Major Howard Egan Family Foundation

Sailor Rope Maker Captain in Nauvoo Legion Bodyguard to Joseph Smith Mormon Battalion Envoy Captain of the 9th 10 of the original 1847 Pioneer Vanguard Company Gold Rush Trading Post Owner Trail Blazer Cattle Drover Major in Utah War Pony Express Rider & Superintendent of Line from Salt Lake to California Stage Station Owner Friend & Missionary to Indians Salt Lake City Policeman Bodyguard to Brigham Young
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Short Howard Egan history

Statistics

Major Howard Egan

Birth: 15 June 1815, Kings County (now County Offaly) Ireland.
Father: Howard Egan. Mother: Ann Meade
Death: 16 March 1878, Salt Lake, Utah. Died at age 62.
Wife 1: Tamson Parshley Egan (1824-1905, age 80). Married 1839 (He 24, She 15.)
Children: 6 children:
Howard Ransom Egan (12 Apr 1840- 17 Mar 1916, age 75)
Richard Erastus Egan (29 Mar 1842-21 Apr 1918, age 76)
Charles John Egan (28 Mar 1844-1845, age 1)
Horace Adelbert Egan (12 Aug 1847-4 Mar 1862, age 14)
William Moburn Egan (13 Jun 1851-15 Apr 1929, age 77) (Father: James Monroe)
Ira Ernest Egan (5 Feb 1861-13 Dec 1933, age 72)
Wife 2: Catherine Reese Egan (1804-1860, age 56). Married 1844 (He 29, She 40.)
Children: No children together.
Wife 3: Nancy Redden Egan (1819-1892, age 73). Married 1846 (He 31, She 27.)
Children: 2 children:
Helen Jeanette Egan Irvine (25 Aug 1847 – 22 Jul 1924, age 77)
Vilate Louise Egan (13 Oct 1849 – 8 Apr 1866, age 17)
Wife 4: Mary Ann Tuttle Egan (1830-1910, age 80). Married 1849 (He 34, She 18.)
Children: 1 child:
Hyrum William Egan (24 Jul 1850 – 24 Mar 1888, age 37)

 

Mormon Trail
A Quick Look at Major Howard Egan’s Life

 

INTRODUCTION

Howard Egan died in 1878. During his 62 years of life he participated in a number of major historical events. He kept a diary during some of them. After his death his sons honored him in 1917 by publishing his diaries and stories about him in a book called Pioneering the West. That book is cherished by his descendants and is also recognized by historians of the American West as a significant resource and an important historical record. Thanks to his journals, Howard and his sons Rastus and Ransom are known as well as anyone else involved in the Pony Express story.

But the Pony Express is only one niche that Howard carved in the history of the American West and the history of Mormonism. He was trusted and given tough assignments by Mormon leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. He was also one of the original 1847 pioneers. He engaged in the gold rush, in huge cattle droves from Utah to California, in western mail operations by pack mules, stagecoaches, and the Pony Express, and in working with Native Americans. He was a policeman and a militia major. And his writings are valued historical documents.

BRIEF HISTORY
Mormon Trail
Mormon TrailHoward Egan was born in this small cottage on June 15, 1815 in Tullamore, King’s County (now County Offaly), near the very center of Ireland. His mother, Ann Meath, gave birth to him in the same cottage in which his father, Howard Egan, had been born, and the same cottage in which his grandfather, Bernard Egan, had been born in 1760.
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This humble, three room, 400 sq. ft. cottage in which Howard lived with 12 other family members, still stands today.

Howard Jr. was the sixth of eleven children. In 1823, when he was nearly eight years old, his mother died, two weeks after giving birth to twin girls– perhaps as a complication of childbirth – perhaps from typhus or severe food shortages.

Howard’s father was left with ten children to care for. At some point they must have realized that it was not going to be possible to remain in Ireland.

The British government was beginning to feel the economic consequences of too many Irish immigrating to England for work, and began exporting its poverty to Canada, South Africa, and Australia rather than house it on its own shores.

