Rock Island County, Illinois Genealogy Trails
 

J. M. D. Burrows
Looking Backwards

 
 J. M. D. Burrows, merchant, miller, packer, handler of produce, looks back over his busy life and tells some incidents of Davenport, a hamlet of sixteen houses, a remarkable career, Hummer and His Bell, and the Missouri War

Rev. John O. Foster tells of boyhood days in Rockingham
and the view from the Decker home, a relic of Credit Island Battle.

On the 27th day of July, 1838, I was on board the magnificent steamer Brazil, Captain Orrin Smith, my destination being Stephenson, now Rock Island, Illinois. When I arose in the morning the steamer was just landing at Buffalo, Scott county, Wisconsin territory, now Iowa. The scene upon which I gazed enchanted me. The sloping lawns and wooded bluffs, with the sea of beautiful wild flowers, were a picture of loveliness such as I never had beheld before. The remainder of the trip I spent on the guards of the boat, enraptured with the beauty of the ever changing scenery.

We arrived early in the day at the village of Stephenson. Before night my business was accomplished. My landlord, of the Rock Island House, informed me that I would not able to get a boat until the return of the Brazil, some two days later. I will say here that the Rock Island House was a credit to the town and a much better hotel than I expected to find in this then new country.

On the next day, after partaking of a good breakfast, I decided to cross the river and examine the lovely little hamlet of about a dozen houses, which looked so cozy, nestled under the bluff.

At that time the ferry was run by that veteran, Captain John Wilson, and consisted of two yawls and a flat-boat. There were several passengers besides myself, and as soon as we left the shore, the old gentleman began to collect his fares. I noticed that each passenger paid 25 cents. I tendered my quarter, when I was informed my fare was 50 cents. I demurred of course, and was surprised as well as somewhat amused to be told that for "citizens" the fare was 25 cents, but for strangers it was 50 cents. I replied, "Oh! that is the way you do it here, is it? Where I come from, they treat strangers the best."

On landing I found a beautiful little hamlet of fifteen houses, with a population of about 150 persons. I did not expect to see any one that I had ever seen before, but I soon met a man whom I had known well in Cincinnati, "carpenter" B. F. Coates. He received me warmly and introduced me to D. C. Eldridge and several more Cincinnatians. The little town was settled mostly by people from Cincinnati.

They all insisted that I should close up my business in Stephenson and wait in Davenport until my boat returned, and they would spend the time in showing me the most beautiful county the sun ever shone upon. I consented and Mr. Coates took a horse and buggy and drove with me out some five or six miles in different directions.

It was just the time of the year when the country showed to the best advantage. The prairies were covered with wild flowers and the beautiful landscape was unsurpassed. I said to myself, "This shall be my home." On the return of the Brazil I left with the intention, if I possibly could, to emigrate. As soon as I returned to Cincinnati, I advertised my place for sale and in a few weeks found a purchaser. I then determined to return immediately and to make a more thorough examination of the country before taking such an important step.

Both the Ohio and Mississippi rivers were at that time (October) very low and navigation tedious. I decided to make the trip by land, so purchased a horse and buggy and was making arrangements for the journey, when I was called upon by John Owens, whom I had never seen before. After introducing himself, he said he understood I intended to make a trip to Wisconsin territory, and he wanted to go along. He offered to take a half interest in the outfit. He was not quite ready to go, and I agreed to wait ten days for him.

At last the day arrived, and lo! It was a Friday. Owens and he would not begin so important an enterprise on Friday and insisted we should wait until Saturday, which I opposed, on the ground it was too late in the week. We were both anxious to be off, so we agreed to start on Thursday evening, and go two or three miles, which we did, setting out about sundown and driving some three miles. We found the roads through Indiana very rough and tedious, a great share of them being what was called "corduroy;"«but through Illinois they were excellent, although there was a great want of bridges and in fording streams we found it quite dangerous.

The great prairies of Illinois were a magnificent sight--one vast sea of grass and flowers and most of them as level as a floor. We passed very few farms. Fifty years ago there were not many settlements in Illinois. We crossed a number of prairies, where, as might be said, we were out of sight of land--not a house or a tree to be seen. There was a great deal of sickness on our route. We had to attend our own horse, and most of the time, sleep on the floor, with a blanket and pillow for our bed. Ten days and a half from the time we left Cincinnati, we forded Rock river and soon reached our future home. At that time Stephenson, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, was a considerable town and a much older and more important place than Davenport. Rock island contained no inhabitants except Colonel George Davenport and his family. Old Fort Armstrong with its block houses, occupied the west end of the island.

