History – The Pagosa Springs SUN http://www.pagosasun.com The most trusted source for news and information about Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Thu, 15 Oct 2020 21:11:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.2 http://www.pagosasun.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/cropped-sun-logo-512x512-1-32x32.jpg History – The Pagosa Springs SUN http://www.pagosasun.com 32 32 Pagosa’s Past: Pagosa Springs: a hot springs haven http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-pagosa-springs-a-hot-springs-haven/ Mon, 19 Oct 2020 11:00:16 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=211881

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Shown here is a pre-1900 photo of the Pagosa Hot Springs.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

A Silverton newspaper reporter visited the Pagosa hot springs during March of 1879 and left the following report for posterity. We continue with his report where we left off last week.

Public accommodations at the hot springs were nonexistent, because the springs were owned by the federal government. No action had yet been taken by the government on the many claims filed for ownership. Visitors and health seekers desiring to use the waters were left to their own devices. Either they obtained permission to use one of the private bath houses or they mimicked the Native Americans and bathed in one of the small seeps that surrounded the main spring.

Residents developed a unique system for bathing in the 142-degree water. Each family had its own bath house, no doubt a blessing in a town with no central water system. Daisy Opdyke Fitzhugh, who as a small girl arrived with her family at Pagosa Springs in 1879, recalled the bathing routine many years later.

“We would go out in the morning and fill the large built-in wooden tub and by afternoon, the water would be cool enough to take a bath. Then, when we were through bathing, we would empty the tub, lock the door and it would be ready for the next time.”

Another visitor during those years, a writer who thought there might be more bath houses than people in Pagosa Springs, gave this report of his experience near the hot springs.

“In our search for knowledge and while rambling around the great springs, we accosted one whom we supposed to be a citizen, but who proved to be a stranger. We approached and politely requested to know what was the principle occupation of the people of Pagosa. Quick as thought, while casting an eye at the scores of bath houses, came the reply. ‘Bathing! By ———— sir.’” 

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Pagosa’s Past: The Great Pagosa Hot Springs http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-the-great-pagosa-hot-springs/ Wed, 14 Oct 2020 11:00:07 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=211354

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Shown here is a pre-1900 photo of the Pagosa Hot Springs.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

We’ve been looking at the Pagosa Hot Springs through the eyes of Army Capt. John N. Macomb, who visited the springs in 1859. We continue from where we left off last week.

McCauley described the land surrounding the springs as “peculiar, honey-combed ground over which a passerby must exercise caution. Elsewhere he noted, “The general surface is solid and will bear the weight of a horse and rider, although a hollow sound will be heard while passing over it.”

Until Fort Lewis was begun in 1878, we have no record of anyone living near the hot springs. Welch Nossaman built cabins near the hot springs as early as 1876. Other cabins may have been erected nearby, especially along the wagon road about 1 mile south of the hot springs known as Baker’s Toll road. As early as 1861, a toll road ran past the hot springs. It was built by a man named Baker to accommodate miners and prospectors bound from New Mexico to work the newly found gold and silver strike near what has become Silverton high in the San Juan Mountains north of today’s Durango. The strike area was fittingly known as Baker’s Park.

In response to the growing demand for fresh vegetables and fruit by occupants of the cluster of mining camps springing up in the high country, a number of agricultural communities sprouted at lower elevations in the river valleys trickling down from mountains. A goodly number of those supplies were freighted in from the territory of New Mexico via Baker’s toll road. This road passed by the hot springs, providing considerable exposure for what was being touted as the “World’s Largest and Hottest.”

The Silverton newspaper reported in March of 1879, “Quite a large number of San Juaners are enroute for Silverton via Pagosa Springs and the Animas Canyon Toll Road.” 

In the same paper, it was noted that a mail route had been established from Garland City to Silverton via Pagosa Springs and Animas City. After July 1, Pagosa Springs was to have daily delivered mail service from Alamosa.

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Pagosa’s Past: Bathing in muddy water http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-bathing-in-muddy-water/ Tue, 06 Oct 2020 11:00:40 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=211016

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The first bath house at the Pagosa Bath House was for men only or women only. Never the twain shall meet. The building in the background was a trading post.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

The following story was written by ancestors of the Faye Brown family. Members of this family still live in Pagosa Country.

For some years before permanent settlement was made at Pagosa Springs, people came each summer to take baths in the medicinal springs. Among the first to come over the pass from Del Norte in 1873 was Mrs. M. O. Brown, her young son, Tom Reavis, and her father, Mr. Sallee, for whom they made the perilous journey. Mr. Reavis was blind and also suffered from an aggravated case of rheumatism.

