George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 26 December 1791

From Henry Knox

War department, December 26th 1791.


I have the honor to submit to your consideration, two reports, relatively to the western frontiers of the United States.

The Report A, is accompanied by official documents, and is intended to exhibit, the measures taken by the executive to induce the hostile Indians to peace, without the necessity of using force against them—and also the measures of the executive relative to the objects and preparations of the Campaign of 1791; and in some degree an explanation of the causes of its failure.1

The report, B. contains a general, but summary review, of the conduct of the United States, towards the Indians northwest of the Ohio, since our separation from Great Britain.

And it also contains an opinion, delivered with great diffidence, of such further measures as the nature of the case, and the public interests, seem to require.2 I have the honor to be with highest respect, Sir, Your most obedient humble servant

H. Knox,
secy of War

LS, DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–1793, Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DLC:GW.

For the background to this letter, see Henry Knox to GW, 17 Dec. 1791. GW submitted it and its enclosed reports, both dated 26 Dec. 1791, to Congress on 11 Jan. 1792.

1Report A, entitled “A summary statement of facts, relatively to the measures taken, in behalf of the United States, to induce the hostile Indians, northwest of the Ohio, to peace, previously to the exercise of coercion against them; and also a statement of the arrangements for the campaign of 1791,” dated at the War Department, 26 Dec. 1791, reads: “That the measures of the Executive of the United States, relatively to Indian affairs, since the operation of the General Government, have been calculated to produce a peace with all the Indian tribes, upon the terms of justice and humanity, may be evinced by having recourse to the records of the Indian department. That, as the former proceedings have generally been laid before the Legislature, the present statement commences with the close of the campaign of the year 1790. That the Cornplanter, a war-captain of the Senecas, and other Indians of the same tribe, being in Philadelphia, December, 1790, measures were taken to impress them with the moderation of the United States, as it respected the war with the Western Indians; that the coercive measures against them had been the consequence of their refusal to listen to the invitations of peace, and a continuance of their depredations on the frontiers. That, at the same time, the Senecas were warned to restrain their young men from taking part with the hostile Indians; upon which point, assurances were made by the Cornplanter that he, and the Indians under his influence, would not only be friends to the United States, but that they would endeavor to prevent the further hostilities of the Western Indians. Arrangements were accordingly made, that the Cornplanter, with other friendly Indians, should proceed to the Western tribes, and endeavor to influence them to peace. That, in addition to this measure, Colonel Thomas Procter, on the 10th of March, was sent to the Cornplanter to hasten his departure, to accompany him to the Miami villages; and messages were sent to the Indians, declaratory of the sentiments of the United States towards them. That both the Cornplanter and Colonel Procter met with difficulties, in the due execution of their orders, which were insurmountable. That further measures were taken, in the month of April, to draw the Six Nations to a conference, at a distance from the theatre of war, in order not only to prevent their joining therein, but, also, if necessary, to obtain some of their young men to join our army, in case of hostilities being inevitable. That the said conference was accordingly held at the Painted Post, in the month of June, by Colonel Pickering. That, besides these, measures were taken for holding a treaty with the Cherokees, which was concluded on the second of July; and also other pacific measures were pursued with the Chickasaws and Creeks. That Major General St. Clair was instructed, in addition to the measures immediately taken by the Executive, to devise and execute further expedients to endeavor to quiet the hostile Indians, without a further effusion of blood. That he accordingly forwarded messages to the Delawares and Wyandots, and through them, to the hostile Indians, expressive of the pacific and humane dispositions of the United States towards them. That he also endeavored to tranquilize the Wyandots and Delawares, relative to some of their members having been killed in March, who had been trading at a block-house at Big Beaver creek. That, although the Governor of Pennsylvania, at the request of the Secretary of War, issued his proclamation to bring the offenders to justice, yet it does not appear to have been done. That the preparations of the campaign commenced while the subject was under the consideration of Congress. That two thousand arms and accoutrements, and a proportional quantity of ammunition, were transported to fort Pitt, during the months of February, March and April. That eight pieces of artillery, and stores, were also arranged, repaired, and transported to fort Pitt. That