Texas Indian Battle


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The History of Texas: Indian Battle

(Previous Section: Mexican Hostilities Towards the Texas Colonies)

James Bowie's San Saba Silver Mine

The year 1831 did not pass away without being witness to a battle, which, considering the numbers engaged, and its results, was the best-contested field in Texas. On the 2d day of November, Rezin P. Bowie, James Bowie, David Buchanan, Robert Armstrong, Jesse Wallace, Matthew Doyle, Cephas D. Hamm, James Corriell, Thomas McCaslin, and two servant-boys, Charles and Gonzales, set out from San Antonio in search of the old silver-mines of the San Saba mission. Nothing particular occurred," says Rezin P. Bowie, whose graphic narrative we quote, " until the 19th, on which day, about ten, A. M., we were overhauled by two Comanche Indians and a Mexican captive. They stated that they belonged to Isaonie's party (a chief of the Comanche tribe)about sixteen in number, and were on the road to San Antonio, with a drove of horses, which they had taken from the Wacoes and Twowokanas, and were about returning to their owners, citizens of San Antonio. After smoking and talking with them about an hour, and making them a few presents of tobacco, powder, shot, &c., they returned to their party, who were waiting at the Llano river.

Rezin P. Bowie's Account of the Great Indian Battle

We continued our journey until night closed upon us, when we encamped. The next morning, between daylight and sunrise, the above-named Mexican captive came to our camp, his horse very much fatigued, and who, after eating and smoking, stated to us that he had been sent by his chief, Isaonie; to inform us we were followed by a hundred and twenty-four Twowokana and Waco Indians, and that forty Caddoes had joined them, who were determined to have our scalps at all risks. Isaonie had held a talk with them all, the previous evening, and endeavored to dissuade them from their purpose; but they still persevered, and left him, enraged, and pursued our trail. As a voucher for the truth of the above, the Mexican produced his chief's silver medal, which is common among the natives in such cases. He further stated that his chief requested him to say that he had but sixteen men, badly armed, and without ammunition; but, if we would return and join him, such succor as he could give us e would. But, knowing that the enemy lay between us and him, we deemed it more prudent to pursue our journey, and endeavor to reach the old fort on the San Saba river before night—distance, thirty miles. The Mexican then returned to his party, and we proceeded on.

Throughout the day we encountered bad roads, being covered with rocks, and, the horses' feet being worn out, we were disappointed in not reaching the fort. In the evening we had some little difficulty in picking out an advantageous spot to encamp for the night. We, however, made choice of the best that offered, which was a cluster of live-oak trees, some thirty or forty in number, about the size of a man's body. To the north of them was a thicket of live-oak bushes, about ten feet high, forty yards in length and twenty in breadth; to the west, at the distance of thirty-five or forty yards, ran a stream of water.

The surrounding country was an open prairie, interspersed with a few trees, rocks, and broken land. The trail which we came on lay to the east of our encampment. After taking the precaution to prepare our spot for defense, by cutting a road inside the thicket of bushes, ten feet from the outer edge all around, and clearing the prickly pears from among the bushes, we hoppled our horses, and placed sentinels for the night. We were now distant six miles from the old fort above mentioned. Nothing occurred throughout the night, and we lost no time in the morning in making preparations for continuing our journey to the fort; and, when in the act of starting, we discovered the Indians on our trail to the east, about two hundred yards distant, and a footman about fifty yards ahead of the main body, with his face to the ground, tracking. The cry of ' Indians !' was given, and all hands to-arms. We dismounted, and both saddle and pack horses were immediately made fast to the trees. As soon as they found we had discovered them, they gave the war-whoop, halted, and commenced stripping, preparatory to action. A number of mounted Indians were reconnoitering the ground. Among them we discovered a few Caddo Indians—by the cut of their hair—who had always previously been friendly to the Americans.

