Spooky stories compilation for Halloween 2018

It is that time of year once again for tales of the eerie, strange, or downright horrifying. So for lazy linking, here is the compilation from October 13 2016 that compiles several stories up to that date.

Then we have another story of the Nuuskilii – the dangerous women translated variously as pitch-dress-ogresses or giantesses. They like kidnapping men and children. So, men and children, be very wary of extremely tall women wearing pitch-covered clothing!

Then we have the disturbing story of “The Five Shadows”.

And finally, returning to the story I posted earlier this year about the mysterious “Hollering Monster”.

So put on the teapot and enjoy some eerie stories.

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New word: dark (colors)

At this stage, I don’t find many new Hanis words. Found one last night, however, a new word for ‘dark’.

In St Clair’s (1903) and Frachtenberg’s work (1909) with Hanis speakers Jim Buchanan and Tom Hollis, they recorded a verb and a noun for ‘to be dark (a lack of light), darkness’. The verb is liit-, as in this story about the time the sun did not rise one morning:

tlepqánien kwe yuu liiyá’at

ten=ORD it.seems very to.be.dark=TR

For ten days it was very dark.

The noun, darkness/lack of light, is liiyéos.

When Jane Sokolow came to Oregon in 1965 to work with the last known fluent Hanis speaker, Martha Harney Johnson, she recorded ‘dark’ as liiyat. But she got a second, completely different word for ‘dark’, k’wƗƛč (k’witlch). This word is recorded nowhere else (to my knowledge), and I assume that it refers to the second English meaning of ‘dark’; dark shades of colors.

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Libby, or HeldƏnita, a Milluk woman

Libby (Coos) & Mike Tinalon, husband, at Libby, Newport Mine, OR. (Beckham 3200 DPI. 5.16.2018)

Photo: Left, Mike Tinalon or perhaps Quinlin; right, Heldoniita/Libby (Milluk). Photo date unknown; some time in 1880s or 1890s. Photo courtesy of Dr. Stephen Beckham via Flanagan family

Some may remember that Coalbank Slough was once called Libby Slough, and that near the old Newport mine was a short lived town that was named Libby. What people may not recall that Libby was the English name of a Milluk woman. I’ve never found out how she came by the English name Libby but her Milluk nickname was Hɛ´ldǝnita (Heldoniita), a name from the Milluk verb hɛldǝnu (heldonu) which means ‘row over row, ruffle over ruffle’ in reference to the many shell necklaces she had. The brother of Libby/Heldoniita was one of the South Slough chiefs, so she was born into a wealthy family. Annie said she (and her own mother “Matilda”) also owned fancy dresses made of small feathers. She said they were made of all colors of feathers – “Blue jays, meadowlark, red headed woodpecker, green headed mallard ducks’ (head feathers), eagle down.” (Jacobs 97:54) These dresses too may have been a kind of wealth item. Libby was related to other high ranking families, both Hanis and Milluk – one of her nephews was Hanis chief Doloos Jackson.

Legend has it that she showed Patrick Flanagan where coal was, and he opened the Newport mine. Flanagan was an early settler on the bay. He married Ella Winchester in 1856, and Libby worked for the couple for many years, and Flanagan built a small house for her and her husband, who was known as Mike Tinalon (although he might have been named Quinlon or Quinlin)*. Ella protected Libby. When soldiers came down to do periodic sweeps to search for ‘runaway Indians’ and forcibly remove them to the Coast Reservation, Ella would hide Libby in a flour barrel. There is an interesting and awful historical irony to this, as in 1856 Flanagan also had a contract to help remove south coast Indians to the reservation. He seems to have made Libby his one exception to his contract. When Libby became very old and infirm, the Wasson family took her in. When she died she was buried in the Wasson family cemetery up South Slough.

Libby appears to have been fondly remembered by many Native families, as both her English and Native names have been passed on a few times in some tribal families.


Beckham, Dow. 1995. Stars in the Dark: Coal Mines of Southwestern Oregon. Arago Books, Coos Bay OR.