the corps of two thousand levies, authorized by the act of Congress of the 3d of March, were organized into two regiments, each of three battalions; that one battalion was raised in New Jersey, two in Pennsylvania, one in Maryland, one in Virginia, and one in the territory of the United States, south of the Ohio; the latter being intended to be armed entirely with rifles. That each battalion consisted of four companies, and each company of eighty-three non-commissioned officers and privates, amounting, in all, to the number of one thousand nine hundred and ninety-two. That of the levies, there were raised and marched, from their respective rendezvous, during the months of April, May, June, and the beginning of July, one thousand six hundred and seventy-four non-commissioned and privates. That of the first and second regiments of the more permanent troops of the United States, there were recruited and marched to the frontiers, during the months of April, May, June, and the beginning of July, seven hundred and eighteen; and of the battalion of artillery, forty-five, making in the whole, seven hundred and sixty-three non-commissioned and privates. That the total of the regulars and levies, who actually marched from their respective rendezvous, appear to have been two thousand four hundred and thirty-seven; and to which is to be added, two hundred and sixty-two of the first regiment and artillery, previously at fort Washington, which will make the whole to amount to two thousand six hundred and ninety-nine, non-commissioned and privates. That, of these there appear to have been at fort Washington, and different parts of the Ohio, in the month of September last, as per abstract of musters, two thousand-five hundred and eighty-seven privates. That the continental troops, consisting of regulars and levies, artillery, and cavalry, for the expedition, as appears by Major General St. Clair’s letter of 6th of October, amount to about two thousand. That, besides the aforesaid number of two thousand six hundred and ninety-nine troops on the Ohio, there have been enlisted and marched, of the second regiment, three-hundred and seventy-three non-commissioned and privates, of whom two companies, consisting of one hundred and fifty-six, have been at fort Pitt until lately, when they descended the Ohio to Fort Washington. Another company, of fifty-nine, have been detached to Georgia, which, with the troops already there, and a company recruited in South-Carolina, which is also ordered there, will amount to five hundred and ninety-two non-commissioned and privates; besides which, there is a small detachment at West Point, of seventeen men. That thus it will appear, that, of the troops authorized by the acts of Congress, amounting to four thousand one hundred and twenty-eight noncommissioned and privates, only the number of three thousand three hundred and eight, are, and have been raised. That the deficiency, of eight hundred and twenty, have not been enlisted, appears to have been in consequence of the low pay, and perhaps the nature of the service. That, previously to the enlistment of the levies, to-wit: on the tenth day of March, in consequence of irruptions of the Indians on the frontiers, the county lieutenants of the frontiers, lying along the Ohio, and in the southwestern parts of Virginia, and in the territory of the United States south of the Ohio, were empowered to call forth the militia for the defensive protection of said counties, respectively. That this measure was dictated by the necessity of the case, and under the laws authorizing the President of the United States for the purpose. That, besides this species of defensive protection afforded the frontiers, during the preparing the army for a forward movement, two desultory operations were directed, at the expense of the United States, from the district of Kentucky, and both of which succeeded in a considerable degree. These expeditions were intended as well to prevent the Indians from spreading themselves on the frontiers, by calling their attention to their own safety, as to shew our power to chastise them. That Major General St. Clair, besides his troops of regulars and levies, had authority to call for militia from Kentucky, to supply any deficiencies of new levies, and that such militia should be of such species as he should judge proper. That the said Major General St. Clair called for one thousand one hundred and fifty militia, but of these, only the number of four hundred and eighteen joined him, as appears by the abstract of the musters; but, by his letter of the first of November, there appears sixty to have joined him on the march, and about as many deserted. That the detention of his troops in the upper parts of the Ohio, and afterwards the lowness of the waters in that river, were considered by him as truly unfortunate circumstances. That the instructions of Major General St. Clair contain the plan of the campaign. That the said instructions, and the other papers on which this statement is formed, whether relative to the Indian department, or the preparations for the campaign, are hereunto annexed. All which is humbly submitted to the President of the United States” (ASP, Indian Affairs, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:139–40). The documents that accompanied this report are printed ibid., 140–97.