Settlement began around the hot springs by 1878, the year building began on the Army post on the west bank of the river. 

Army Engineer Lt. McCauley visited the fledgling post in 1878 and left this description of the hot springs, including the source of their name “Aside from this, the springs must have always been to the aboriginal inhabitants a place of great resort … since Indian trails from all directions converge thereto. All deeply worn, doubtless in the various pilgrimages made by numerous bands and families … the pipe of peace is said to have had an unusual supremacy … to the main springs, from the boiling appearance of its center. The Utes gave the name Pah-gosa (Pah signifying water, and gosa boiling) which name with corrupted orthography, it still retains.”

McCauley went on to describe Native Americans’ bathing houses. These were the natural cavities found in close proximity to the Great Hot Springs. One in particular, McCauley wrote, at the southern edge of the springs is a point of escape of hot vapor and has been used as a sweat hole, the Indians crouching within and covering themselves with a blanket from above.

According to local tradition, Indians, particularly of the Southern Ute bands, continued to visit the springs regularly until the 1950s. They were supposed to prefer coating themselves with mud mixed with the mineral water rather than bathing in the water only.

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Pagosa’s Past: Stopping at the Great Pagosa Hot Springs http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-stopping-at-the-great-pagosa-hot-springs/ Mon, 28 Sep 2020 11:00:13 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=210671

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Shown here is a circa 1890s photograph of the Pagosa hot springs.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

In last week’s column, we described the 1859 visit of Capt. John N. Macomb to the Pagosa hot springs. Macomb left us the first written description of the Springs.

During the year following Macomb’s visit, Charles Baker led a party of prospectors into the San Juan Mountains and discovered gold at what became known as Baker’s Park near today’s Silverton. Baker retired that winter to Abiquiu, N.M. The following summer, he laid out a toll road from Abiquiu past Pagosa Springs and on to the Animas Valley diggings. Baker’s road was chartered in New Mexico under the name Abiquiu, Pagosa and Baker City Toll Road Co. A considerable number of prospectors, including one who lost his red shirt in the hot springs, followed Baker’s toll road past Pagosa’s mineral waters to Baker’s Park.

Soon after Baker’s discovery of gold, the Civil War erupted back in “the States.” Most regular Army troops and many of the able-bodied prospectors in the San Juans returned east to join in the combat. Because of the scarcity of fighting men in the region, the Native Americans in the west grew bold. They increased raiding and plundering. Travel in the territories of Colorado and New Mexico became very risky. Baker’s gold was largely forgotten and travel along his toll road past the Pagosa hot springs must have been slight.

When the Civil War ended, men again returned to the west and some of them sought gold in the San Juan Mountains. The Great Pagosa Hot Springs was once again a stopping point on the road between New Mexico and the upper Animas River Valley. Friction grew between Native American and miner. The Army began to think of building a fort in the San Juans to hold down hostilities. Bt. Lt. Colonel E. H. Bergman passed through Pagosa Country in 1867 making a reconnaissance tour of the mining country. He advised against a fort at Pagosa Springs because his troops suffered from the deep snow and cold weather.

Starting in the early 1870s, health seekers, true to Macomb’s prophecy, were bathing in the waters of the Great Pagosa Hot Springs. Many of them were travelers along the now well-used road. Others were miners, down from the mountains for a rest. The new camp of Summitville, a few rugged miles northeast of Pagosa Springs, was in full swing. From that direction came the Brown family. 

Next week we’ll repeat the written account of that venture. 

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Pagosa’s Past: ‘One of the most remarkable hot springs on the continent’ http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-one-of-the-most-remarkable-hot-springs-on-the-continent/ Wed, 23 Sep 2020 11:00:49 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=210335

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
This is one of the earliest pictures of the Pagosa hot springs, backed by three bath houses and the town’s main street across the river in the background. The year should be the late 1890s.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

Army Capt. John N. Macomb leaves us one of our first written descriptions of the Pagosa hot springs. Macomb was a topographical engineer who, in 1859, was charged with the responsibility of finding a military route for military supplies from Santa Fé, N.M., to southwestern portions of the original 48 states.

He was also looking for a good route for building a railroad connecting the eastern states with the West Coast, especially California. 

The Mexican-American War had just ended and, through the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Mexican government had ceded parts of today’s Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada and Utah to the United States.

Macomb viewed the springs and left the following description of what he saw. “In the upper part of this valley is the Pagosa, one of the most remarkable hot springs on the continent, well known, even famous among the Indian tribes, but up to the time of our visit never having been seen by the whites.

