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Barry Goldwater
By Robert Alan Goldberg

Chapter One: Legacy

We grow strong against the pressure of a difficulty, and ingenious by solving problems. Individuality and character are developed by challenge. We tend to admire trees, as well as men who bear the stamp of their successfull struggles with a certain amount of adversity.

- JOSEPH WOOD KRUTCH The Voice of the Desert

Perseverance ... that's been the story of my family.


"No country that I have yet visited," wrote the sometime promoter, sometime adventurer J. Ross Browne, "presents so many striking anomalies as Arizona." Browne entered the Arizona territory at Fort Yuma on Christmas Day 1863 after a hard twelve-day journey from Los Angeles. Guarded against Apache attack by military escort, he accompanied his old friend Charles D. Poston, President Abraham Lincoln's recently appointed superintendent of Arizona Indian affairs. Poston, politically ambitious and seeking to advance his career, had persuaded Browne to serve as publicist during a tour of territorial reservations and of his mining properties. But it was the "anomalies" of the Arizona territory and not Poston's exploits that fixed Browne's attention. What Browne encountered was a region besieged by Apache warriors and Confederate troops: "With millions of acres of the finest arable lands, there was not at the time of our visit a single farm under cultivation in the Territory; ... with forts innumerable; there is scarcely any protection of life and property; with extensive pastures, there is little or no stock.... There are Indians the most docile in North America, yet travelers are murdered daily by Indians the most barbarous on earth.... Mines without miners and forts without soldiers are common. Politicians without policy, traders without trade, storekeepers without stores, teamsters without teams, and all without means, form the mass of the white population."

They rode east to Maricopa Wells, traveling through "vast deserts dotted with mesquite, sage, and grease-wood," marking their distance by the "watering-places" of the Yuma, Papago, and Pima tribes or by the few isolated ranchos. Turning south, the Poston party headed for Tucson, the territory's largest settlement. Browne was not impressed with what he saw: "A city of mud-boxes, dingy and dilapidated, cracked and baked into a composite of dust and filth: littered about with broken corrals, sheds, bake-ovens, carcasses of dead animals, and broken pottery ... grimly desolate in the glare of a southern sun." Contemptuous of the inhabitants and their "greaser style:" he wrote, "If the world were searched over I suppose there could not be found so degraded a set of villains as then formed the principle [sic] society of Tucson." Browne's observations received wide circulation and influenced eastern audiences hungry for news of the West. Harper's Monthly would serialize Browne's journal, which later appeared in book form as Adventures in the Apache Country: A Tour Through Arizona and Sonora, 1864. Perhaps Senator Benjamin Yates of Ohio had been right when he quipped during consideration of the Arizona territory bill: "O yes, I have heard of that country - it is like hell. All it lacks is water and good society."

Arizona made nineteenth-century Americans uncomfortable. This was unfamiliar country. Neither the wilderness described in their Bibles nor travel through the sodded "desert" of the Great Plains had prepared them. The Arizona territory was land scraped raw, with rock and bare, baked ground exposed. Immense desert valleys, flat bottoms of vanished seas, rose to jagged foothills and then to naked mountain peaks devoid of the softening green of grasses and trees. The country offered no comfort or amenity. Hostile to change, the desert pressed existence to its margin. It was not the desert's beauty but its hegemony that awed settlers. The sun, sky, and land humbled and overwhelmed the individual. Distances isolated physically and psychologically - an isolation felt even more profoundly because travel was slow and often uncertain.

The inescapable aridity and heat enveloped all life. This is the country of little rain or flowing water. New England enjoys forty inches of rain annually, and east Tennessee, fifty inches; the desert clouds over central and southern Arizona yield less than ten inches - in some places but three or four. The dry washes, or arroyos, offered water, and danger, only in flood time. The Salt, Verde, and Gila Rivers, which would be considered streams anywhere other than in Arizona, are unpredictable and thus undependable. And the powerful Colorado River, which frames Arizona on the west and north, offered no relief. Its waters were inaccessible to all but a few in the nineteenth century. Even those on its banks cursed the river as "too thick to drink and too thin to plow." Exacerbating the dryness is the intense heat that drives summer temperatures to 120 degrees. The heat saps energy and slows life. "Everything dries," wrote J. Ross Browne. "Wagons dry; men dry; chickens dry; there is no juice left in any thing living or dead by the close of summer."