Their number being so far greater than ours (one hundred and sixty-four to eleven), it was agreed that Rezin P. Bowie should be sent out to talk with them, and endeavor to compromise rather than attempt a fight. He accordingly started, with David Buchanan in company, and walked up to within about forty yards of where they had halted, and requested them, in their own tongue, to send forward their chief, as he wanted to talk with him. Their answer was, ' How de do ? how de do ?' in English, and a discharge of twelve shot at us, one of which broke Buchanan's leg. Bowie returned their salutation with the contents of a double-barrelled gun and a pistol. He then took Buchanan on his shoulder, and started back to the encampment. They then opened a heavy fire upon us, which wounded Buchanan in two more places, slightly, and piercing Bowie's hunting-shirt in several places without doing him any injury. When they found their shot failed to bring Bowie down, eight Indians, on foot, took after him with their tomahawks, and, when close upon him, were discovered by his party, who rushed out with their rifles, and brought down four of them—the other four retreating back to the main body. We then returned to our position, and all was still for about five minutes.

We then discovered a hill to the northeast at the distance of sixty yards, red with Indians, who opened a heavy fire upon us, with loud yells—their chief, on horseback, urging them in a loud and audible voice to the charge, walking his horse, perfectly composed. When we first discovered him, our guns were all empty, with the exception of Mr. Hamm's. James Bowie cried out, ' Who is loaded ?' Mr. Hamm answered, ' I am.' He was then told to shoot that Indian on horseback. He did so, and broke his leg, and killed his horse. We now discovered him hopping round his horse on one leg, with his shield on his arm to keep off the balls. By this time, four of our party, being reloaded, fired at the same instant, and all the balls took effect through the shield. He fell, and was immediately surrounded by six or eight of his tribe, who picked him up and bore him off. Several of these were shot by our party. The whole body then retreated back of the hill, out of sight, with the exception of a few Indians, who were running about from tree to tree, out of gunshot.

They now covered the hill the second time, bringing up their bowmen, who had not been in action before, and commenced a heavy fire with balls and arrows, which we returned by a well-directed aim with our rifles. At this instant another chief appeared on horseback, near the spot where the last one fell. The same question of ' Who is loaded ?' was asked. The answer was, 'Nobody;' when little Charles, the mulatto servant, came running up with Buchanan's rifle, which had not been discharged since he was wounded, and handed it to James Bowie, who instantly fired and brought him down from his horse. He was surrounded by six or eight of his tribe, as was the last, and borne off under our fire.

During the time we were engaged in defending ourselves from the Indians on the hill, some fifteen or twenty of the Caddo tribe had succeeded in getting under the bank of the creek, in our rear, at about forty yards' distance, and opened a heavy fire upon us, which wounded Matthew Doyle, the ball entering the left breast and coming out at the back. As soon as he cried out that he was wounded, Thomas McCaslin hastened to the spot where he fell, and observed, 'Where is the Indian that shot Doyle?' He was told by a more experienced hand not to venture there, as, from the reports of their guns, they must be riflemen. At that instant they discovered an Indian; and, while in the act of raising his piece, was shot through the centre of the body, and expired. Robert Armstrong exclaimed, 'D—n the Indian that shot McCaslin, where is he?' He was told not to venture there, as they must be riflemen; but, on discovering an Indian, and while bringing his gun up, he was fired at, and part of the stock of his gun cut off, and the ball lodged against the barrel. During this time our enemies had formed a complete circle round us, occupying the points of rocks, scattering trees, and bushes. The firing then became general from all quarters. Finding our situation too much exposed among the trees, we were obliged to leave them, and take to the thickets. The first thing necessary was, to dislodge the riflemen from under the bank of the creek, who were within point-blank shot. This we soon succeeded in doing, by shooting the most of them through the head, as we had the advantage of seeing them when they could not see us.

The road we had cut round the thicket the night previous gave us now an advantageous situation over that of our enemy, as we had a fair view of them in the prairie, while we were completely hid. We baffled their shots by moving six or eight feet the moment we had fired, as their only mark was the smoke of our guns. They would put twenty balls within the size of a pocket-handkerchief, where they had seen the smoke. In this manner we fought them two hours, and had one man wounded—James Corriell—who was shot through the arm, and the ball lodged in the side, first cutting away a small bush, which prevented it from penetrating deeper than the size of it.