Mr. Owens and myself spent some three week in thoroughly examining the country. One of the best settlements was in Pleasant Valley. The Hydes, Captain Hawley, Moss & Bradley, Sam Hedges, C. Rowe, Adam Donaldson, the Henleys and Fennos were there. There was a small sawmill on Duck creek, and a grist mill, continuing one small run of Stone on Crow creek. Both these streams contained twice as much water then as now. We drove back to Allens Grove, also to Walnut and Hickory Groves, where we found John Dunn, L. Lathrop, Dennis R. Fuller and the Carters, all of whom were hard at work making themselves homes. Below Rockingham, Enoch Mead, David Sullivan, Captain James Murray, Foster Campbell, James E. Burnsides, Lewis W. Clark, and others, were busily engaged in laying the foundation of Scott county's future prosperity.

After a thorough examination of the county and making the acquaintance of many of the settlers, we both determined to emigrate, and purchased the eighty acre tract west of and adjoining the town. It was a squatter's claim. We paid $450 for it and each wanted it, so we agreed to divide it and to draw cuts for the first choice. I won and chose the half next to the town, for which I paid $250, Mr. Owens taking the other half at $200. We then concluded to lay claim to a section of land and selected section 17. We then divided it north and south, and each again wanting the half adjoining the town, we drew cuts as before. I won, and took the part I wanted. Fearing we would have trouble to find our claim, we hired Strong Burnell, who was breaking prairie in the vicinity, to plow three furrows around the whole section, for which we paid $30--$10 a furrow. We proposed to plant this strip of plowed ground with locust trees.

The next thing I did was to make arrangements to build a house on my forty acres. I found a man in Davenport, a settler of that year, who had bought a lot and erected a frame on it, but who had become discouraged and wished to return east. I bought the frame standing, paying $124 for it, and engaged B. F. Coates to take it to pieces and put it up on my land, leaving money with him with which to buy weather boarding, sheathing, etc., and I was agreed that I should bring the shingles, flooring, doors and windows with me in the spring from Cincinnati, which would be much cheaper and better.

About the 1st of March,1839, I received letters at Cincinnati, saying the Mississippi was about to break up and at once I commenced making arrangements to return. Being anxious to add to the population of the little settlement in Iowa, I persuaded two brothers-in-law, Wheeler Crane, a carriage maker, and Joseph Beach, a painter, also my brothers, Lewis and David, stout lads in those days, to accompany me. Our journey was without incident until we reached the lower rapids, where we had a tedious time, getting fast on the rocks and being nearly a week getting over.

At last, on the 4th day of April, we reached our future home, being put ashore on the bank of the river, about halfway between Perry and Rock Island streets. I remember the day well. It was a gloomy day, the wind blew a perfect gale, and everything looked cheerless.

I found that the man whom I had engaged to put up my home had betrayed me. The money I had left with him to purchase lumber he had applied to his own use, and there was nothing on the ground but he naked frame which I had purchase in the fall. The first thing to be done was to find shelter for my wife and child. I succeeded in renting two small rooms, just finished, about twelve feet square, at the corner of Third and Ditch (now Harrison) streets. The rooms were very small and inconvenient for family of seven persons. We were obliged to go out of doors from one room to get into the other. They had been built for offices, but in those days we had to do the best we could.

In about two weeks I had my house weather-boarded and shingled, and, putting down loose boards for a floor, moved in at once and then finished it, a room at a time.

I found the little town a busy place, every one anxious to secure a home. Some settlers, besides myself, came in that spring and a number of houses had been commenced, and the inhabitants of the little town were as active as a swarm of bees.

But the great excitement was the Rockingham war, and a few weeks later the Missouri war. I served in both, like a true soldier and patriot. The Rockingham war was tedious, lasting about two years, and four pitched battles were fought, with varying success. The contest was for the county-seat, which Rockingham had and was loth to give up. She had been the emporium of Scott county, outnumbering Davenport in population and business. But two years made a change. Davenport had grown materially, both in population and capital, while poor Rockingham had reached her growth, some of her citizens deserting to the enemy and at the last election, sixteen of her people voted for Davenport. As an inducement for the people of Scott county to vote for Davenport, the citizens offered to build the court house and present it to the county free of all expense, promising it should be equal to the court house across the river, at Stephenson, Illinois; and it was a facsimile.