The desert creates survivors. In this environment of permanent heat and drought the plant or animal that can find water and conserve it, survives. Plants in the desert are cisterns, growing long taproots or developing root systems that lattice the soil. Their leaves are small and thick and covered with resin to reduce evaporation. The Palo Verde tree adapted by having no leaves at all, and photosynthesis is performed in its bark. Similarly, the rattlesnake, scorpion, and Gila monster have learned the moods of the desert and accept its majesty. Americans have been more stubborn. In the nineteenth century survival required a grudging acceptance of limits. The twentieth century and its technology have spawned the will to conquer.

The Arizona territory offered up another danger. Beginning in the early 1860s settlers and Apaches locked in intermittent but bloody warfare. Only with the capture and exile of Geronimo in 1886 and the confinement of Apache bands to reservations did the killing end. Perhaps it was more than the Apaches' fierceness in battle that frightened settlers. The outnumbered and outgunned Apaches appeared omnipresent and omnipotent because they had conformed to the desert's dictates. Having made the land their ally, they seemed to have harnessed its power.

For most, Arizona was just a way station, a country to pass through as quickly as possible. They may have heard the booster's assurance that "where the mesquite grows, you can make fence posts bloom if you bring water," but few would believe it. They could not imagine a garden in the desert. Arizona promised a hard and an austere life, but California or Oregon appeared as lands at the end of the rainbow. Better to go farther west than risk all. Arizona seemed only to mock those who dreamed of taming it. Thus, Apache wars, heat, and drought deterred prospective settlers, and in the 1860s the territory could boast fewer than five thousand men and women, the large majority of them Hispanic. Yet those who did take up the desert's challenge and triumphed did more than raise themselves. They bequeathed to their heirs an empowering legacy.

Arizona, however, could lure men and women back into even the most hostile of worlds. In the late 1850s the Butterfield Stage carried news to Los Angeles of a gold strike twenty miles east of Fort Yuma along the lower Gila River. California forty-niners, Mexicans from Sonora, Papago Indians, and others rushed to the site to stake their claims. Gila City, thrown helter-skelter like so many boom camps before and since, quickly boasted a population of more than a thousand.

The strike created an instant and captive market for food, clothing, and shelter, among other things. With quickened demand guaranteeing exorbitant prices and high profits, a second gold rush, this time of merchants, followed in the miners' wake. These merchants were hardly well established. Selling under tents or from their wagons, they, like the miners, were determined men who persevered for a new beginning. But they were more practical. As businessmen, they set their sights modestly and would not place their stake directly in the uncertainties of the gold fields.

Barry Goldwater's grandfather, Michel Goldwater, was one of the merchants who looked to Arizona for a second chance. He hitched four mules to a peddler's wagon and left Los Angeles for the Gila City diggings in 1860. California had not been Michel Goldwater's promised land. A few months before his departure a state court had declared him bankrupt, accepting his claim of owning property valued at just one hundred dollars against substantial debts. Goldwater was a troubled man. With a wife and five children to support, he had to find in Arizona the success that had eluded him in his adopted country. As he drove his mules to Arizona, perhaps he took courage from an old Yiddish proverb: "Change of place, change of luck."

Born in 1821 in Konin, a Jewish shtetl in Russian Poland, Michel was one of twenty-two children of innkeepers Elizabeth and Hirsch Goldwasser. The Goldwassers were observant Jews, and Michel, like most Jewish boys, attended synagogue and the local kheyder, or Hebrew school. In these one-room schools, the malamed, or teacher, drilled the boys to read Hebrew in preparation for prayer and participation in Jewish ceremony and ritual. Hirsch Goldwasser also considered his sons financial future. Well aware of the tsarist restrictions on economic opportunities, he apprenticed Michel to a tailor, so he could learn a trade that was open to Jews. Apprenticeship meant servitude, a life that was particularly hard when the master was himself of small means.

