cowboy’s Christmas Tail

Just The Kind of Guy He Was
The old cowboy rode along at a slow walk, he’d owned cars and trucks for more than 20 years, maybe time passed him by, he didn’t care, it was 1952 and he remembered a time before automobiles , a slower, gentler time and then the wars, two big ones, changed everything. Something in the wind moved him back to 1952 again. He tipped his nose toward the sky and sniffed. It was wood smoke. A half hour back, before the wind freshened, he thought he smelled smoke but passed it off, thinking if old people could start seeing things and hearing things maybe he started smelling things that were not there. But now he was sure, it was smoke.
But that couldn’t be, not in December, matter of fact it’s the 24th, Christmas Eve. Good memories started to fill his head but he pushed them away as quickly as they had come on. Christmas was just another day in December, nothing special, at least to him, not anymore.
People didn’t camp this high up in December, hunting season was long past and the only house, except for his five miles away, was the old Godfrey place. It was maybe three quarters of a mile over the ridge to the north. The smell of burning wood was coming with the north wind, but that place had been vacant for what, 20 years, at least 15?
Clark Banks pulled up to think, but only for a moment, he had to know, that was the kind of guy he was. The sun was setting, it would be late, long past dark, when he got home, but he tapped his heels in his gray gelding and loped north picking his way though flat rocks and yucca.
He always liked the old Godfrey place, isolated, but picture perfect, like a bank calendar picture. The place set in a natural mountain park surrounded by junipers and berry bushes. Years ago when he and Bette last visited the Godfrey’s they were old and frail and the place had been falling apart. Couldn’t be much of anything left now.
Another minute and Clark Banks reached the crest of the hill overlooking the long deserted place. Only three times in his 65 years had something left him speechless, the day he got married, when their only child was born and now as he looked down on the old Godfrey place.
It was spectacular, the Junipers were sparkling with thousands of multi-colored lights. The cabin he remembered in complete disrepair was larger, much larger, than he remembered. It was old but perfect, looked sound, complete with light showing through the windows and the smoke he’d smelled was wind angling north from the chimney in great black and white puffs. There was a large barn that hadn’t been there 20 years ago along with half a dozen out buildings and four large corrals.
Banks had not taken a drink of alcohol for years, right now he needed a drink, but he settled for a thorough rubbing of his eyes and another look at the scene below, a scene that did not change. He let the gray pick his way down the steep hillside, he had to see, he had to know, that’s just the kind of guy he was.
A thought crossed his mind as he neared the twinkling cabin, what if this place is full of outlaws, escaped convicts or crazy people. This could be his last minute on earth, then he smiled at the lights twinkling as dollar sized snowflakes started to fall. If this is his last minute to live it would not be too bad. He warmed as the snowflakes splattered his face, chuckled to himself, and then laughed aloud, “don’t think bad people decorate for Christmas,” he said to no one or to the snowflakes and cold.
The old cowboy tied his horse to the rail in front of the cabin, stepped on the porch and the door opened as if he were expected. A white bearded gentlemen in a red vest smiled and motioned him in. Banks felt rather young looking at the old fellow, thinking,“This guy has me by at least 20 years.”
“Can I get you something to warm ya up, Tea, Arbuckles’, whis”
“You have Arbuckles, real Arbuckles, haven’t tasted that since before I went off to France in the first war, love some.”
Banks watched the old man take a one pound bag of Arbuckles Ariosa Blend from the cabinet and make coffee on the massive wood stove in the kitchen part of the cabin. It was good, better than anything the old cowboy had tasted in years, but how did he do it, Arbuckles’ hadn’t made coffee, let alone Ariosa Blend for years.
The two men sat and talked for hours, talking about everything and chatting about nothing, like two old friends they talked into the dark of night.
When the old cowboy woke up he could not remember falling asleep. Now he was stretched out on the couch, his boots beside him on the floor. He was toasty warm as he rolled back the red and green feather comforter and turned to get up. He was all alone. He thought the old man must be outside. Slipping on his boots he walked out on the porch, half a foot of snow covered everything in sight, his horse was gone, but he knew it was in the barn. He also knew he was all alone, he could feel things, just the kind of guy he was.
Banks went back into the house, he was hungry and he wanted to taste that Arbuckles one more time. A skillet of bacon sat on the stove, beside a pot of mush and a fresh pot of coffee, and of course it would be Arbuckles, he thought. Funny but he was sure there was nothing on the stove when he stepped outside, must have failing vision along with everything else in his old age. Then he felt it, or didn’t feel it, he had no aches and pains, the ones that had been with him since his army days. The coffee was good but he wasn’t sure it had magical healing powers.
It was time to go home, he wished he could say goodbye to the old timer, thought he might ride back up here in the spring. But now it was time to leave, he had things to do, and he felt different, happy and healthy. Walking to the barn it seemed almost warm, Banks felt like he had stumbled upon the fountain of youth.
Tracks near the barn stopped him, some kind of sleigh tracks, but the animals pulling it were not horses, smaller like deer tracks, but larger, really big deer. He saddled the gelding and rode out of the barn right into the bright sunlight of his own place. How it happened he did not know, but he was home.
Was it a dream, did he have a stroke and die, was he in heaven now? Nope, he was pretty sure his place would not do for heaven. Didn’t matter, he had things to get done.
Clark Banks rode to town in a gallop; it was early, old man Tatum would open the store for him, especially after he told him he intended to buy a present for every kid in town.
He wasn’t sure why he had so much Christmas spirit, maybe it was just the kind of guy he was.