J. M. D. Burrows


Early Churches in Davenport

Meanwhile, our little village was growing and the contest between it and Rockingham for the supremacy had been resumed. During February of this year (1839), the first Protestant church was organized--the Presbyterians. During the summer, the Congregationalists and Baptists organized. Neither of these congregations had any church building but held services in carpenter shops and warehouses. The Catholics had organized in 1838, and erected the first church building in the town.

In May 1839, hearing that it was court week, and as it was raining hard and I could do no business, I thought I would attend court. There was a small frame building on Ripley street, at the corner of the ally behind Lahrmann's hall. It had been built for a carpenter shop and was used by the Presbyterians for church purposes and there court was held. I found the little room crowded and Judge Grant, then "Squire" Grant, just arranging to defend a horse thief. The judge worked cheap in those days. I overheard him whisper to his client, "If you don't give me $5 before I commence, I won't defend you."

Nearly the whole little settlement at that time was about the foot of Ripley street, which was called "Brimstone Corner.÷I suppose on account of the hot style of preaching indulged in there, in those days.

I found a number of the little band which I had left there in the fall in perfect health, had gone ãto that bourne from which no traveler returns. The first ten years I passed in Davenport, there was much more sickness than now. Ten per cent of our population died each year in those early times, which was attributed to the breaking up of such large tracts of prairie, producing a miasma which caused fevers, etc.


Early Cemeteries in Davenport

Our first burying place was in a corner of a field on the Cook farm, on the north side of Rockingham road, nearly opposite of the west end of the present Davenport City cemetery. This was used but a short time.

The next burying place was at the corner of Sixth and LeClaire streets. It was a miserable section and was soon abandoned. I officiated as pallbearer on two occasions while we buried there. The first was the burial of Judge Mitchell's father. It being spring, we found the grave half full of water and had to wait until it was bailed out. But the water came in so fast that the coffin was nearly covered before we could fill the grave.

The other was a Dr. Emerson, who died in the LeClaire House, and was the owner of the celebrated slave, Dred Scott.

Our next burial place was the present Davenport City cemetery. The writer and a few other gentlemen, not considering this location desirable (it being too near the rapidly growing city), nor the extent of the grounds sufficient for the purpose, and seeing the need of a city for the dead, combined to secure one that would be a credit to the city when we were dead and gone. It resulted in Oakdale, particulars of which will be given hereafter.

One of the enterprises in which I was interested and which I recall with satisfaction because it will be a permanent benefit of the city of Davenport, is the establishment of Oakdale cemetery; and I propose to devote this chapter to a history of the undertaking, that the facts, never before all stated correctly, may be put on record.

Some time after all the land in this section was supposed to be entered, I heard that the eighty-acre tract where Oakdale is situated had been overlooked. This was about 1845, I think. I sent up to the Dubuque land office and entered the tract. A year later I sold it to John Mullen, an Irish drayman, for $5 an acre.

About ten years later in 1856) some half-dozen gentlemen and myself agreed that Davenport ought to have better accommodation for her dead--something that would be an honor to the city in years to come. The City cemetery was inadequate, besides being badly situated. Pine Hill was a private speculation, which we did not approve.

We organized a company and looked about for suitable grounds. After thorough examination we selected the ground now called Oakdale and bought half of it (forty acres) back from John Mullen, paying him $100 an acre. George B. Sargent and myself contributed the largest amounts. The company also borrowed $1,250 from some one in the east.

When we bought Mullenâs forty acres, land near the city was high. Davenport was having a "boom." As we could not be incorporated until the legislature met, which would be two years, the directors had Mullen deed the land back to me and I held it for the company until the legislature met, when I conveyed it to the company.

We employed an expert landscape gardener, of Washington, D. C., to lay out the cemetery and paid him $500 for his work. He had planned and laid out some of the finest cemeteries in the United States.