Howard Sr. joined the exodus. He left one of the newly-born twins with relatives, perhaps because she was too frail for the trip, and took the other nine children and immigrated to Canada.

These early Irish beginnings helped forge Howard’s drive. His strivings for financial success were fueled by his desire to never again experience the poverty of his childhood – that had induced his family to migrate to North America.

Mormon TrailMost of Howard’s family must have contracted Small Pox or Typhus on the crowded, squalid, cross-Atlantic sailing ship they traveled on, because within a few weeks of their arrival in Canada, three of Howard’s siblings died. Yet with all this heartache, there was still another tragedy to come. Three years after they arrived in Montreal, their father, Howard Egan (Sr.), died on August 5, 1828 at the age of 46, leaving Howard an orphan, at age 13, in a largely French-speaking foreign country.

The surviving seven children included: Eliza, age 22; Mary, age 21; Catherine, age 20, who had just married John Ransom two weeks earlier; John, age 16, who would die four years later; Howard (Jr.), age 13; Richard, age 9; and little Margaret, age 8, who was still in Ireland.

After the death of their father, the six surviving children who had immigrated to Canada stayed together in Montreal. It is possible that Howard, then age 13, may have stayed with his sister Catherine and her husband John Ransom for a while. This supposition is supported by the fact that Howard gave his first son the middle name of Ransom.

Family tradition relates that when Howard was old enough – probably about 15 years old – he took a job as a sailor. It is likely that he worked on boats on the waterways of Canada. Not much is known about his years as a sailor other than that it is said that he served for three years aboard a man-of-war – a warship, powered by sails, and heavily armed. Canada had no navy at that time, so if Howard did serve aboard a man-or-war, presumably he served in the British navy.Throughout his lifetime Howard carried sailor skills with him, including a
love of storytelling.

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Mormon Trail

By 1839 he no longer made his living aboard ship. He had instead taken up residence in the port city of Salem, Massachusetts, working as a rope maker, a trade he likely learned at sea or on the docks.

In 1838 Howard became acquainted with Miss Tamson Parshley, who was born July 27, 1824 at Barnstead, New Hampshire, being the third child of Richard Parshley and Mary Caverly. Howard and Tamson were married on December 7, 1839, he being 24 years of age and she a girl of 15 years and five months.
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Their first son, Howard Ransom Egan, was born April 12, 1840, and their second son, Richard Erastus Egan, was born March 29, 1842, both in
Salem.

In 1842 he and his wife were converted to “Mormonism” by Elder Erastus Snow and baptized. They moved to Nauvoo, Illinois that same year to join the body of the Saints, where Howard and Tamson each received a Patriarchal blessing from Hyrum Smith. Howard’s blessing indicated that he was of the lineage of Judah, and as such, “numbered with the called and chosen.”
Egan opened a rope-making business in Nauvoo. The shop no longer exists, but historians have deduced from accounts of people who lived in Nauvoo during this period that Howard’s rope-making shop was built on Water Street.

In 1840 the Illinois Legislature granted a charter to form the city of Nauvoo, establish a university, and create an independent military body to be called the “Nauvoo Legion.” The Legion was formed in February 1841, and Howard Egan was given the rank of Captain. Subsequently he was made a Major, and commanded a battalion, or company, which is why people referred to him as “Major Howard Egan.”

In 1843 the Nauvoo City Council handpicked 40 men of integrity, fearless defenders of right, who could think and shoot straight, as city policemen, one of whom was Howard Egan. No doubt because as an ex-sailor, he knew how to deal with rough men.

In that capacity Howard occasionally served as bodyguard to the Prophet Joseph. As threats against church leaders increased, guards were assigned to protect the homes and families of targeted leaders. Howard was chosen to guard Joseph Smith’s home. Joseph said that “he felt safe when Howard Egan was on guard.” When not on duty or making rope, Howard worked on the construction of the Nauvoo Temple.