“It can scarcely be doubted that in future years it will become a celebrated place of resort, both for those who reside in the surrounding country and for wonder-hunting, health-seeking travelers from other lands.”

It is quite possible that, unknown to Macomb, white trappers had seen the Pagosa Hot Springs. Fur trappers such as Kit Carson and Old Joe Williams had been exploring the Rocky Mountains since the early 1830s, trapping beaver to be used for gentlemen back east and in Europe for fashionable hats. 

Traders were traveling the Santa Fe Trail between Kansas City and Taos/Santa Fe as early as 1821.

The origin of the word Pagosa is believed to be Southern Ute, meaning smelling or stinking waters. That’s not a popular Chamber of Commerce-type name. They much prefer healing waters.

The first white settler in Pagosa Springs may have been Welch Nossaman. By the early 1870s, gold had been discovered throughout the San Juan Mountains. There can be little doubt that miners on their way from New Mexico to and from the mining camps stopped to look at the hot springs.

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Pagosa’s Past: Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-rocky-mountain-bighorn-sheep/ Wed, 16 Sep 2020 11:00:57 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=210023

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
A mountain meadow at the foot of the Pagosa Springs side of Pagosa Peak has been called Cade Flats since pioneer times when Ma and Pa Cade, pictured here in the 1860s, built a log cabin and ranched on the property. Ma Cade was of the benevolent sort and later built a hotel in the town of Pagosa Springs. Many a tale emanated from this landmark. Maybe I’ll get into that one of these weeks.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

I’ve been writing a lot about sheep. Once in a while, a sharp-eyed driver crossing Wolf Creek Pass will have the thrill of spotting one or two big horn sheep, nature’s wild answer to the domestic sheep. Travelers are not the only humans interested in eyeballing these wild critters.

Naturalists working with the Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are recording observations of bighorn sheep in all of Colorado with a focus on the Weminuche Wilderness and surrounding San Juan Mountains and, most critically, in or near domestic sheep grazing allotments.

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, the highest valued and iconic state animal of Colorado, are at risk of developing respiratory disease contracted from domestic sheep grazing on public land.

Effective separation of domestic sheep and goats from wild sheep is the only currently available management solution for preventing or minimizing disease transmission.

The best time to observe these sheep are at dawn or dusk with the sun behind your back. Trails of high interest in the South San Juans include: Upper Endlich Mesa Trail, City Reservoir Trail, Needle Creek Trail, Johnson Creek Trail, Upper Lime Mesa Trail, Upper Burnt Timber Trail, Elk Creek Trail and Vallecito Creek Trail. A good pair of binoculars is most helpful

At almost 500,000 acres, the Weminuche Wilderness is Colorado’s largest wilderness. Renowned for its rugged high peaks, pristine alpine lakes and wide-open expanses of tundra and mountain meadows, it is home to the headwaters of the Florida and Pine Rivers as well as Vallecito Creek and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

Weminuche bighorns are highly valued by sportsmen, wildlife watchers and scientists. The Weminuche population is classified as Tier 1 because it is a true native population, a genetically distinct remnant of the once wide-spread herds of bighorns that lived in southwest Colorado. This population is made up of three herds that are believed to be interconnected and now total about 425 animals.

Historically, bighorn sheep were among the most abundant ungulates in the American West. Population estimates range from 1.5 million to 2 million at the onset of the 19th century. Populations declined with the westward expansion of human populations because of market hunting, introduction of domestic sheep and overgrazing of rangelands. 

Continued next week.

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Pagosa’s Past: Grazing leads to pioneer Pagosa Country shootouts http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-grazing-leads-to-pioneer-pagosa-country-shootouts/ Tue, 01 Sep 2020 11:00:00 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=209351

Photo courtesy John Motter
Pioneers Fil Byrne and Henry Gordon reminisce about days gone by when they first moved to Pagosa Springs.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

Any fan of western movies knows cattlemen always hated the sheepmen. Any fan of John Wayne knows John Wayne, the hero of the movie, was always a cattleman. What any fan of western movies might not know is why the grazing livestock entrepreneurs couldn’t get along. The answer is in the word grazing. Cattlemen claimed that sheep ate the grass right down to the ground, killing it.

Pioneer Pagosa Country was a great place for raising sheep or cattle. And Pagosa Country had its share of shootouts between cattlemen and sheepmen.

Another Hispanic sheepman was killed circa 1901 on the ranch owned today by the Parelli horse people west of Pagosa Springs. Old-timers will remember Bud Seavy also ran cattle on that ranch. A family named Smith lived on, maybe homesteaded, that ranch. They built a two-story cabin which is preserved today in Harman Park. Early one morning, Smith rode out on his range only to discover a sheepherder driving a herd of sheep on the upper end of his property. He shot the sheepherder.