They now discovered that we were not to be dislodged from the thicket, and the uncertainty of killing us at random; they suffering very much from the fire of our rifles, which brought half a dozen down at every round. They now determined to resort to stratagem, by putting fire to the dry grass in the prairie, for the double purpose of routing us from our position, and, under cover of the smoke, to carry away their dead and wounded, which lay near us. The wind was now blowing from the west, and they placed the fire in that quarter, where it burnt down all the grass to the creek, and then bore off to the right and left, leaving around our position a space of about five acres untouched by the fire. Under cover of this smoke they succeeded in carrying off a portion of their dead and wounded. In the meantime, our party was engaged in scraping away the dry grass and leaves from our wounded men and baggage, to prevent the fire from passing over them; and likewise in piling up rocks and bushes to answer the purpose of a breastwork. They now discovered they had failed in routing us by the fire, as they had anticipated. They then reoccupied the points of rocks and trees in the prairie, and commenced another attack. The firing continued for some time, when the wind suddenly shifted to the north, and blew very hard.

We now discovered our dangerous situation, should the Indians succeed in putting fire to the small spot which we occupied, and kept a strict watch all around. The two servant-boys were employed in scraping away dry grass and leaves from around the baggage, and pulling up rocks and placing them around the wounded men. The point from which the wind now blew being favorable to fire our position, one of the Indians succeeded in crawling down the creek, and putting fire to the grass that had not been burnt; but, before he could retreat back to his party, was killed by Robert Armstrong.

At this time we saw no hopes of escape, as the fire was coming down rapidly before the wind, flaming ten feet high, and directly for the spot we occupied. What was to be done? We must either be burnt up alive, or driven into the prairie among the savages. This encouraged the Indians; and, to make it more awful, their shouts and yells rent the air—they, at the same time, firing upon us about twenty shots a minute. As soon as the smoke hid us from their view, we collected together and held a consultation as to what was best to be done. Our first impression was, that they might charge on us under cover of the smoke, as we could make but one effectual fire; the sparks were flying about so thickly, that no man could open his powder-horn without running the risk of being blown up. However, we finally came to a determination, had they charged us, to give them one fire, place our backs together, draw our knives, and fight them as long as any one of us was left alive. The next question was, should they not charge us, and we retain our position, we must be burnt up. It was then decided that each man should take care of himself as well as he could until the fire arrived at the ring around our baggage and wounded men, and there it should be smothered with buffalo-robes, bearskins, deerskins, and blankets; which, after a great deal of exertion, we succeeded in doing.

Our thicket being so much burnt and scorched, that it afforded little or no shelter, we all got into the ring that was made around our wounded men and baggage, and commenced building our breastwork higher, with the loose rocks from the inside, and dirt dug up with our knives and sticks. During this last fire the Indians had succeeded in removing all their killed and wounded which lay near us. It was now sundown, and we had been warmly engaged with the Indians since sunrise; and they, seeing us still alive and ready for fight, drew off at a distance of three hundred yards, and encamped for the night with their dead and wounded.

Our party now, commenced to work, in raising our fortification higher, and succeeded in getting it breast-high by ten, P. M. We now filled all our vessels and skins with water, expecting another attack next morning. We could distinctly hear the Indians, nearly all night, crying over their dead, which is their custom; and at daylight they shot a wounded chief—it being also a custom to shoot any of their tribe that are mortally wounded. They, after that, set out with their dead and wounded to a mountain about a mile distant, where they deposited them in a cave on the side of it. At eight in the morning, two of the party went out from the fortification to the encampment, where the Indians had lain the night previous, and counted forty-eight bloody spots on the grass, where the dead and wounded had been lying.

Finding ourselves much cut up—having one man killed and three wounded, five horses killed and three wounded—we recommenced strengthening our little fort, and continued our labors until one, P. M., when the arrival of thirteen Indians drew us into it again. As soon as they discovered we were still there, and ready for action, and well fortified, they put off. We after that, remained in our fort eight days.

The company then set out for San Antonio, where they arrived safely, with their wounded and horses, in twelve days.

The Mexican government had been, during the year 1831, collecting the materials that were to burst into a conflagration in the course of the following year. Blackburn, at Anahuac, guarding at once the land from surveyors sent by the state to run it off, and the port of Galveston from smugglers, was in the vicinity of the most impracticable portion of the Texan population. Nor did he seem to use any means to conciliate them. On the contrary, his conduct was, in every way, despotic. He compelled their servants to work for him without remuneration; he took, for his own use, their property; he declared martial law; his soldiers ravaged and plundered the country around the fort. On one occasion, a soldier having committed an outrage, the citizens, indignant, arrested the offender, and inflicted upon him summary punishment. Blackburn thereupon caused some of those concerned to be taken and cast into the dungeon of the fort. Of these were William B. Travis, Patrick H. Jack, and Monroe Edwards—the latter since as notorious for his crimes as the former for his defense of the rights of Texas.