In January of 1844 Joseph Smith decided to run as an independent candidate for the presidency of the United States. This would allow him to advocate his views about government, and to publicize the terrible persecution inflicted upon the Saints, and that they deserved redress for their severe losses in Missouri.

All of the Quorum of the Twelve, and some 340 additional missionaries were called to promote the Prophet’s candidacy, and were assigned to all twenty-six states. Howard Egan and twelve others were assigned to New Hampshire.

On June 27th, 1844, while almost all of the Church leadership was out campaigning, Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were killed by a lawless mob.
After the murder the mobs increased their attacks, and in September 1845 they began burning homes. To help protect the Saints, Captain Egan was mustered back into service and led 20 men to Camp Creek to guard the members in that region. He was also given the responsibility of protecting the Twelve. At times he guarded Brigham Young and Brigham’s home.

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While in Nauvoo, Tamson bore another son, whom they named Charles John Egan. The child died a year later, in 1845. Despite growing enemy threats, the construction of the Nauvoo Temple continued to dominate city life. As “temple tithing,” men and older boys donated each tenth day of labor to working on the temple – and Howard did his share.

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But Mormonism provided even more challenges. Howard was asked to take on, care for, and protect additional wives. The principal of plural marriage was known as early as November 1831. It required the permission from both the leaders of the Church and the first wife to enter into the practice. In 1844 Howard  married was asked to take on a second wife, 40-

year-old Catherine Reese Clawson Egan, a widow with four living children.Howard ultimately married four women: Tamson Parshley, Catherine Reese, Nancy Redding, and Mary Ann Tuttle.

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Tamson Parshley, Catherine Reese, Nancy Redding, and
Mary Ann Tuttle. The practice of Polygamy was one of the
major reasons why mobs forcibly expelled the Mormons from Nauvoo.

As mob violence intensified, Church leaders realized that it was no longer possible to remain in Nauvoo, and signed an agreement with the mobs that they would leave. Brigham Young selected 25 men to each select one hundred families and see that they were prepared for a journey across the plains to the Rocky Mountains.

Mormon leaders negotiated their departure with “Mob leaders,” who promised the Saints “peace” throughout the winter, but only if they agreed to leave the state of Illinois by April 1st of 1846.

That meant the Mormons only had seven months to prepare a mass exodus of close to fifteen thousand people. But the negotiated “peace” did not hold.

Renewed anti-Mormon threats in January, forced the Quorum of the Twelve and about 2,500 others, including the Egans, to leave Nauvoo two months ahead of schedule – in February – in the middle of winter – on a three-month, 320-mile crossing of southern Iowa Territory. Egan had become an adopted son of Heber C. Kimball, and during the exodus from Nauvoo the Egans traveled across Iowa with the Kimballs.

 

Mormon TrailThe Twelve structured the caravan into six companies of fifty wagons each, and assigned Howard to captain the Fourth Fifty. As such he was required to be present at council meetings with the leading Brethren of the Church.

The crossing of the Missouri River took longer than expected, and the uprooted Mormon refugees had to halt in a place they called Winter Quarters, rather than proceed to the Rocky Mountains.

The Egans spent the winter of 1846–47 at Winter Quarters, although Howard had to make several difficult trips down to Missouri to bring back supplies for the Saints. His son, Howard Ransom Egan, described the home his father built, as follows: “Howard Egan’s log hut was neatly arranged and papered and hung with pictures and otherwise decorated by his wife, which made it very pleasant and habitable.”

Winter Quarters was a settlement that consisted of 700 houses of log, turf and other materials; and was laid out with streets, workshops, mills, etc., and a Tabernacle of worship. Winter Quarters was on a pretty plateau overlooking the river, and was built for protection from Indians. There were 22 Wards with a bishop over each, also a High Council; and the population was over 4,000. In 1846, while in Winter Quarters, Howard married a third plural wife, 27-year-old Nancy Redding.