Published in: on December 25, 2012 at 12:15 am  Leave a Comment  
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Stage Coaches – Made to be Robbed

Ed Trafton was a pretty good stage robber he may have held up more coaches than any other western outlaw. And he did it all the same day.

On a hot July day in 1914 Tafton and his hidden, and not at all active, partner Charles Erpenbach robbed 15 stages in one day. All 15 were stopped near Shoshone Point on the way to Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park. Seemed like as soon as he robbed one and sent it on its way another one was coming around the corner.

Tafton’s one day take was nearly a thousand in cash and over $100 in Jewelry. Oh—and five years in Leavenworth.

Note-The first autos came into the park the next year and by the next, 1916, stages coaches were gone from the park.

Published in: on December 16, 2012 at 12:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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Ride Proud Rebel & Rebel Spurs

Ride Proud Rebel & Rebel Spurs

I consider myself to be a prolific reader (100+ books a year) and once in a while I run across something accidentally that is really terrific. The two novels in the title kept me very interested and eager to turn pages, I wish this was a trilogy, I need to know more. The first is set in the Civil War with the protagonist a scout for the Confederacy. The second is set in early Arizona immediately after the war.
Andre Norton (1912-2005) wrote the two novels but she (Born Mary Alice Norton) only dabbled in historical fiction, most of her writing efforts, and she published over 100 books, were science fiction and fantasy for young adult and children readers. And she was really good at it as evidenced by the dozens of awards she won in her more than 70 year writing career. Her novel, The Beast Master, became a classic to sci-fi readers and movie goers.
Ms. Norton, who published more than 30 books after the age of 80, also wrote under name of Andrew North and Allen Weston. Wish she would have published a few more westerns.
NOTE – I came across the first novel in a two dollar Kindle download of a 25 western megapack and found the second for free download. Both are worth the reading and each is only around 200 pages, (estimate).

Published in: on December 9, 2012 at 2:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Last Battle of the Sioux

So when did the mighty Sioux nation fight its last battle and where did they fight it? How about east central Wyoming in 1903? Like many historical events this one has been reported and changed over the years, but this is what we know, with allowances for a few of my own interpretations of history.
Eagle Feather (early accounts called him Chief Charley Smith, a name purportedly given to him on the reservation by the U.S. Government and one he had to use to collect commodities) led a group of Sioux from the Pine Ridge into Wyoming, now a state for all of 13 years, on a hunting expedition, a hunt that had been given permission by Indian agent John R. Brennan. The small band headed for the area of Thunder and Lightning creeks in what is now Niobrara County Wyoming. The hunter’s accompanied by wives and children shot a few deer, sage grouse and antelope as they traveled across the plains, enjoying a taste of their old life style.
Weston county Sheriff William (Billy) Miller rounded up a posse of local stockmen and headed out to stop the Wyoming hunt. The stockmen may have been duped into believing the tribe was shooting cows instead of game and willingly traveled along to stop this new, “Indian uprising”. When the posse caught up the number of Indians in the party stopped them in their tracks. Miller believed there were too many Indians to arrest for various violations of game laws, trespassing and killing ranch stock and took his crew back to town. The next day the sheriff and his, now larger, posse caught up with the Indians at Lighting Creek and the,” Battle of Lightning Creek,” or “The Last Indian Battle,” took place.
Sherriff Miller and his deputy Louis Falkenberg were killed along with Chief Eagle Feather and several of his hunting companions. A few days later a hearing was held in nearby Douglas and the Sioux were released for lack of evidence that they had committed a crime other than defending themselves.
Wyoming Governor Fenimore Chatterton was enraged at the courts decision and tried to get the Indians in court for murder despite the findings of the Douglass court, but his power did not stretch that far.
Today if you Google, the last Sioux battle, you will first find, Little Big Horn (1876) then Wounded Knee (1890), both of great importance to the west but not the last, that would be Lightning Creek in 1903.
NOTE –A month after the Lightning Creek battle Governor Chatterton allowed popular range detective/shootest Tom Horn to be hanged in Cheyenne, a decision that most likely cost him reelection the next year.

Published in: on November 4, 2011 at 10:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hey-Where Is My Horse?

The cowhand raced to save the distressed maiden, he leapt from his trusty steed, and ground tied him, as whistling lead and the smell of gun powder filled the air.
I made that up, but did recently finish reading books by two different authors, where the hero ground tied his horse under all conditions- they ground tied so much I got tired of waiting for the horse to run off. Things that I have read, and or tried with ground tying indicate the cowboy may need hiking boots instead of cowboy boots if he ground ties too much.
Much like the cowboys that loop the reins around the hitching post in the old movies, horses will shy and get the heck out of Dodge if too much action and noise starts. Heck my pick-up doesn’t like to stick around if things get to wild——-but I do.
I like well researched western reads, not sure these writers had spent much time around horses. Too bad, one of them was fast paced and fun.

Published in: on January 31, 2011 at 12:02 am  Comments (2)  
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