During his trial in Durango, Smith claimed he politely asked the herder to remove his sheep and only shot in self-defense when he felt threatened when the herder refused to move his sheep. Smith’s family mortgaged the ranch to hire the lawyer who defended Juan de Dios Montoya in last week’s story. Smith got off with an aggravated assault conviction. His family moved to Gobernador, N.M., where they lived until Smith completed his sentence. The family subsequently moved to San Diego.

I have talked with a number of Pagosa families, mostly of Hispanic descent, who described confrontations with Anglo cattlemen. One of the most notorious gunslingers in that regard was a man named Denver Latham. 

Latham’s family set up business on Pagosa Street in Pagosa Springs by renovating one of the old Fort Lewis buildings. When the Fort Lewis troops moved west to the new fort at Hesperus, they abandoned the log cabins they had built in Pagosa Springs. Newly arrived Pagosa merchants, including Ma Latham, were quick to take advantage of the buildings.

Denver packed a “big iron on his hip” and reportedly joined cattle ranchers in Arizona and Wyoming in their range wars. In talks with deceased Pagosa pioneer Faye Brown, I learned that Denver tried to date her sister by giving her a fake diamond and exhibited other negatory behaviors. 

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Pagosa’s Past: The Sheepmens’ Cattlemens’ War, part three http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-the-sheepmens-cattlemens-war-part-three/ Tue, 25 Aug 2020 11:00:54 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=208977

Photo courtesy John Motter
In the early days of this area, oxen were used as draft animals as demonstrated by this load of logs headed for the mill to be sawed into lumber.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

Once back in Pagosa Springs, Kern bedded his wounded prisoner down at Ma Cade’s Hotel on San Juan Street below Reservoir Hill. He knew the flimsy county jail was not a place in which he could protect his prisoner.

During the night, someone had taken the message across the San Juans to Juan de Dios Montoya’s family in Monte Vista that Juan was in trouble, had been shot and was being held in the custody of those gringos led by the Archuleta County sheriff. All through the night, Kern and his deputies sat with a tin cup of Ma Cade’s coffee in one hand and loaded guns at the ready.

Outside, the steady clop of horse hooves through the night echoed off of Roubidoux Hill, the sound of Montoya’s family and hired hands riding in to protect their compadre. Meanwhile, Ma Cade patched up the wounded man and spoon-fed him soup.

Roubidoux was a trapper/trader from the beaver trapping days of Rocky Mountain history. Today’s Reservoir Hill used to be named for this trapper who often visited the hot springs. In 1892, the time of our story, Pagosa Springs’ drinking water was gathered by bucket from the river, hopefully above the point where community’s wastes were dumped in the river.

And so, come first light, Kern and his posse saddled up, strapped their prisoner onto his horse and headed for Durango and the Sixth Judicial District offices where Montoya would stand trial. Montoya’s watchdogs rode along behind Sheriff Kern’s party, making sure that Montoya reached Durango (not be lynched) and received a fair trial.

Our readers, who rightfully expect the storyteller to tell the truth, might be interested in this aside connected with researching this story. Records of crimes and trials are normally kept in the county courthouse for the county in which the crime was committed or the trial was held. A good reporter reads those records before publishing his story. I found the record of Montoya’s arrest in the Archuleta County courthouse. Since the trial was held in Durango, those records should have been in the La Plata County Courthouse. After several trips to Durango and rummaging around in the basement, I finally located the trial records in a box of old records stashed in the basement. Lo and behold, I couldn’t read them. I took them to Fort Lewis College seeking expert help. The expert told me, “You can’t read that because it’s Pittman shorthand. Pittman hasn’t been used for years and years. I don’t know who you’ll get to transcribe it.”

After searching unsuccessfully for a transcriber, I gave up and relied on newspaper stories. I read an account of the shooting in the Del Norte newspaper, a Silverton newspaper, two Durango newspapers, the Pagosa Springs newspaper, an Alamosa newspaper and a Denver newspaper.

The story of the trial results reported in the Durango newspaper said Montoya was exonerated for having acted in self-defense and concluded with “and these delighted sons of southern climes celebrated their victory by retiring for a steak dinner at Del Monico’s.”

I’ll have another sheepman-cattleman shoot-out story next week.