The first two or three years our company was very much embarrassed. We were passing through the hard times of 1858-9 and were had put to it to collect money for necessary expenses. The loan of $1,500 had to be paid, as the lender threatened to foreclose. George B. Sargent and myself each loaned the company $500. The remaining $250 Antoine LeClaire, at my solicitation, loaned us, I giving him my individual note for the money, as he would have nothing to do with the company. I believe the affairs of the comopany have been very prosperous for several years.

Oakdale is a beautiful place and will, from year to year, become much more beautiful. All moneys received from sale of lots, with the exception of necessary expenses, are to be spent in beautifying and improving the grounds. The originator and the most indefatigable men in pushing this enterprise was William H. F. Gurley, Esq., long since dead, and who sleeps, I believe, in the cemetery at Washington, D. C.


Early Newspapers in Davenport

About this time, the first newspaper was established in Davenport. It was called the Iowa Sun. Andrew Logan was editor and proprietor. He worked hard to bring the town into notice, with his puffs and marvelous stories of our prolific soil.

On my claim was a little piece of ground, some four or five acres, which had been broken up and fenced before I bought. That I immediately planted and raised the best garden in the county. The two lads, my brothers, Lewis and David, seeing the wonderful accounts in the Iowa Sun of the productions of other parts of the county, determined to outdo them.

We raised in those days that king of potatoes, the Neshenocks. It was a large potato, with numerous prongs. Selecting some half dozen of the largest, the boys fastened them together with dowels, or wooden pins. When I came home at night they brought it to me.

"See what we dug today!" they said. "Don't that beat anything the Iowa Sun has published?"

I replied, "I think it does. What a monster!"

I was completely "sold." I said I would take it up in the morning and give it to Mr. Logan. The next issue of the Iowa Sun did full justice to the wonderful production, defying any other soil to produce its equal.

The editor aid if any one thought it a exaggeration, the skeptic could call and see the monster, as it was hanging up in his office, where he should keep it a few weeks on exhibition, after which he proposed to try its eating qualities.

About two weeks later, during which time the prize potato had been examined by hundreds, our fellow citizen, John Forrest, took hold of it, and noticed that one prong was wrong end foremost. So he pulled it apart and the trick was exposed. Had the boys not made that mistake the potato would doubtless have been cooked before the joke was discovered. It created a vast amount of fun and a big laugh at the expense of the Iowa Sun. It is said that Mr. Logan abstained from eating potatoes for over a month.

After the discovery, Mr. Forrest hastened up town to my store. He said: "Burrows, they have a big joke on you down town about that big potato." He then told me what had occurred. I told him I was "sold" with the rest, for I knew nothing about it. He advised me to keep away from Logan for a few days or I would lose my scalp.



I will mention one little incident that occurred in 1840, showing the difficulties and hardships of those very early days.

Female hired help was not to be obtained. I assisted my wife all I could--probably did as much house work as she did. She was not strong and was unaccustomed to such work. In July my son, Elisha, was born.

Mrs. John Owens and Mrs. Ebenezer Cook, one living a mile above and the other a mile below our house, took turns in taking care of my wife and the child, one during the daytime and the other at night; but they had to neglect their own families to do so. I knew this state of things could not last and determined to find help at any cost. Having no clerk yet in my store I was obliged to lock it up and with the key in my pocket rode three days all over the county, in search of a girl.

The first day I went up to LeClaire, canvassing Pleasant Valley thoroughly, but with no success. The next day I rode through the southern part of the county and Blue Grass, as far as there was any settlement, but all in vain.

On this trip I was told there was a family in Walnut Grove where there were two grown daughters who, it was understood, sometimes went to nurse sick neighbors. I determined to go there and, on leaving home the third day, told the ladies that if I did not get back that night they need not be alarmed, as I would not return without help.

When I reached Walnut Grove, at almost 11:30 in the morning, I found the coziest and neatest farm house I had yet seen in the territory and Mrs. Heller, with two full-grown, healthy looking daughters, all as neat as wax. The home was better furnished than any I had seen. The window curtains and bedspread were as white as the driven snow. The floors shone like silver.

I introduced myself and made known my business. I told Mrs. Heller my situation was desperate÷that I had come for one of her daughters and would not go away without one. She said she would leave the matter entirely altogether with their father, who was at work in the field, half a mile away.