If family and community held Michel in the Konin shtetl, other factors pushed him to leave. The tsars considered the Jews a "foreign" menace within their land. To dissolve the threat they offered inducements to Jews who sought assimilation and levied sanctions on those who clung to their beliefs. The Jewish population would be winnowed through departure, conversion, and death so that an empire of one faith, one culture, and one people would emerge. Thus, the tsars restricted Jewish rights and made the practice of Judaism more difficult. They confined Jewish residence to the Pale of Settlement, consisting of the fifteen western provinces of Russia. Jews were denied access to other parts of the empire unless they had special permission. Particularly onerous was an 1827 imperial edict requiring that all Jewish males ages eighteen to twenty-five serve twenty-five years as soldiers of the tsar. Removed from the support of family and community, many would die or be converted to Christianity. Sometimes boys as young as eight or nine were caught in the conscription net.

Russia offered Michel a stunted future with no hope that tomorrow would be any different from today or yesterday He left Poland in 1835 at the age of fourteen, journeying across Germany to Paris, where he found work as a tailor. He remained there until the revolution of 1848 forced him to move to London. Michel Goldwasser adjusted quickly to his new home. He anglicized his name to Goldwater, learned English, became a part of the Jewish community, and married, all within two years. Sarah Nathan, his bride, was a twenty-four-year-old Englishwoman, the daughter of a prominent Jewish furrier. Her father's death, when Sarah was sixteen years old, had led to a decline in the family's fortunes, and she went to work as a dressmaker. Although only a "greener" or recent immigrant, Goldwater was an attractive choice for a husband. Six feet tall, fair, and clean-shaven except for a mustache, he was a handsome man. His Parisian manners and tailor's sense of fashion put him in step with sophisticated London. They married in 1850 in the Great Synagogue of London with its chief rabbi presiding, perhaps a reflection of the Nathan family's former standing.

The couple settled, briefly, into domesticity. Two children, Caroline and Morris, were born to the Goldwaters within two years. Michel's tailoring business expanded. But events in the California gold fields beckoned Michel as they had so many others from around the world. Prompted by Joseph Goldwater - his younger brother, recently arrived from Poland - Michel convinced Sarah of the fortune to be made in America, and she agreed to let him go. Wasting little time, the Goldwater brothers chose the cheapest route to California. They bought steerage tickets to New York City. From there they traveled to Grey Town in Nicaragua, crossed the 212-mile-wide isthmus by mule and on foot and then sailed up the coast to San Francisco. They left England in August 1852,and in three months they disembarked in California.

The Goldwater brothers, who had no mining experience, never had any intention of digging for gold. They hoped to make their strike as merchants, filling the needs of the miners. Having arrived years after the 1849 rush, however, they found San Francisco economically inhospitable. They could not match merchants who were now well established and commanded substantial resources. Better to go into the California hinterland, closer to the diggings, and operate a business within their means. For advice and support the brothers turned to fellow Jews. With religion and Yiddish as common bonds, they joined an informal Jewish business network that acted to advance the mutual prospects of its members. Jewish merchants staked the Goldwaters to several hundred dollars and suggested Sonora, a gold camp of four thousand people about one hundred miles east in the Sierra Nevada foothills, as a potential business site.

The Sonoran Jews who welcomed the Goldwaters, however, had disappointing news. The brothers had entered the market too late with too little, for Sonora was overstocked in dry goods, and general merchandising was beyond their modest budget. Refusing to admit defeat or return to San Francisco, the Goldwaters decided to fill another business niche: quenching the thirsts of the miners. The brothers opened a saloon in a room beneath a brothel, an ideal business location. Set-up costs were minimal: rent, chairs, tables, liquor, and beer. They were soon doing a thriving business.

In fifteen months, Michel Goldwater had accumulated enough money to pay passage for Sarah, their two children, and Sarah's sister; they arrived from England in July 1854- The move to Sonora tested the marriage. Sarah Goldwater had lived her entire life in London and was unaccustomed not only to America but also to the rough-and-tumble of a boomtown. And she was concerned about raising her young children in so primitive and crude a place. Adding to her pain, their rented house was small and crowded, a situation exacerbated in 1855 with the birth of the Goldwaters' third child. Sarah endured Sonora for three years. In 1857, again pregnant, she finally prevailed upon Michel to allow her and the children to live in relatively refined San Francisco. Michel would remain in Sonora to operate the saloon and travel to San Francisco to visit his family. Over the next three decades of their marriage, Michel and Sarah would be apart for months and sometimes years, a pattern that would recur in future Goldwater family relationships.