The Mormons had been driven from Nauvoo – created out of swamp land that no one else would touch – without compensation for the loss of their homes, lands, crops, and herds. In order to help fund the western exodus of the Saints, Brigham Young sent an emissary to President Polk and members of Congress, proposing that the Saints be given a contract for building roads, way-stations, and bridges for people immigrating to Oregon. The contract to maintain the Oregon Trail was not granted to the Mormons. Instead, because the U.S. had declared war on Mexico, and with the assistance of Thomas Kane, a man sympathetic to the Saints, a deal was worked out with President Polk to enlist 500 Latter-day Saint men to form a Mormon Battalion and march to California as part of General Stephen Kearny’s Army of the West.

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The Twelve, desperately needing the Mormon Battalion’s paychecks to aid the money-less, under-supplied Saints, sent Howard Egan and John D. Lee on a secret errand to Santa Fe to pick up the Battalion’s pay. After 2,000 miles and three months of travel, they brought back 282 letters, 72 packages, and the first Battalion payment of over $1,200 – equivalent to roughly $37,000 in today’s currency. It was a god-send for the westering Saints.

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In April of 1847 a Vanguard Pioneer Company of 2,500 Saints, mostly men, set out from Winter Quarters to locate a new homeland where the Saints could live Mormon Trail in peace. Brigham Young selected 143 men, noted for their knowledge of pioneering and for their skill in using firearms and handling teams, to be the vanguard for the rest of the Saints. Egan was appointed captain of the 9th group of 10 men. He left Tamson and the boys, and Nancy with child, in Winter Quarters, and started west toward the Great Basin, traveling once again with Elder Kimball. This left Tamson and Nancy alone in Winter Quarters for about a year. Tamson was often left alone to care for her family during most of her married life, a result of the many assignments Howard received from the church, and his various businesses.

Three months later, on July 21, 1847 Orson Pratt and his 10 entered the Salt Lake Valley. On July 24, 1847 Howard Egan and the tail end of the 1847 Company, including Brigham Young, entered the valley. It was late in the planting season, so the first task was to plant crops. In the hands of this small band of dedicated pioneers, including Howard, rested the future of Mormondom.

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Howard’s journals of the Vanguard Trek have been invaluable to Mormon history. They were the first published account of the journey.

Howard spent three weeks in Salt Lake Valley getting a home and farm ready for his family. During his absence from Tamson, she gave birth to another son, Horace Adelbert Egan, on August 12, 1847, who would later die at age fifteen. Nancy also gave birth to a daughter she named Nancy.

Howard returned to Winter Quarters on October 31, 1847 with Presidents Kimball and Young, spent the winter with his family, and then departed for Salt Lake with Tamson and children on May 24, 1848.

They arrived in Salt Lake City on September 24, 1848 and promptly moved into the Salt Lake Fort. There were 423 apartments the saints were supposed to share within the fort. This is where they lived for about two years. The year of their arrival was the same year that a plague of crickets threatened the planted crops, and when thousands of seagulls intervened and helped save some of the food supply.

After getting Tamson and the boys settled, Howard went back to the Missouri River area where wife Nancy and daughter Helen were. He brought them west in 1849 while leading a freight company, by Church assignment, that brought to Utah the printing press upon which the Church published the Deseret News. That fall he married Mary Ann Tuttle as his third (possibly fourth wife).

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Mormon TrailFive months later Howard was again called into Church service, this time to the California gold fields.His assignment was to establish a trading post in California’s Sierra Mountains to service prospectors, Mormon or otherwise.He was gone for nearly two years on this assignment.
Mormon TrailFor Howard,this was another big history event in which he became a participant. Again, he kept a detailed diary, which became invaluable to gold rush history. In November 1849 Howard led a small company, one of five that fall, on a primitive southern trail to southern California.
While Howard was gone, Tamson renewed her friendship with James M. Monroe, a man she had known back in Nauvoo. James Monroe had been Joseph Smith’s clerk and had also taught Joseph’s children in school. Around September 1850 Tamson and James had an affair which resulted in pregnancy. In 1851 Howard returned to Salt Lake to find Tamson with another man’s child. Howard heard that James Monroe was arriving soon in a merchandise wagon train. To defend his family honor Howard rode out and met Monroe, talked with him, and then, not in anger but for justice, shot and killed him.