She invited me to sit down and wait until he came in to dinner, which would be in about half an hour. But I said, "My business is too important to admit of delay. I will go to the field." I found Mr. Heller cradling wheat and not a stranger, as I supposed, for when we met we recognized each other, having been on a jury together a few months before.

I told my story in as few words as possible. He hung his cradle on the fence and we went to the house, as it was about dinner time. He said he would like to help me out of my trouble; that they were working very hard to open a farm and he was not able to do much for his daughters, as whatever they earned they had to clothe themselves with; but they never had gone away from home except to help sick neighbors sometimes.

He knew from what he had seen of me that I would treat them well, and he would be glad to have one of them go with me. The youngest one spoke up and said, "I will go," and I was happy.

She returned with me and lived in my family seven years until she married. My wife and myself always looked upon her as a sister or a child. She married one of the most respectable man of the day, an owner of a good farm and a member of the state legislature. They are both living in Davenport at the present time. The young woman is now (in 1888) nearly seventy years old.

The times were very hard then, and for some years after. Our land had just been brought into market by the government and all the money in the country went into the land office. Some of our best farmers paid fifty per cent for money to enter their land and were kept poor for years paying interest. Meanwhile they used all the money they could get hold of to break, fence and stock their farms, spending as little as they could with the merchant, and what trading they did was generally on a year's credit.

No one can realize the difficulties of doing a produce business in those days. We had no railroads. Everything had to be moved by water and, of course, had to be held all winter. To keep up with the rapid growth of the country and provide for the surplus required not only money and credit but, what in those days was more important than either, nerve.

In the year 1841 I saw the amount of wheat and pork was going to be double as much as ever before, and I was very solicitous as to what I should do with it.

I saw in the St. Louis Republican that the government invited proposals for furnishing Fort Snelling and Fort Crawford with a year's supply of pork, flour, beans, soap, vinegar, candles and numerous other articles. I considered the matter and could think of no reason why Scott county could not furnish the pork, flour, beans, etc., as well as St. Louis, which had furnished them heretofore.

So I decided to put in a bid, if I could find any one to go on my bonds, which were heavy. I interviewed Mr. LeClaire and Colonel Davenport, and told them what I was thinking of. If I could accomplish it and get a contract and fill it from home production, it would be a grand thing for both the town and the county, and be a means of circulating a good deal of money, of which the people at that time were sadly in need.

Those gentlemen, always ready and anxious to do anything that would settle up and advance the prosperity of the country, were much pleased with my suggestion and said they would stand by me. I put in bids for both forts, referring as to my responsibility to Colonel Davenport and Antoine LeClaire.

As I was going to Cincinnati I wrote to them that if my bids were accepted there, as I wished to purchase in that market such supplies as could not be procured at home. On my arrival I found a communication from the department at Washington, saying that my bid for Fort Snelling had been accepted.

On my return home I found that John Atchison, who had been the successful contractor of both forts for two or three years previous, had been in town three days awaiting my return.

I got home about dark. My wife told me that Ebenezer Cook had left word that I had better avoid meeting Atchison until I had seen Cook; so after supper I walked down to Mr. Cook's house, about a mile on the Rockingham road. He informed me that Atchison was very anxious to buy me out. He did not care about furnishing the supplies so much as he did for the transportation.

The Atchison Brothers owned the largest and most magnificent steamboat on the upper Mississippi, called the "Amaranth." They had been very successful in controlling both the government's and the Fur Company's freight and my success was a great surprise to them.

In the morning Atchison made his appearance. I refused to sell, telling him my only object in taking the contract was to make an outlet for my winter accumulation. After talking the matter over all day I sold out on these conditions: he to pay me a bonus of $2,500, cash down; I to furnish the flour, pork and beans, for which he was to pay me contract price, less the transportation, and pay me cash down on delivery to his boat, the next June, the time specified by the government.

I now went to work hauling my wheat to Rockingham mill and scouring the county for hogs. My cooperage ÷pork, flour and bean barrels÷ I had all manufactured at home, giving employment to a number of coopers. This, with the money I had received from Atchison and scattered among the farmers for hogs, wheat, beans, etc., gave our little village and the county a decided boom.

About this time there was a prospect of brighter days. Our German fellow citizens began to come to Davenport in large numbers and many of them possessed a good deal of money, which the country sadly needed. They entered large tracts of land, which they immediately improved.