Harrington, John P. 1942. Alsea, Siuslaw, Coos, Southwest Oregon Athapaskan: Vocabularies, Linguistic Notes, Ethnographic and Historical Notes. John Peabody Harrington Papers, Alaska/Northwest Coast, in National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Jacobs, Melville. 1932-34. Coos Ethnologic Notes, Notebooks 91-99, 101, Jacobs Collection, University of Washington Archives, Seattle.


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The Thing That Hollers

Nok’élehe: the-person-that-halloos, the hollerer, the thing that hollers. The word is the same in both Hanis and Milluk, based on the verb k’el- or k’al-; to holler, to yell. The story of the nok’élehe might be one of the most-told stories recorded from Coos Bay and Coquille people – multiple versions were recorded from several storytellers, and the story is still referenced by elders to this day.

Some versions say the nok’élehe was encountered only once. One story says it appeared again in the 19th century. Most versions agree that it begins with a lone man, carving a canoe, that encounters the strange creature. All versions agree it hollered (hence the name), was powerful, and had a single horn. Almost all of the storytellers (save one, which we’ll get to in a bit), after learning of exotic creatures from white settlers, thought the Hollerer was a rhinoceros!

Annie Peterson told two versions of the story – one in English only to Jacobs in 1933 (see Jacobs notebook 93 page 64) and later in Milluk which he reprinted in “Coos Myth Texts”. She said that Coos country was hot long ago, and there were alligators and rhinos and those sort of creatures who disappeared long ago. Here is the version she told in English in 1933:

When they are in the woods they’d hear a person hollering, and if they’d answer this rhinoceros would come and toss a person on his horn till the person would be killed. The last one: a man was building a canoe near Ki’wé’et (the peninsula below Empire where the stave mill once was), and far back where he was building it he heard and saw this thing. He ran, the thing followed, he’d throw some of his clothes back, the thing would tear up and waste time with these fragments, then continue pursuing. At length he man got to his canoe. He tipped it over having no time to launch it. The rhino speared it and it got right on his head, and the being ran off holding the canoe over his face. The man ran on ahead and encountered an old blind woman. She advised him to get a heavy sharp hard tasseled [mud shrimp] digging pole and to stick it up the rear end of the rhino. No bow and arrow could kill him; that was the only way to kill him. So they all killed the rhino and they say this was the last one and they never saw or heard of another one again.”

Annie said this is why people did not answer a yell when they were out in the woods. Because the yell might not be coming from a human. It might be coming from some sort of deadly monster.

Annie’s niece Lottie Evanoff, and Coquille-Coos friends Nellie Wasson Freeman and Daisy Wasson Codding also knew versions of nok’élehe, which are very similar to Annie’s tale. The canoe maker was in the hills just above Second Creek, when he heard something hollering. He thought at first it was a person. He answered, and soon learned to his horror that the thing that hollered was not a person, but a large horned creature. He dodges it, hiding behind cedar trees because those are ‘soft’ (per Lottie) and the creature’s horn was most likely to get stuck in it. He fled north to Empire, where the Indians gathered together and its hide was too tough to pierce with arrows or spears. The only way they killed it was, as Lottie phrased it, “spear[ing] him thru the arse”. (The hollering monster isn’t the only thing killed this way in Coos stories – Night Rainbow Old Woman also killed a grizzly this way, with her digging stick made of ice).

Nellie and Daisy had heard this story from their Upper Coquille grandmother. They said that the old bay mouth was at Jarvis landing. When the outlet broke through where it is now, a horned creature came from the sea (not a serpent, however). Two men working at where Cammann road is now (above Second Creek) were chased by it, it speared their canoe. The two men ran and shouted, “Come out with your pitch! Come out with your spears! Come out with your sharp sticks!” People grabbed weapons, but found its hide to tough to pierce. As in the other versions, the nok’élehe had to be dispatched by stabbing it right up…well, you know. The people cut it up and burned its remains.