Howard returned to Salt Lake City and turned himself into the authorities. George Albert Smith, one of the twelve apostles, offered to be his lawyer. Smith argued that Egan’s action was justified under Utah’s “Mountain Common Law” and that the usual light penalty for adultery in the United States could not be accepted in Utah. Howard was acquitted.

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Mormon TrailAt this time California’s increasing demand for Utah’s beef enticed Howard to become a buyer, drover, and seller of cattle – taking loose stock from Utah to sell in northern California. He drove cattle to California in 1852, ‘53, ‘54, and 1857 on the circuitous California Trail.

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Mormon Trail

That long, tedious, roundabout route caused Howard to look for a more direct course, to and from California, to get cattle to market faster. He thus blazed the Central Trail, which would soon become a major thoroughfare for west-bound travel.

Some of what became called The “Egan Trail” was made famous by a wager. He claimed that by using it he could ride a mule to California in 10 days. Egan mounted a mule at Salt Lake City, and 10 days later, on September 29, 1855, he arrived in Sacramento. His feat encouraged the development of the Central Route between Salt Lake City and Carson City.

Egan’s explorations helped identify several potential settlement sites along that Central Route, three of which (Rush Valley, Ruby Valley, and Deep Creek) grew to modest importance in his day. Egan himself settled Deep Creek, established Pony Express and Overland Mail stations there, and operated a general store, farm, and ranch.

Mormon Trail Mormon TrailBased on false rumors, Washington sent an army to quell Mormon “rebellion.” As part of defense preparations, Howard was promptly made an officer in what would be called the “Utah War.” During the Utah War Egan brought ammunition from California for Utah’s militia, did patrol duty in and beyond Echo Canyon, and guarded peace envoy Thomas L. Kane.

After a negotiated peace, Howard helped escort the new Utah governor, Alfred Cumming, into Salt Lake City, and then escorted Thomas L. Kane back to his home in Philadelphia – a trip that lasted from May until August 1858.

Mormon Trail Mormon TrailAfter the conclusion of the Utah War, Howard devoted his time to the mail and freight business. This exciting era of overland stage-coaching, between the Missouri and the Pacific, lasted eight years. During that time Howard became a stage-coach expert.

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Mormon TrailIn 1859 Senator Gwin from California introduced the legislative bill that started the Pony Express system, primarily to prove to a doubting Congress that the Central route was best for laying down a railroad, and that it was passable in winter. It would take 80 riders and 400 horses to traverse the 2,000 miles. On the rain-drenched night of April 7, 1860, after riding 75 miles from Rush Valley, and after having his horse slide off a plank bridge landing both of them into Mill Creek, Major Howard arrived as the first rider to bring mail to Salt Lake City. Egan Being in his 40’s, was the oldest known Pony Express rider. He was appointed Superintendent of the line from Salt Lake City to Carson City with stations, riders, and remounts covering 322 miles of western Utah and eastern Nevada desert. This district occupied the most difficult and dangerous territory of the entire Pony Express line. Howard and his two sons, Howard Ransom Egan (age 20) and Richard Erastus Egan (age 18), were responsible for progress of the mail for that segment.

After only 19 months of operation, in October 1861, the completion of the transcontinental telegraph line made the Pony Express obsolete — thus ending one of America’s most memorable experiments. It also cost Howard his job.

Mormon TrailSo, on to the next adventure. Howard transitioned from supervising a Pony Express district, to supervising a stage coach line. To facilitate his new responsibilities, Howard developed his Deep Creek property into a well-supplied and well-staffed “home” station, telegraph station, a sizable ranch with flocks and herds, a sawmill, and a store.

In May of 1869 “Technology” struck Howard another blow. This time the completion of the transcontinental railroad killed Howard’s stagecoach employment.