Maintaining two homes, supporting a growing family (a fifth child was born in 1858), and talking time away from work strained the saloon. Michel could no longer depend on his brother, who had left Sonora for Los Angeles. Other factors were beyond Michel's control. The "color had played out" in Sonora, meaning that the miners had depleted the surface gold deposits. The flush times were over, customers disappeared, and the town retrenched. Michel Goldwater recognized the obvious at the end of 1858. To buy time in order to pay mounting debts, he assigned his remaining business assets to creditors and closed the saloon. This bought him a little more than a year. A Los Angeles court declared him an "insolvent debtor" on March 19, 1860.

Michel Goldwater was in Los Angeles, where the family went to regroup, when he heard of the Arizona gold strike at Gila City. J. Ross Browne described the scene in his journal: "At one time over a thousand hardy adventurers were prospecting the gulches and canons in this vicinity. The earth was turned inside out. Rumors of extraordinary discoveries flew on the wings of the wind in every direction. Enterprising men hurried to the spot with barrels of whiskey and billiard-tables; Jews came with ready-made clothing and fancy wares; traders crowded in with wagon-loads of pork and beans; gamblers with cards and monte tables."

Michel conferred with his brother about this latest opportunity and borrowed money from him to buy a wagon and team and an assortment of goods to peddle to the miners. Despite the competition, Goldwater sold out his wagon at a profit and returned to Los Angeles to restock. Because of Michel's credit history, Joseph fronted for him and obtained merchandise with payment due at some future date. Bernard Cohen, a Jewish Polish immigrant and business associate of the Goldwaters', offered additional financial backing. Sales remained brisk in the goldfields, and Michel continued making trips into 1862.

The brothers' success came to an abrupt halt in late 1862. Joseph had overextended his credit and was unable to make repayment. Two days after Christmas 1862 the Los Angeles county sheriff auctioned the Goldwaters' assets to satisfy creditors. The brothers lost everything, including Michel's wagon and team of mules. Once more, Michel was penniless. Adding to the burden was the birth of Sarah and Michel's sixth child. Goldwater was now without the means to make a living, and the California economy was in decline. Drought followed by flood devastated cattle raising and agriculture, and Confederate Navy gunboats disrupted trade with eastern and northern markets.

It is hardly surprising, then, that Michel Goldwater grabbed the opportunity to return to Arizona. Cohen, who had left Los Angeles to open a general merchandise store in La Paz, asked Michel to clerk for him. Prospects in La Paz, seventy miles north of Forth Yuma and the site of the most recent Arizona gold rush, appeared even greater than in Gila City. "Ho, For The Colorado!" headlined the Los Angeles Star. "Gold is fast flowing into our city merchants and traders, and the gold fields of the Colorado are now among the richest of the California placers." Promised gold had kindled another boom market, with rising prices holding instant reward for the entrepreneur. Reports circulated that the three thousand inhabitants of La Paz and the surrounding diggings were clamoring for supplies. According to La Paz merchant Isaac Goldberg, "People had little to eat besides mesquite beans and river fish." They bid the price of flour up to twenty-five dollars a hundredweight, and a pound of coffee and a gallon keg of water each fetched a dollar. La Paz seemed to have a future. Located on the Colorado River, it had a landing to off-load steamboats that carried supplies upstream from the Gulf of California and was the terminus of the Bradshaw Road from San Bernardino. La Paz boosters envisioned their town as the outfitting and supply center for miners and settlers pushing into Arizona's interior. Michel Goldwater was already clerking in the Cohen store by January 1863.

La Paz was heat, dust, and mosquitos surrounded by desert. Built without plan or even forethought, it was a jumble of tents and log huts fronting a dirt street. There was, however, another La Paz beyond the physical reality. For those like Michel Goldwater, who lived as much in the future as the present, La Paz was the opening that would enable the industrious, and the lucky, to pass to a better life. The inconveniences of the desert and the separation from loved ones were nothing compared to the tomorrow before them. Goldwater made the most of La Paz's promise. Jovial, fluent in six languages - including Spanish and German - and fair in business dealings, he catered to his clientele and earned their gold. He was "Big Mike" to the miners - a reference to his six-foot, 200-pound frame; he was one of them. Goldwater's industriousness impressed Cohen, who delegated more responsibility to him and gradually became a stranger in his own store. Perhaps afraid that Goldwater would strike out on his own and become a competitor, Cohen soon made him a partner.