These multiplied wrongs could no longer be borne. The people of Trinity flew to arms, and, to the number of sixty, under the command of Colonel Francis W. Johnson, marched to the fort at Anahuac, to demand a release of the prisoners and a redress of grievances. Blackburn at first declined the negotiation; but, finding them in earnest, and the place already invested, and some little fighting having already occurred, he agreed to their proposition, provided they would first retire some miles from the fort, and deliver up the prisoners they had taken. They retired to Turtle bayou, where they awaited his compliance. Their retirement gave Bradburn an opportunity to secure some military stores from a house they had occupied, and to notify Colonel Piedras, commandant at Nacogdoches, and Colonel Ugartachea at Velasco, of his situation. While the Texans were waiting at Turtle bayou, for a compliance on the part of Bradburn, they held a public meeting, and drew up a paper, setting forth the arbitrary and unconstitutional conduct of Bustamente, and also their adherence to the constitution of 1824, and their determination to support it. They invited all the people of Texas to cooperate with them, and sent a committee, with a copy of their proceedings, to lay the same before the proper Mexican authority in Texas.

In the meantime, Colonel Bradburn, having made his arrangements, eschewed the agreement he had made with the Texan forces, and set them at defiance. Exasperated at this treachery, the latter despatched messengers for reinforcements. They sent to Velasco for artillery, but Colonel Ugartachea would not allow it to come. However, a company under Captain Abner Kuykendall shortly arrived from San Felipe, and others, in smaller detachments, came in from the Trinity; and they soon found themselves two or three hundred strong. They took their position at Taylor White's, six miles from Anahuac.

By this time, Colonel Piedras, with part of the forces from Nacogdoches, and fifty or a hundred Shawnee and Cherokee Indians, was advancing to the relief of Colonel Bradburn. The Texans, learning of his approach, sent a committee to meet him, and lay before him the conduct of Bradburn. Colonel Piedras was a gentleman of mild manners, loyal to his government, and of a conciliatory disposition. He listened to the complaints of the colonists, and granted their requests. The prisoners were released, and Colonel Bradburn sent to New Orleans, whence he returned to Mexico. The forces under Colonel Johnson, having achieved the object for which they had collected, dispersed to their homes.

During this year, events had been transpiring in Mexico which greatly aided and excused the Texans in their hostile movements. The despotism of Bustamente had become intolerable. On the 2d of January, 1832, the officers of the garrison of Vera Cruz pronounced in favor of the constitution, and drew up an address to Bustamente, denouncing the course pursued by the government, and demanding the dismissal of his ministers. At the same time the garrison called upon Santa Anna to assume the command. In fact, he was secretly at the head of the movement. He repaired immediately to Vera Cruz, and took the command. Bustamente sent a force, under General Calderon, against the insurgents; but they failed in their object, and retired. The troops at Tampico, and then the state of Zacatecas, joined Santa Anna. Soon he became strong enough to march upon the capital. But it was not until November of this year that Bustamente, seeing himself deserted, and Santa Anna approaching with a powerful army, resigned his authority, and fled from Mexico.

The people of Texas, selecting from the plans presented by the Mexican factions, were ever ready to adopt the most liberal; and though, in the beginning of the emeute at Anahuac, they did not have in view the support of any of these plans, they gladly availed themselves of the plan of Vera Cruz, then in progress. Hence their warm and doubtless sincere professions of attachment to the constitution of 1824 and the " heroic" Santa Anna, who was then fighting, as they firmly believed, the battles of the people.

Lieutentant-Colonel Dominic Ugartachea, in command at Fort Velasco, had a force of one hundred and twenty-five men and a small piece of artillery. He was subject to the orders of Colonel Bradburn, his superior officer: Exception was taken to his refusal to permit the Texans on the Brazos to trans-port artillery to Anahuac. As early as the 11th of May, a meeting had been held in Brasoria in reference to an attack upon the post, but the proposition failed. Again, another meeting was held in the early part of June, having in view the same object. The success of Santa Anna in Mexico deter-mined the Texans as to the course they would pursue.