In an interview with Melville Jacobs in 1932 (notebook 92 page 65), Frank Drew claimed that his friend Jim Buchanan and a settler named “Dutch” Henry had encountered one of these nok’élehe:

There was a white man (Dutch Henry) who married an Indian girl. They lived in early days on Coos River of Coos Bay. The woman (a relative of Jim Buchanan) was far up the Coos River with Jim Buchanan, where Dutch had a cabin. Jim heard someone hollering up in the woods, which were burnt and open. The thing kept up a continuous hollering, nearing all the time. Jim suddenly saw, coming upriver, on a side hill, the thing coming and hollering. He told her about it coming. She told him it was a rhinoceros, to lose no time, get in a canoe, and get downriver to where Indians were. This they did, they paddled downriver to the village, told the people what they had seen and what caused their flight. Dutch next day went upriver with a lot of natives to see what was the matter. His cabin was a strong one. When he got to it it was gone. The rhinoceros must have wrecked the house.

This was the same thing that tackled a man who was making a canoe…”

Coquelle Thompson, an Upper Coquille man, told this story to Elizabeth Jacobs (reprinted in Pitch Woman and Other Stories, edited by William Seaburg) and JP Harrington. His story is similar to the others in several respects, except for the identity of the Hollering Thing. It was not a rhinoceros, but a giant quail! The quail’s topknot was the dangerous horn.

In Thompson’s version, there was a man from Kammasdan (the Lower Coquille village near Bullard’s Beach) had been working on a canoe. Coming from a hill, he thought he heard a woman hollering. He answered. It hollered again. He answered. As it got closer, it hollered again he realized it didn’t sound like a human after all. But it was too late – he saw a large winged creature, which was a quail. The Quail charged at him, but he dodged it and eventually the thing crashed into a tree. The man hit it in the head with a rock and fled. The next day, he returned to find the creature, dead. Its horn broke off. In the longer version in JP Harrington’s notes, the canoe carver took the horn for a weapon. Elizabeth Jacobs said Thompson called the creature dectl’e, although elsewhere recorded the usual word for quail in Upper Coquille is dvshlh’e (where v = ‘uh’ and lh stands in for the barred-l symbol). So almost the same word.

This story, retold by so many, was often used as a warning to remind people to be cautious when out alone in the woods. If you hear something yelling in the distance, don’t assume it is a human. It might not be. And you might not want that nonhuman creature, whatever it may be, to find you. And if it does – well, run fast and remember to dodge from the front of a tree at the last moment – so that maybe it will knock itself out or get trapped in the tree!


Harrington, John P. 1942. Alsea, Siuslaw, Coos, Southwest Oregon Athapaskan: Vocabularies, Linguistic Notes, Ethnographic and Historical Notes. John Peabody Harrington Papers, Alaska/Northwest Coast, in National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Jacobs, Elizabeth. 1935. Upper Coquille notes, Notebook 119, Jacobs Collection, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle.

Jacobs, Melville. 1932-34. Coos Ethnologic Notes, Notebooks 91-99, 101, Jacobs Collection, University of Washington Archives, Seattle.

Jacobs, Melville. 1939. Coos Narrative and Ethnologic Texts. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA.

Jacobs, Melville. 1940. Coos Myth Texts. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA.

Maloney, Alice and Joe Maloney. 1933. Coos ethnographic notes from Joe and Alice B. Maloney. Melville Jacobs papers, Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle WA.

Seaburg, William, ed. 2007. Pitch Woman and Other Stories: The Oral Traditions of Coquelle Thompson, Upper Coquille Athabaskan Indian. University of Nebraska Press.

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“Stealing of Fire and Water”

Many tribes in the west have stories about how the First People had to acquire fire from a person or village of persons who held the only fire. Often, but not always, the hero is Coyote or another Trickster. There were three versions that were recorded among Coos people. In all of them, there is a headman of a village that has fire. No one else does. So, another band of people go there and gamble for fire. They play the ‘guessing game’, known variously around the west as the ‘bone game’, ‘hand game’, lahal. In Coos it is known as heye.* Here is a description of how it is played in many places. The Coos variation is instead of holding bones in the hands, the players held little sticks about one foot long, of which one had a mark.