This year (1851) the cholera prevailed in Davenport and many of the German immigrants had ship fever among them. They came by New Orleans; every steamboat landing at our wharf left some. There was much excitement because of the cholera. Many of our best citizens were dying. A man would be would be well at bedtime and dead before morning.

Many immigrants could not get shelter and Burrows & Prettyman threw open their pork house and warehouse for use until the immigrants could put up shanties on the prairie. Many men, now wealthy farmers, occupied our buildings until they could do better; among them I remember M. J. Rohlfs, since then treasurer of Scott county for ten years; also N. J. Rusch, afterward state senator and lieutenant-governor of Iowa.

I always have had a warm feeling for the Germans for their help in settling up Scott county, when help was so much needed. It is astonishing to see what they have accomplished. You can find scarcely a German farmer who is not wealthy. The banks of Davenport contain about $6,000,000 of deposits (which, I believe, is as much as all the rest of the state claims to have), and half of the money is owned by Germans.

In the fall of 1845, after navigation was closed on the river, I found it would be necessary for me to go to St. Louis. Prettyman said our sales had been large and we would be out of many leading articles before spring, and if I could manage to get them here he wished I would buy some.

I told him to make up a list of dry goods such as he needed, about a wagon load, and I would bring them up. I went over to Beardstown, on the Illinois river, by stage, and down the Illinois and Mississippi rivers by steamboat, to St. Louis.

In St. Louis, after my business was transacted, I purchased Mr. Prettyman's bill of goods and shipped them by the river to Keokuk, as the boat was to go no farther. We did not get there on account of ice, but the boat landed us four miles below, at a small town called Warsaw, on the Illinois shore.

When we left St. Louis it was dark and I did not see any one I knew on the boat. The first thing in the morning, after breakfast, was to take a walk on the guards to get fresh air. I soon heard familiar voices on the deck below and on going down saw seven young men from Pleasant Valley, customers of ours, among whom I can only remember George Hawley and two of the Fenno boys.

They had been down to St. Louis with two flat-boats loaded with onions, and were then in a dilemma as to how they were to get home. They wanted to know what I was going to do. I told them I should hire a team to haul my goods, and would ride on the wagon. When the boat landed us I found and hired a team. The boys wanted me to let them put on their baggage. The teamster said it would overload us; but they were so anxious, and being good customers of ours, I told the teamster if he would carry their baggage I would walk with the men.

We reached Carthage, the county seat, at noon, and stopped and got dinner, by which time a heavy storm of rain and sleet set in. The men wanted to lay over until the next day, but I insisted upon pushing on; so we all put out during the afternoon and traveled until dark, when we put up at a farm house.

I overheard the boys, in the afternoon, saying I could not stand it long--that they would soon have "my hide on the fence." I thought to myself, "We shall see." We started out next morning in a snow-storm, calculating to make Monmouth that night.

When we got within five or six miles of that place the men began to give out, saying they could travel no farther. George Hawley and myself were the only ones to get through, which we did about 9 oâclock that night. I hired the landlord to send out a two-horse wagon and pick up the other men and bring them in. He found them scattered along the road for miles, completely exhausted. I said nothing but wondered whose hides ornamented the fence.

The next day we arrived home safely, having walked the whole distance in a heavy storm, all travel-worn, sore and weary. It was about as hard a trip as the one I made from Prairie du Chien to Dubuque some years before.

I had been packing considerable pork for a few years and I sold it mostly to the Fur Company and to parties filling Indian contracts. The wheat I handled, from 1840 to 1845, that I did not get made into flour. I bought on commission for a large mill in Cincinnati--C. S. Bradbury & Company.

Our business had now (1847) become well established, large amounts of produce coming in from he counties of Cedar, Linn, Jones, Clinton and Jackson. Our store was well patronized and we hardly ever closed until midnight. In the forenoons the farmers in our county, from the Groves and points within a circuit of ten or fifteen miles, would come in with their grain, etc., and by the time they had unloaded and done their trading, another section would begin to arrive from Clinton and Cedar counties and the territory still farther distant--a big day's travel--and would not get in until near bedtime. They wanted to unload and do their trading, so as to start home early next morning, that they might reach home the same day. This made our business very laborious.

History of Davenport and Scott County, Iowa , Vol. I, 1910
Pages 475 - 489

Submitted by Mary Lou Schaechter

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