2Knox’s second enclosure, also dated at the War Department on 26 Dec., and printed under the title “Statement relative to the Frontiers Northwest of the Ohio,” reads: “In obedience to the commands of the President of the United States, the Secretary of War respectfully submits the following statement relatively to the frontiers northwest of the Ohio; and also a plan of such further measures as the existing state of affairs, and the national interest, seem to require. That, in order to obtain a general knowledge of this subject, it would be proper to review, in a summary manner, the conduct which the United States have observed to the neighboring Indian tribes, both during the late war, and since the peace with Great Britain. This inquiry seems necessary, to enable the mind to form a judgment how far a further prosecution of hostilities against the Indians would comport with that justice and dignity, which ought to be the pride and ornament of every free government. That it will appear by the journals of Congress, in the earliest stages of the late war, how solicitous the United States were to live upon terms of peace and friendship with all the bordering Indian tribes. That, although the public endeavors were then unsuccessful in preventing the depredations which desolated the frontiers, from Georgia to Canada, yet, as soon as circumstances would permit, those endeavors were revived, with great ardor and better effect. That, in the year 1784, a treaty was formed with the hostile part of the Six Nations, at fort Stanwix. That, in the commencement of the year 1785, a treaty was formed at fort McIntosh, with the Wyandots, Delawares, Ottawas, and Chippewas; that, during the same year, treaties were formed at Hopewell, on the Keowee, with the Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Choctaws, to the southward: and that, in the early part of the year 1786, a treaty was formed with the Shawanese, at the mouth of the Great Miami of the Ohio. That it appears that certain malignant and turbulent characters excited uneasiness and complaints among some of the Northern and Western Indians, against the said treaties of fort Stanwix and fort McIntosh. That it appears that Congress, in order to accommodate all differences satisfactorily to the said Northern and Western Indians, did, in 1788, direct that another treaty should be held, to which all the said Indians should be invited. That a new treaty was accordingly held and concluded at fort Harmar, in January, 1789, with a representation of all the Six Nations, the Mohawks excepted, and with the representatives of the Wyandot, Delaware, Ottawa, Chippewa, Pattiwatima, and the Sac nations, in which nearly the same boundaries, stipulated by the prior treaties, were recognised and confirmed. That it is, however, to be understood, that, although the Miami and Wabash Indians were invited to this treaty, they did not attend. That, notwithstanding the said Wabash and Miami Indians, with certain other banditti, formed of the remnants of the Shawnese, with some outcast Cherokees, still continued their depredations, they were warned, by directions of the President of the United States, to abstain from any further violence, and invited to repair to a place appointed by the Governor of the Western territory, in order to adjust all differences, in an amicable manner. At the same time, the people of Kentucky, who, in consequence of repeated depredations, were meditating a blow against the said Indians, were prohibited from crossing the Ohio. That the invitations of the United States, which were delivered to all the tribes residing upon the river Wabash, and the Miami towns, were treated not only with neglect, but outrages were renewed with still greater violence than ever, and, in some of their towns, the most shocking cruelties were exercised upon their prisoners. In this state of things, it became necessary to make an experiment of the effect of coercion. Accordingly, the operation under Brigadier General Harmar was directed, but without having the desired success. A larger force was raised for the year 1791, and the command thereof given to Major General St. Clair, to be employed (all other means failing) to bring the said Indians to a just sense of their situation. The pacific measures were attempted, and strong assurances given, through the Cornplanter, an influential chief of the Six Nations; by the intended mission of Colonel Procter; and the instructions to General St. Clair; that we wanted nothing from them but peace, and were disposed to do them strict justice. But, being unable to succeed in this object, and the event of this expedition having also proved unfortunate, it may be proper to inquire into its object, the cause of its failure, and the probable consequences thereof. It will appear, by a reference to report A, which accompanies this report, that the great object of the late campaign was to establish a strong military post at the Miami village, lying upon the river of that name, which communicates with lake Erie; and that subordinate posts were also to be erected, as well on the Wabash as on the said river Miami. That, by an examination of the position of the said Miami village, and its contiguity to, or connection with, the waters of the river St. Joseph’s of Lake Michigan, and the river Illinois, and thereby the Mississippi; the Wabash, and, thereby, with the Ohio; the Miami, and, thereby, lake Erie; its short distance from the Miami of the Ohio, which, at times, may afford considerable facility to transportation; it will appear that the said position, with its proper communications, is greatly superior to any other, in order to serve as a barrier to protect essentially a frontier of upwards of eleven hundred miles, stretching from the upper parts of the Alleghany to the lower parts of the Ohio. That it was intended to garrison the said post at the Miami village and its communications with one thousand or twelve hundred troops, and have it always well stored with provisions, &c. That, from the said number, a detachment generally might be spared, of sufficient magnitude to chastise any of the neighboring villages or tribes, separately, who might have dared to commit depredations; or be a place to which mounted militia might suddenly repair, draw supplies, and act in conjunction, in case of a combination of the several towns or tribes in acts of hostility. That, by having such a force, so circumstanced, and always in readiness to fall upon the refractory tribes, it was conceived that it would awe, and mostly, if not entirely, restrain, any further depredations. That the principal causes of the failure of the expedition appear to have been as follows: 1st. The deficient number of good troops, according to the expectation, in the early part of the year. 2d. Their want of sufficient discipline, according to the nature of the service. 