As more prospectors and settlers filtered into Arizona through La Paz, Goldwater decided to diversify. He began supplying traveling peddlers with cash advances and goods, a financial ground-breaking that would prove quite profitable for him. The Arizona territorial census gives a measure of his progress by spring 1864. In the year and a half since arriving in La Paz, Goldwater had accumulated a stake of fifteen thousand dollars. The self-made man, beaten in California, had prospered in the Arizona wilderness because he never surrendered to his fears. He never lost the courage to persevere to eventual success. His history became hallowed, a patrimony passed from Goldwater generation to generation.

Anti-Semitism did not bar Mike Goldwater's advance in La Paz. Nor did it hamper the activities of Bernard Cohen, Isaac Goldberg, or the town's ten other Jewish businessmen. Jews throughout the territory enjoyed an environment devoid of overt prejudice and discrimination. Jews opened businesses in Tucson, Yuma, Prescott, Isaacson (Nogales), Clifton, Solomonville, St. Johns, Phoenix, and nearly every other settlement during the territorial period. Merchant families like the Drachmans, Solomons, Zeckendorfs, Goldbergs, and Steinfelds exerted, along with the Goldwaters, a powerful influence not only within their communities but on Arizona's history and economy.

Christians welcomed Jews because they offered Arizona so much. Foremost, Jewish business underwrote existence in the desert by bringing goods at reasonable prices to miners and townspeople. Jewish minds and money would later play key roles in developing Arizona mining, smelting, farming, ranching, and banking. The Jewish businessmen of Arizona and the larger Southwest, concludes geographer D. W. Meinig, were "catalytic agents" who were "the principal architects in the formation of a functioning regional society from an array of disparate parts." Arizonans also turned to Jews for leadership. Educated, service-minded, and determined to maintain a climate attractive to business, they entered politics and won election to town councils, to the territorial legislature, and as mayors. Jews helped organize and sometimes led fraternal orders, literary clubs, social groups, militia units, and volunteer fire companies.

Because Jews were few in number and scattered across the territory, they posed little threat to Christian dominance. Their very decision to go west reflected attitudes and values that dampened resentment. Many were entrepreneurs first and jews second. Less traditional and more assimilated, they had voluntarily distanced themselves from Jewish communities and their institutions. Such Jews, with at least an American veneer, may have elicited caricature but not fear. Finally, Jews possessed white skins, valuable tokens of acceptance in American society. With large populations of Native Americans and Hispanics nearby, the ethnic and religious lines dividing Anglos blurred. White Christians counted Jews as allies in the face of more powerful enemies. As Arizona became more "civilized" in the years after statehood, however, the tolerance of the territorial days faded, and anti-Semitism joined racism to mark social and economic relationships.

Mike Goldwater held to his faith. He was the founding vice president of Congregation B'nai B'rith in los Angeles in 1862. There were no synagogues in territorial Arizona, so he maintained membership in San Francisco's Congregation Sherith Israel. Goldwater timed his buying trips to coincide with synagogue ceremonies so that he would not miss High Holiday services. The Goldwaters sent their sons to Hebrew school in California, where they studied Judaism and prepared for bar mitzvah, the passage from childhood to adult responsibilities. In business, too, Mike, Goldwater remained conscious of his Jewish roots. It was more than convenience or profit that motivated Goldwater. Religious commitment and personal experience outlined responsibility and shaped action. He remained involved with the Jewish merchants' network that had helped him make a start in California. In Arizona he forged new links in this business chain. As Bernard Cohen had employed him, Big Mike hired Solomon Barth and Harris Cohen to work in the La Paz store. Goldwater assisted both when they went out on their own. Looking back in 1898 as president of the First Hebrew Benevolent Society of San Francisco, Goldwater remembered: "Quite a large number of able-bodied heads of families I have furnished with horse and wagon where with they have been placed in a position to earn a livelihood. Others were furnished with tools or wares." When they camp of age, Big Mike would bring his sons into the network, sending Morris to work for Pincus Berwin's hat and cap company as an apprentice clerk, Ben to B. Blumenthal's glove-making company, and Henry to the Prager clothing store.