The versions told by Coos storytellers basically follow the same arc, although the details vary: only one headman and village has fire. Others want it, so they can cook. They go to the village with fire, gamble for it, and when the game ends people run about, one grabs the fire and runs, and in the melee a bucket of water is kicked over, thus creating creeks and rain. Annie Peterson told a version where the Fifth Trickster, the People’s Father, gambled and won the fire (see pages 210 through 213 of Melville Jacobs’ “Coos Myth Texts”). Her niece Lottie told a short version in English to JP Harrington in 1942. She said that the people with the fire lived in mountains to the east and they were eagles. The man who actually stole the fire was Snail, who passed it to Dove who hid it in a willow tree, and “that’s why you get fire from willow roots.”

Jim Buchanan told a version to Leo Frachtenberg that he printed in his book “Coos Texts” as well as analyzed in his Hanis grammar. However, Buchanan’s version has a rather odd detail in the gambling scene. It begins normally enough. There are two ‘cradles’ on the ground. The buckskin laid on the ground where the counter sticks were laid were called in Coos a ‘cradle’, piihl or bi’ihl. Then, one headman says to the other that he has knew shinny sticks and balls, while his are old. Then they proceed to play with shinny sticks (nauhin) instead of the usual foot long taqsai sticks. In his grammar, Frachtenberg kept the translation of ‘shinny stick’, but he noted that Buchanan was mistaken in that word use and he should have used the words associated with the guessing game. Jarold Ramsey reprinted this story in “Coyote Was Going There” under the title “How the Coos People Discovered Fire” and he incorporated Frachtenberg’s changes into the text – he removed any reference to shinny from the story.

I have thought about this for awhile, and the more I think about it, the less I think Frachtenberg was correct – that Buchanan made an error in word choice. I think that as part of the otherworldliness of the story, the Sky Chief and Earth Chief may have used shinny sticks and shinny balls in the guessing game of heye, rather than the usual taqsai.

Than last night it suddenly dawned on me while I was talking about the story with my husband. I think Frachtenberg forgot what Jim Buchanan had told him about the ancient pre-human myth age, the time frame in which this story was set. Buchanan once told him that the ‘first people’ (iilahiix me or the iilaháchomiix me, which literally means the “first people” or “before people”) were strong and about nine feet tall. For beings that tall, shinny sticks could easily stand in for the hand-held gambling sticks that normal human beings use to play heye.

So now I think Buchanan perfectly well knew what he was doing and Frachtenberg was wrong in his assumption. I think Buchanan chose the word nauhin for shinny club in the heye scene quite deliberately – it reminds the audience that this story is indeed from the ancient pre-human times, when those giants could play heye with shinny clubs instead of our contemporary foot-long taqsai (or 3 to 4 inch long bones as many other tribes use to play).

*I haven’t found yet the word for it in Siuslaw, but the verb for ‘to gamble’ is hlawat, and a gambler is hlawat’yauch and the word for the game is probably also derived from the verb.


Frachtenberg, Leo J. 1909. Coos Fieldnotes. Office of Anthropology Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Frachtenberg, Leo J. 1913. Coos Texts. Columbia University Contributions to Anthropology, no. 1. New York.

Harrington, John P. 1942. Alsea, Siuslaw, Coos, Southwest Oregon Athapaskan: Vocabularies, Linguistic Notes, Ethnographic and Historical Notes. John Peabody Harrington Papers, Alaska/Northwest Coast, in National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Jacobs, Melville. 1940. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA.

Ramsey, Jarold, ed. 1977. Coyote Was Going There: Indian Literature of the Oregon Country. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA.

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Night Fishing

Coos Indians Spear-Fishing, 1856, HARPER'S MAGAZINE

Sketch by William Wells, 1855; published in 1856 in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Image Library of Congress.

The image above, sketched in 1855 by a visitor to Coos Bay, depicts night fishing on the bay. You might look at that image and rightly think “What? Building a fire on canoe made of flammable wood?” Well, you see, our ancestors had a handy trick for protecting the canoe from the fire. On the canoe they placed a platform, called in Hanis a qetlq’el. On top of the qetlq’el they put a good pile of sand, and on top of that they built a small fire, of pitchy wood usually.