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Pagosa’s Past: The Sheepmens’ Cattlemens’ War, part two http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-the-sheepmens-cattlemens-war-part-two/ Sun, 16 Aug 2020 11:00:57 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=208575

Photo courtesy John Motter
Billy Kern, in his later years, delivered milk in Pueblo using this same horse to pull the milk wagon. Kern and his horse will be the subject of a later story.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

We’ve been writing about the Montoya-Howe Sheepmens’ Cattlemens’ War, a true story from Pagosa’s past. We closed last week with a description of the shootout which left cattleman William Howe dead and sheepman Juan de Dios Montoya wounded.

When our story picks up, night has fallen. Pagosa Sheriff Billy Kern is riding up the East Fork of the San Juan River in search of the Montoya bunch. Old Joe Mann is riding along with the sheriff, shotgun butt balanced against his saddle on the right side, ready for action. 

The Montoya bunch has stopped to treat Juan. The bullet wound in his side has been dripping blood, messing up his saddle and jeans. The worried brothers built a campfire and warmed some water, hoping to staunch the bleeding wound.

Kern could see the shadows from the campfire dancing along the rimrock of the canyon. He expected the Montoyas to have a guard posted and decided to tether the horses so the clip-clop of the horse hooves would not betray their presence. Carefully, they slipped up on the night guard and persuaded him to take them into the camp.

Kern’s quick thinking prevented a further tragedy when, with a quick swing of his arm, he grabbed the shotgun Old Joe Mann’s itchy trigger finger was about to unload into the Montoya crowd. Kern was no stranger to tragedy. A few years earlier while carrying the mail through this same canyon on a snow-packed winter day, he’d frozen his right hand. When he checked into the Cade Hotel in Pagosa with the mail, Ma Cade gave him a double shot of whiskey, had him clench a bullet between his teeth, slapped him sharply on the arm and removed the already deadened trigger finger from his right hand. The loss didn’t hurt Kern’s effectiveness as a sheriff: He just removed the trigger from his Colt 45 and learned to fan the pistol unbelievable effectiveness.

When the Montoya brothers appeared to disagree with the sheriff’s plan to take their wounded brother into town and more trouble threatened, he soon convinced them that Juan would get needed medical treatment in town and would also be safer because he and his deputies would provide protection from the lynch mob that was certain to show up.

Continued next week.

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Pagosa’s Past: The Montoya-Howe Sheepmens’ Cattlemens’ War http://www.pagosasun.com/pagosas-past-the-montoya-howe-sheepmens-cattlemens-war/ Mon, 10 Aug 2020 11:00:10 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=208392

Photo courtesy John Motter
The four Chapson brothers, shown here, grew up on the At Last Ranch.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist

One of the saddest stories in local history is known as the Montoya-Howe Sheepmens’ Cattlemens’ War that took place in 1892.

The young William Howe family started the year 1892 with bright prospects. They’d started a promising cattle ranch and constructed a comfortable home with a view of the San Juan River. Brother Abe homesteaded the adjoining ranch to the north. Down through history, the Howe ranch located at the foot of Wolf Creek Pass has become known as the At Last Ranch.

Adding to the family’s joyful expectations, teenage bride Jennie Howe was carrying her first child.

Then, as the year progressed, tragedy struck. Jennie died giving birth to a baby boy. The baby died four months later.

As you might expect, the heartbroken father, his brother Abe, family friend Old Joe Mann, and others were holding a wake in the family living room, grieving the loss of William’s one and only son.

Old Joe Mann, staring out the front window, scratching his head and looking back over his shoulder, growls, “Hey guys, lessin’ I be mistook, that there’s a herd a mangy woolies down there cross that crick. You take a look-see while I put on my six-shooter and saddle up. I’m a gittin’ a powerful taste for mutton.”

Down across the San Juan River, Juan de Dios Montoya, his brother and a hired hand were busily pushing a flock of 20,000 or so sheep along the west bank of the river with the intention of turning up the East Fork of the San Juan and crossing over the Continental Divide at Elwood Pass to the family home in Monte Vista.

A sheepherder’s job is to be on the lookout for danger and that was what Juan was doing. A glance across the river revealed, coming at full speed, three horses and their riders. Danger! The riders were pulling rifles from scabbards and looking for a target.

Juan jumped from his horse and dived behind a large boulder, but not before taking a bullet from the nearest rider, William Howe, who was already splashing across the river. Juan squinted down the barrel of his old buffalo rifle, squeezed the trigger and fired. William’s horse stumbled, spilling his rider out of the saddle, blood spurting from his lifeless body into the muddied river. Brother Abe and Old Joe Mann yanked their horses around and raced to the aid of their fallen compadre, too little, too late. 

Next week, we’ll continue the story as Pagosa Springs Sheriff Billy Kern tracks down the sheepherders.

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