On the morning of the 25th of June, the Texans, to the number of one hundred and twelve, under the command of Captain John Austin, approached Fort Velasco, and made a formal demand of the surrender of the place; promising, if the summons was obeyed, that the soldiers should retire with their arms, provided they should be sent out of Texas. The summons being totally disregarded, Austin made his preparations for an attack. A schooner, lying aground above the fort, was dislodged and set afloat; and forty Texans, under the command of Captain William I. Russell, were placed on board of her. She was supplied with a light piece of artillery, an abundance of ammunition, and floated down and moored close to the bank, near the fort. The land-forces of the Texans were marched to within twenty-five paces of the fort, when the engagement commenced. The Texans were much exposed; but the artillery in the fort, which was directed against the schooner, over-shot them. The Texan rifles, however, were very fatal to those in the fort. A Mexican soldier who raised his head above the parapet seldom escaped. The action having begun in the night, but little execution was done until daylight on the morning of the 26th. At one time during the fight, the Texan fire from the schooner was so fatal, that the Mexicans rushed out of the fort to take the vessel, but the fire of the besiegers from the land-side drove them back with loss. At length, after a bloody contest of eleven hours, the Mexicans exhibited the white flag, and capitulated. The enemy were deprived of their arms, furnished with provisions, and set at liberty. The loss of the Texans in this' battle was seven killed and twenty-seven wounded; that of the Mexicans, thirty-five killed and fifteen wounded.

At the beginning of the military display in Texas, the Mexican commandants had written home that the object of the Texans was a separation from Mexico; and these reports received credit among the officers of the "Liberating army." Colonel Jose Antonio Mexia, with a squadron of five vessels, having on board four hundred men, sailed from Tampico with orders to reduce Matamoras, then in possession of the partisans of Bustamente, and afterward to chastise the Texan revolters. Arriving at Brazos Santiago, he came to an agreement with Colonel Guerra, the commandant at Matamoras, who was induced to espouse the cause of Santa Anna; and, on the 14th of July, Mexia sailed for the mouth of the Brazos, where he anchored on the 16th, bringing with him Colonel Stephen F. Austin, on his return from the legislature.

Mexia immediately addressed a letter to John Austin, enclosing a copy of the agreement made with Guerra at Matamoras, stating the object of his visit to Texas, and what would have been his course had the late movements in that department had for their object its dismemberment from Mexico.

Captain Austin, in his reply, set forth in a manly spirit the wrongs of the Texans inflicted by the military, and declared the adherence of his people to the Mexican confederation—affirming that " they were Mexicans by adoption, were so in heart, and would so remain; that if the laws had granted to them the honorable title of ' citizens,' they wished that title should be respected; and that they should be governed by the authorities established by the constitution of the state.

All these things being in accordance with the republican views of Colonel Mexia—for he was a sincere republican—a deputation of the citizens of Brasoria waited on him, on board the " Santa Anna," and invited him to proceed with Colonel S. F. Austin to the town. They were accordingly conducted to Brasoria, where Colonel Mexia was presented by the committee from Turtle bayou with the resolutions of the meeting at that place on the 13th of June. The proceedings of the day closed with a dinner., in which many sentiments were drunk indicative of the temper of the Texans.

The ayuntamiento of San Felipe de Austin took advantage of the presence of Colonel Mexia, and of the political chief of Bexar, Don Ramon Musquez—who had visited that town for the purpose of investigating the difficulties in question—to ascertain the sentiments of all the colonists, and present them to those functionaries in legal form. This they did on the 27th of July, 1832.

After denouncing the calumnies that had been circulated in Mexico against the loyalty of Texas, the ayuntamiento charged the late outbreaks to " the tyrannical and illegal acts of Colonel Bradburn;" they solemnly adhered to the principles of the republican party headed by Santa Anna; they disclaimed having in view any other object than to "contribute in sustaining the constitution, and the true dignity and decorum of the national flag." They further declared that the general and state constitutions ought to be religiously observed as the only guaranty for public tranquillity and national freedom. After denouncing a large standing army, and the usurpations of Bustamente, they ordered that a copy of their proceedings should be sent by Colonel Mexia to Santa Anna, and a like copy by Musquez to the state legislature.