William Wells, that visitor of 1855, said the women paddled the canoes and pulled the fish from the men’s spears while night fishing in the lower bay (quoted in R. Scott Byram “Brush Fences and Basket Traps”).

People said often what they fished for that way were flounders, sometimes trout and sturgeon (even though sturgeon, being so large, are tricky to go after-they required a harpoon). Frank Drew said “Flounders and sturgeon are less skittish and shy at night.” (Jacobs 1932[92]:34).

Andrew Charles (Coos/Chetco, nephew of Jim Buchanan) testified in the land claims hearing in 1932 and said of this manner of fishing “Then in some places where the water goes swift that makes the fish go slow and they spear them or hook them, they had canoes made those days and they gather pitch wood and build a platform on the canoe and build a fire with the pitch wood and then they go along the shallow water and spear the flounder, and sometimes they catch trout in the same manner…”


Byram, R. Scott. 2002. Brush Fences and Basket Traps: The Archaeology and Ethnohistory of Tidewater Weird Fishing on the Oregon Coast.

Drucker, Phillip. 1933. Ethnographic Field Notes. Office of Anthropology Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Harrington, John P. 1942. Alsea, Siuslaw, Coos, Southwest Oregon Athapaskan: Vocabularies, Linguistic Notes, Ethnographic and Historical Notes. John Peabody Harrington Papers, Alaska/Northwest Coast, in National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Jacobs, Melville. 1932. Coos Notebooks. University of Washington, Seattle WA.

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“Dear Old Lady”: the tale of the suffix -sha

Leo Frachtenberg worked with Hanis speaker Jim Buchanan in 1909. As part of his work, he later published a grammar of Hanis. In it he noted a suffix -sha that is unusual in that unlike any other suffix in the language it affixes to one, and only one word: huu’mik’, old woman. Frachtenberg commented that “It was explained to me as having an endearing character, but instances are not lacking where the suffix is used in a derogatory sense.” I could find no examples in Frachtenberg’s work where the suffix was clearly derogatory, with one exception. He had one example of it sarcastically referring to a Pitch Woman. Pitch Women were a kind of ‘ogre’ who were notorious kidnappers of young men and frequent killer of children.

It isn’t odd to find a suffix that can be both endearing and derogatory – there are many such words and phrases in many languages, and the specific meaning in their use lies in context, body language and tone of voice. What struck me as a bit unusual is that –sha seems to affix to only one word – huu’mik’, old woman – and no other. (I have done word searches to see if it appears with other words, like huu’mis, woman or tuumitl, old man. None were found).

Lottie Evanoff, in her interviews with Harrington, did not seem to make much of a difference between the forms huu’mik’ and huu’mik’sha. For the latter, she said ‘old woman, oldish.’ for the former, she just said ‘old woman’.

Harrington’s assistant Jack Marr made sound recordings of Frank Drew in 1941.

The first time the suffix is used, it is in response to Marr’s prompt “Old woman”: Frank Drew says huumiksha. Listening to Jack Marr’s prompt, he kind of emphasizes the adjective ‘old’.

On the following recording beginning at 5:00, “He knew the old woman. Mitsisiiya lo huumiksha.”

I did some digging in texts, but all (with one exception, which I will get to shortly) were collected by Frachtenberg in his work with Jim Buchanan as well as material from other speakers, to try to figure out what exactly –sha meant, and if it was more endearing or derogatory.

Just looking at Frachtenberg’s texts (which are myths told by Buchanan) I could not find any examples there that read as derogatory to me, at least based on what I could glean from the text. The word comes up in just a few stories. One is “Night Rainbow and Grizzly Bear”, where a Grizzly killed some of Night Rainbow Old Woman’s relatives. She and her grandson eventually have revenge on the grizzlies and restore their kin back to life. (Indeed, do not mess with Night Rainbow Old Woman, she takes out one grizzly by stabbing it in a sensitive place with a digging stick made of ice!)

In the story, Buchanan describes her as a very old woman, but he uses the normal, suffix-free version of the word for ‘old woman’:

halt’yuu hlnuwii huu’mik’ lo soyaqáu

very very old.woman the night.rainbow

Night Rainbow Old Woman was very old.