The supply lines that linked Goldwater to businessmen like Barth and Cohen expanded as Arizona's interior mining camps evolved into towns. Maintaining the store in La Paz, Goldwater assumed a middleman's role, contracting with California suppliers for Arizona distributors. This meant more than stockpiling goods for sale to retailers. Goldwater also had to ensure delivery of merchandise, a task that he took on himself. Hitching oxen or mules to freight wagons coupled into a train, he rode the "cobweb of trails" that fanned out into the desert toward Prescott, Wickenburg, and the smaller settlements of north and central Arizona. These were not short hauls. Goldwater spent weeks on round trips covering hundreds of miles of backcountry, carrying everything from hats and boots to shovels and black powder.

His reasons for leaving the comfort of the store are unknown. Perhaps he sought adventure and time away from the routine of La Paz. He was in his mid-forties, and it may have been an attempt to recapture the vigor of younger days. He surely looked to the future. Brother Joseph had joined him in Arizona, as had Julius and Simon, brothers newly arrived from Poland. His business also had to absorb sons coming of age, and this diversification promised resources and places for the next generation. Similarly, the birth in 1866 of Baron, the last of his eight children, further impressed on him the financial needs of family. Goldwater's expansion of the wholesaling side of the business accelerated when he transferred operations from La Paz to Ehrenberg, six miles south. The capricious Colorado River had anointed Ehrenberg the new center of supply when it shifted course and left the La Paz landing stranded several miles from water. Quickly adjusting to yet another business reversal, Big Mike opened a new store and built a warehouse to stow his inventory.

Miner and settler demand alone was not yet sufficient to persuade Goldwater to look beyond La Paz. Although the territory's population had nearly doubled to about ten thousand men and women in 1870, a highly competitive business environment made financial security precarious. Arizona was overstocked with competitors, with more than one trader for every ten inhabitants. But as Mike Goldwater and every, other Arizona business operator knew, the federal government was the moving force in the economic life of the territory. Federal troops had combed Arizona for potential railroad and wagon routes as early as 1851. Military explorers doubling as prospectors had mapped the territory during subsequent decades. In addition to surveying Arizona, the government allocated monies to build wagon roads, dig wells, subsidize mail service, and fund Secretary of War Jefferson Davis' experiment in bringing camels to Arizona for transportation. The federal government also subsidized railroad construction, transferring title to millions of acres of Arizona land to rail entrepreneurs.

Particularly important to Arizona and Goldwater was the government's more permanent military presence in the territory. Arizona was an important theater of operations for the U.S. Army after the Civil War. Citizens had demanded early on that the federal government dispatch troops to subdue the Apaches and guard reservations. The response was the establishment of Fort Whipple near Prescott, Fort McDowell in the Salt River Valley, Fort Defiance in Navajo country, and fifteen other military outposts in the territory. In 1867 an army report described Arizona as a "vortex into which the greater portion of the available military material on the Pacific Coast disappears." If Arizonans were beholden to the army as their defender, they never lost sight of the army as their most important customer. In the six years after 1867 Congress appropriated $15 million to fund the war against the Apaches. This sum, notes historian Howard Lamar, "virtually sustained the economy of the territory." According to General E. O. C. Ord in 1870: "Hostilities in Arizona are kept up with a view of protecting inhabitants, most of whom are supported by the hostilities." Military spending would continue at high levels into the 1880s, when 20 percent of the U.S. Army was stationed in Azizona.

In war and peace, the army traveled on its stomach. To provision soldiers and feed livestock the federal government contracted with businessmen to supply food and fodder and transport equipment. The competition for government contracts was stiff, for payment was sure, if slow. In time of truce government expenditures continued to maintain military outposts and support Native Americans confined to reservations. Big Mike Goldwater was often a successful bidder for government work. He landed contracts to carry freight and troops to Fort McDowell and grain to Camps Hualpai and Verde. In addition, he contracted with the federal government to deliver the mail to the Salt River Valley. Military outposts also stimulated local economies. To reduce long-distance freighting costs, the army awarded contracts to encourage nearby production of hay, grain, and food. Towns, moreover, welcomed soldiers and their wives, who spent their pay in local markets. Goldwater and other middlemen, in turn, responded to the growing demand from these interior markets for their services. Federal money thus rippled through the territorial economy and fueled growth in population, transportation, farming, and trade.

© 1995 Robert Greenberg


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