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So at age fifty-three, Howard began yet another adventure. He stayed at Deep Creek for six more years, mining the local hills. Between 1869 and 1874 he staked nearly a dozen claims and found some good mineral deposits. But the mines failed to reimburse Howard for the money he spent on them – which was the entirety of his Deep Creek Ranch farm land. Howard had lost everything as a miner.

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Mormon TrailThroughout the years at Deep Creek, Howard had made friends among the Goshute Indians, and even learned their language, customs, and survival techniques. He was able to speak the Goshute language, which largely accounted for his success in getting along with the Indians over the years. He treated Indians fairly, and helped teach and baptized a large number of them when called on a mission among the Goshutes in 1875. He also taught them farming skills, how to work for themselves, and encouraged character traits of honesty and industry. He was a true friend to the Indians, many of whom came to him for counsel. Pioneering the West describes many times when he showed great compassion for Indians, particularly those in dire conditions.

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Mormon Trail

At the Mormon Church’s April 1875 General Conference, Howard and three other Deep-Creek men received mission calls to teach the gospel to the Goshutes. Pioneering the West merely says that Howard “aided much” in teaching Goshutes and “imparting to them a knowledge of the Gospel.”

Mormon TrailIn 1875, having exhausted all of his resources at Deep Creek, Howard returned to Salt Lake City to live with Tamson and fourteen-year-old son, Ira. To provide the family with a source of income, Howard became a Salt Lake City Police Officer and a Deputy Sheriff. Egan also served as a U.S. deputy clerk for the 3rd Judicial District Court for Utah Territory.

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Mormon TrailHe was also asked to be a special guard for President Brigham Young – at the Lion House, and at the Church offices. Howard, then about fifty-nine, was not an old-man given a watchman-type job out of sympathy. Brigham needed toughness and dependability.

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On August 23, 1877 President Young suddenly fell ill. Howard was one of several who helped nurse him during his failing days.

Howard’s son, William, said:“At the time of Pres. Brigham Young’s last illness” [father] “acted as special nurse, in which capacity he had many times acted before, in various cases, and was often called a doctor.”

After Brigham Young’s death, Howard was asked to guard his grave, to protect it from vandalism.During the cold winter months of 1878 Howard contracted an internal inflammation while guarding Brigham’s grave.

He died soon thereafter, on March 16, 1878, at age sixty-two … having lived life to the fullest.

Tamson was the only spouse still married to Howard at the time of his death – the others having divorced him.

Howard’s funeral took place in the Nineteenth-Ward meetinghouse. It was so heavily attended that many could not get in. Apostle Orson Pratt spoke, and afterwards, a large cortege of mourners followed the casket to the grave site.

A large number of Howard’s unusual, humorous, and dangerous Indian and pioneering experiences are recorded in the book Pioneering the West, edited by his son, Howard R. Egan. It includes vivid descriptions of food gathering and preparation for a wide range of American Indian dishes, including ants, crickets, rabbits, rats, antelope, pine nuts, and moles, as well as sharing riveting tales of pioneer life, Indian medicine, and death-defying Pony Express exploits. The book is a captivating glimpse into the life of a colorful Mormon frontiersman and an eyewitness account of some of the most exciting days of the Old West.

Sources

  1. Drake, J.Raman. Howard Egan: Frontiersman, Pioneer and Pony Express Rider, Master’s Thesis, BYU Department of Religion, 1956.

Copy of Thesis also found here: Howard Egan: Frontiersman, Pioneer and Pony Express Rider.

  1. Pioneering the West, 1846 to 1878 : Major Howard Egan’s diary : also thrilling experiences of pre-frontier life among Indians, their traits, civil and savage, and part of autobiography, inter-related to his father’s, Edited and in part written by William M. Egan, 1917.

Here is another location for a full text of: Pioneering the West.

  1. Adele Newman Knudson, “A Brief History of the Family of Howard Egan and Anne Meath of Tullamore, Offaly (formerly Kings), Ireland,” posted at Bushelsofwheat.com.
 


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