She is also often referred to as ‘grandmother’, typically in scenes where she is interacting with her grandson (making him lunch, weapons, helping him restore his parents back to life).

Here are several of the scenes where she is referred to with the special suffix:

First use – after grandson has weapons she made for him, he brings home rabbits.

Heihats yuxwe wutxaiyat ho chuuxchuux.

Soon he brought back two rabbits.


Tlntits lehl huu’mik’sha.

That beloved old woman skinned them.


Yuxwe diihl nkihluuwit. Atlimaq diihl.”

I saw two things. Tall things.”


Wench tl’exom le temisnech.

That’s how her grandson spoke.


Xwitsxut shku lo e’kihluuwit.”

It must’ve been deer you saw.”


Wench tl’exom lo soyaqáu huu’mik’.

That’s how the Night Rainbow Old Woman was speaking.

Second & third use-after grandson killed the grizzly that killed his parents, he returns to the camas prairie to confront another grizzly, while his grandmother dances for him. He kills the last bad grizzly:

Sitsá’ata’ai ho lehl huu’mik’sha.

That dear old woman kept murder-dancing.


Loghii u iluwechis, I lau yixei tsxauwat lehl huu’mik’sha.

Her heart was glad, that dear old woman, when he killed one [of the Grizzlies].

Fourth & Fifth use: -When reviving his parents, his grandmother is referred to as ‘grandmother’ rather than ‘old woman’. When they return to the grizzlies’ house to rescue the other murder victims they work together to bring them to life and Buchanan uses huu’mik’sha again:

Xap ux xtlimiiyat hox huu’mik’sha.

He and the dear old lady warmed water.


Xle´ich tsuut lo e’, lo kihla, lo kxla.

With it he washed the faces, the hands, the feet.


Guus xwench tsix tsiixit….

To all he did this….


Tsuuwetl hiithiiwat hehl huu’mik’sha.

That dear old woman had grease.


Xle´ich hliphliiyaq le e, ihl le kihla, ihl le kxla.

With it she painted their faces, their hands, their feet.

In “Spider Old Woman” (Winqas Huu’mik’) she is only referred to with the suffix once, at a point in the story when she is training her grandson to have power against weapons:

Tsuu atsa lo willek lehl huu’mik’sha lox temisnech

Now the grandson gave the whale-bone club to that dear old lady.

In Buchanan’s telling of the death of the Five Grizzly Brothers, Old Wren (who defeats the last Grizzly brother) was also once described as huu’mik’sha, a dear-old-lady.

In only one story does Buchanan go a bit wild with the -sha suffix. In the 3rd “Nuuskilii” (Pitch Woman) story he told, he refers to the grandmother in the story every time with -sha. The grandmother was a hero who tried to save her grandchildren from a pair of Nuuskilii – she succeeded in killing the Nuuskilii (by luring them into a fire) but it came too late to save her grandchildren.

In Annie’s Hanis stories, she never uses the -sha suffix. She uses it once in a Milluk one. In ‘Grandmother Afterbirth’, she describes beliefs and customs around birth and the afterbirth. The placenta was called ‘the grandmother’ and was believed to cause a bruise on the lower back of newborns, and frighten the babies.

She gives the story first in Milluk, then Jacobs read it back to her and she translated it into Hanis. Curiously, she uses the -sha suffix once in the Milluk version in referring to the Old-Woman-Afterbirth, but in the identical line in Hanis, curiously, she leaves it out.

To compare here is the Milluk line (note: Jacobs uses the symbol c for sh):

tłɛ-x-hu’mik’ca tłɛ-kwi-aq’alqsit’úwa

The old woman scared her


And the Hanis:

lɛ´-x-hú’mik’ lɛ´lɛu aq’álsit’í•wat

The old woman scared her

So most of the time when the -sha suffix appears, it seems to refer with affection or respect to an elderly woman. Perhaps not unlike the English expressions of ‘dear old lady’ or ‘amazing old lady’. Twice could examples be interpreted as being sarcastic or derogatory – when used to refer to a Nuukilii or the “grandmother” afterbirth that was said to frighten newborns.

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