3d. The lateness of the season. That these several causes are explained in the aforesaid collateral papers accompanying the report A. That, in addition thereto, another cause may be added, which was not originally estimated, to wit: an increased number of Indians: for information has been received, by three separate channels, that the Indian warriors who opposed our army may be estimated at a number somewhere about three thousand. The hostile Indians were before estimated at twelve hundred, and to them it was possible might be added the Wyandots, Delawares, and Pattiwatimies, in all amounting to about one thousand more. The excess of these two numbers probably came from the waters of lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron, and are denominated Ottawas and Chippewas. That, in contemplating the probable consequences of the late defeat, the situation of the Southern tribes deserves consideration. The number of warriors of the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Cherokees, are about fifteen thousand. The hostile Indians can easily, and will, probably, repeat their invitations to the Southern tribes during the present winter. It is true, the United States have treaties with all the Southern tribes, and that all of them appear at present tranquil, except the Creeks. This nation has lately had disturbances excited among them by an adventurer of the name of Bowles, who has acquired a sufficient influence to prevent the boundary being marked, agreeably to the treaty. It is at present difficult to conjecture the turn which Bowles’ interference at this crisis may give to the affairs of the Southern frontier. But, although the United States have treaties with the Southern tribes, yet, it is to be remembered, that the flames of war have been but recently extinguished with the Creeks and Cherokees. That the new peace is irksome, not only to the young warriors, whose education and habits make them pant ardently for war, but also to a number of malignant whites, who either reside among the Indians or upon our frontiers, and who are, from some sinister motives, ever desirous of confusion. That the emissaries of the hostile Indians will be disseminated among all the Southern tribes. Councils will be held, and the passions of the young men will be inflamed with the tales of prowess and glory acquired by the hostile Indians. If these ideas be just, it may become extremely difficult, if not impracticable, to restrain the young warriors of the south from aiding directly or collaterally with the hostile Indians of the West. To the danger of the Southern tribes joining the hostile Indians, may be added the danger from part of the Northern or Six Nations. The danger from the latter, however, is far less than from the former; and, besides, is under circumstances more manageable. These circumstances are mentioned in this place as evils which will probably spring out of the late disasters, and for which a remedy will be mentioned hereafter. Hence, it will appear that an Indian war, of considerable extent, has been excited, not only contrary to the interests and intention of the General Government, but by means altogether without its control. That it is the public interest to terminate this disagreeable war, as speedily as possible, cannot be doubted; and it will be important to devise and execute the best means to effect that end. That, upon due deliberation, it will appear that it is by an ample conviction of our superior force only, that the Indians can be brought to listen to the dictates of peace, which have been sincerely and repeatedly offered to them. The pride of victory is too strong at present for them to receive the offers of peace on reasonable terms. They would probably insist upon a relinquishment of territory, to which they have no just claim, and which has been confirmed by the several before recited treaties. The United States could not make this relinquishment, under present circumstances, consistently with a proper regard to national character. But, considering the dignity and superior intelligence, as well as power of the United States, compared with the said Indian tribes: weighing the probable opinion of the disinterested, but perhaps uninformed part of mankind upon this subject, who may be apt to consider the Indians as oppressed, it is submitted, that every reasonable expedient be again taken to induce the said hostile Indians to peace, that the nature of the case, and a just regard to the national reputation, will admit. But, at the same time, it is suggested, that it would be altogether improper to expect any favorable result from such expedients. That the United States, having a frontier of immense extent, surrounded by barbarous Indians, are bound, by all the sacred obligations of sovereignty, to protect effectually their exposed citizens against the cruel inroads of such an enemy. That defensive measures only, in the present case, appear utterly inadequate to such protection, but that it would require a strong coercive force. That previously, however, to any conclusion upon the policy of raising such a force, it may be necessary to examine whether the prosecution of the war with the Indians is supported by the principles of justice. It will appear clearly, by a recurrence to the severally before-recited treaties, and the documents relatively thereto that neither the Miami, Wabash, or banditti Indians, composed of some Shawanese and outcast Cherokees, had or have, any just claim to the land contained within the boundaries recapitulated and confirmed by the treaty of fort Harmar, in January, 1789. Nor does it appear, by any information possessed by the subscriber, that any such claim has been urged by the said Wabash, Miami, or banditti Indians. That, instead of a claim of boundaries, it will appear that the source of the present hostilities originated in the war with Great Britain, and that the said hostilities have continued, in different degrees, from that to the present time, and that, in no instance, have we passed the boundaries ascertained by the aforesaid treaties; that ever since the peace with Great Britain, there has been an unceasing train of depredations upon the frontiers lying along the Ohio; that these have generally been committed by the Wabash and Miami Indians and the aforesaid banditti; that the plunder and trophies acquired (generally with impunity) by the said Indians, have gradually drawn the other neighboring tribes, who had formed treaties with us, into a participation of the sweets and guilt of their incursions.