Colonel Mexia then returned with his fleet and forces to Matamoras, taking with him such of the Mexican soldiers in Texas as were disposed to act against Bustamente. Previous to his departure, however, he had addressed a communication to Colonel Piedras, the commandant at Nacogdoches, asking his adherence to the party of Santa Anna. This was refused.

It was known to the citizens of Nacogdoches that Colonel Don Jose de las Piedras was opposed to Santa Anna, and that he was at heart a monarchist. His officers were also generally adverse to him in politics; but they feared to take any steps in opposition to his authority. During the latter days of July, 1832, the civil authorities of Nacogdoches communicated with those of Aes bayou, Teneha, and Bevil; and it was agreed to unite in compelling the Mexican force at Nacogdoches to declare for the constitution of 1824, or else to fight. Accordingly, the troops from these settlements concentrated on the last day of July; and, on the night between the 1st and 2d of August, they encamped directly east of the town, and all the families evacuated the place. After a conference between the civil and military authorities, Isaac W. Burton, Philip A. Subleft, and Henry W. Augustin, were appointed a committee to wait on Colonel Piedras, and present to him the alternative agreed on. He chose to fight. The committee reported his answer to the Texan forces, then amounting to about three hundred men. They elected James W. Bullock, of San Augustine, to the command, and, at noon on the 2d of August, marched into Nacogdoches, where they maneuvered for some time, waiting to be attacked; but, finding that the enemy did not show himself, they advanced into the centre of the town. When a little north of the stone house, they were suddenly charged by the Mexican cavalry, numbering about one hundred men. The latter fired and wheeled, and received a round from the Texan rifles as they retired. In this charge the Mexicans killed Don Encarnacion Chirino, the alcalde of the town. The Texans then took possession of the houses on the north and east sides of the square, and, whenever any of the enemy showed themselves, they were shot. The Mexicans made one sortie in the evening. It was commanded by a young officer who was known to be friendly to the Texans and to their cause, and who had shown his friendship for them in the Fredonian troubles of 1827. The Texans spared him. With the repulse of this sortie, the fighting ceased. During the night, Piedras and his troops evacuated the place, leaving behind him his killed and wounded, public stores, and clothing. His ammunition he had thrown into the wells.

Colonel James Bowie, who was engaged in this action, was dispatched, with a few chosen men, to pass by the retreating Mexicans, and give them a warm reception as they crossed the Angelina, twenty miles distant. He succeeded in this, by taking the lower road. As the advanced guard of the enemy, commanded by Sergeant Marcos, rode into the water, and stopped to allow their horses to drink, the Americans fired on them. Marcos fell. The Americans then drew back, and the Mexican troops proceeded on their way to a house on the hill west of the river, where they passed the night. Bowie's men, twenty in number, encamped a mile below. The next morning, upon a demand to surrender, Colonel Piedras turned over the command to Major Francisco Medina, who declared immediately in favor of the constitution of 1824.

The Mexican loss in this battle was forty-one killed and as many wounded, while that of the Texans was but three killed and five wounded. The prisoners, three hundred and ten in number, were sent, under the care of Colonel Bowie, to San Felipe. Colonel Piedras was placed in charge of Captain Asa M. Edwards, to be by him delivered to Colonel Mexia at Anahuac. On the way, Edwards received news of the sailing of Mexia for Matamoras; he therefore took Piedras to Colonel S. F. Austin, by whom he was forwarded to Tampico.

The Texans, in order to reduce the entire department of Texas into acquiescence with the measures adopted by them, began to assemble at Gonzales; but the intelligence arrived that the state of Coahuila and Texas had come into the plan,* whereupon the towns all submitted, and the people returned to their homes.

" Thus ended," says Edward, "the warlike commotions of these colonies, on the 2d of September, 1832, just as the inhabitants were informed that their greatest arch-enemy, General Teran, and his troops, on their way to Mexico from Matamoras, had been surrounded by the liberal forces of General Montezuma, and that too on the identical plain where the injudicious Iturbide lost his life. Teran, having determined within himself neither to unite with the liberals nor to submit to them as a prisoner, retired to a private place and fell on his own sword ! — appearing to those who found him, while still alive, as inexorable in the hour of death as he was uncompromising in political life.

[Next Section of Texas History: Texas Colonies Revolt: 1831-1832]




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