Hence it would appear, that the principles of justice as well as policy, and, it may be added, the principles of economy, all combine to dictate, that an adequate military force should be raised as soon as possible, placed upon the frontiers, and disciplined according to the nature of the service, in order to meet, with a prospect of success, the greatest probable combination of the Indian enemy. Although the precise manner in which the force to be raised should be employed, cannot be pointed out with propriety at this time, as it will depend on the circumstances of the moment, yet it may not be improper to observe, that, upon a review of the merits of the main object of the late campaign, to wit: the establishment of a strong military post at the Miami village, with the necessary posts of communication, the necessity and propriety thereof remain the same; that this necessity will probably continue until we shall be possessed of the posts upon Lake Michigan, of Detroit, and Niagara, withheld from us by Great Britain, contrary to treaty. Without remarking upon the principles of this conduct, it may be observed generally, that every arrangement in the power of the United States, for establishing the tranquillity of the frontiers, will be inferior to the possession of said posts. That it is, however, considered, that, if the said posts were in our possession, we ought also to have a strong post at the Miami village, in order to render the protection effectual, and that the posts abovementioned will require garrisons whensoever they shall be given up. The subscriber having deliberately contemplated the present state of affairs upon the frontiers, from the south to the north, having recurred to the past in order to estimate the probable future events, finds himself constrained, by his public duty, although with great reluctance, to state, as the result of his judgment, that the public service requires an increase of the military force, according to the following arrangement:


That the military establishment of the United States shall, during the pleasure of Congress, consist of five thousand one hundred and sixty-eight non-commissioned, privates, and musicians. That the said non-commissioned officers and privates shall be enlisted to serve three years, unless sooner discharged. That the pay of the said non-commissioned and privates shall be as follows, clear of all deductions, to wit:

A sergeant-major and quartermaster sergeant to each battalion, $6 per month
A sergeant and chief musician, each, 5 do
Corporal, 4 do
Private, 3 do
Musician 3 do

That the said troops be organized as follows:

One squadron of cavalry, of four troops, each of 76 non-commissioned and privates, 304

It should be a stipulation in the engagements of these men, that they should serve on foot whenever the service requires the measure.

One battalion of artillery, of four companies each, to consist of 76 non-commissioned and privates. 304

Each company of artillery to have, as part of its composition, ten artificers each, including the pay of artillerists to have 10 dollars per month.

Five regiments of infantry, one of which to be riflemen entirely, each of three battalions; each battalion of four companies; each company of 76 non-commissioned and privates; amounting, for each regiment, to 912. 4,560

The annual expense of pay, clothing, subsistence, and forage, for such an army, according to the estimate hereunto annexed:

No. 1 would be $782,197.42
That for the extraordinary expense of equipments, transportation, &c. for the campaign, would amount, as per estimate No. 2, to 244,279.63
$1,026,477. 5
That from those sums are to be deducted for appropriations to the War Department, for the year 1792, 350,526.97
Balance, $675,950. 8

That, in addition to the foregoing arrangement, it would be proper that the President of the United States should be authorized, besides the employment of militia, to take such measures, for the defensive protection of the exposed parts of the frontiers, by calling into service expert woodsmen, as patrols or scouts, upon such terms as he may judge proper. That he be further authorized, in case he should deem the measure expedient, to engage mounted militia for defensive operations, for such time, and on such terms, as he may judge equitable. That he be further authorized, in case he should deem the measure expedient, to employ a body of Indians belonging to tribes in alliance with the United States, to act against the hostile Indians; and that he be authorized to stipulate such terms as he shall judge right. That it does not seem essential, at this time, that there should be any special appropriations for the defensive protection, the mounted militia, or the employment of Indians, although the actual expenses for those objects may amount to considerable sums, because the estimates, before mentioned, comprehend the entire expense, for one year, of the proposed establishment as complete. But, let the exertions to complete it be ever so great, yet it is probable a deficiency will exist, which will of course occasion a less expense. The moneys, therefore, which may be appropriated to the establishment, and not expended, may be applied to the extra objects above mentioned. If, however, there should be a deficiency, it may hereafter be provided for. That the nett pay of the private soldier, at present, free of all deductions, is two dollars per month. But, as the experience of the recruiting service, of the present year, evinces that the inducement is insufficient, it seems necessary to raise the pay to three dollars per month, free of all deductions; and the non-commissioned officers in proportion. The rifle corps will require more. But whether under present circumstances, even the additional pay, and an extension of bounty to eight dollars, would give such an impulse to the recruiting service, as to fill the battalions immediately, remains to be tried. Nothing has been said upon an increased pay to the commissioned officers, because a memorial upon that subject has been presented to Congress. But it cannot be doubted that a small increase would be highly grateful to the officers, and probably beneficial to the service. The mounted militia is suggested to be used during the preparation for the main expedition, (and afterwards, if circumstances should render it indispensable.) The effect of such desultory operations upon the Indians will, by occupying them for their own safety, and that of their families, prevent their spreading terror and destruction along the frontiers. These sort of expeditions had that precise effect during the last season, and Kentucky enjoyed more repose, and sustained less injury, than for any year since the war with Great Britain. This single effect, independent of the injury done to the force of the Indians, is worth greatly more than the actual expense of such expeditions. But, while it is acknowledged that mounted militia may be very proper for sudden enterprises, of short duration, it is conceived that militia are utterly unsuitable to carry on and terminate the war in which we are engaged, with honor and success. And besides, it would be ruinous to the purpose of husbandry, to keep them out long, if it were practicable to accomplish it. Good troops, enlisted for a considerable period, armed and well-disciplined in a suitable manner, for the nature of the service, will be equal, individually, to the best militia; but, when it is considered to these qualities are added, the obedience, the patience, the promptness, the economy of discipline, and the inestimable value of good officers, possessing a proper pride of reputation, the comparison no longer holds, and disciplined troops attain in the mind, and in actual execution, that ascendancy over the militia, which is the result of a just comparative view of their relative force, and the experience of all nations and ages. The expediency of employing the Indians in alliance with us, against the hostile Indians, cannot be doubted. It has been shown before, how difficult, and even impracticable, it will probably be, to restrain the young men of the friendly tribes from action, and that, if we do not employ them, they will be employed against us. The justice of engaging them would depend upon the justice of the war. If the war be just on our part, it will certainly bear the test of examination, to use the same sort of means in our defence, as are used against us. The subscriber, therefore, submits it as his opinion, that it would be proper to employ judiciously, as to time and circumstances, as many of the friendly Indians as may be obtained, not exceeding one thousand in number. All which is submitted to the President of the United States” (ibid., 197–99). The enclosed detailed cost estimates appear ibid., 200–202.

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