History Timeline 1800s

Indian petroglyphs mentioned in the journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Nemaha River, Troy, Kansas. Courtesy National Archives. Right: Historic New Orleans wharf scene along the Mississippi River. Courtesy Library of Congress.

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U.S. Timeline - The 1800s

Exploration



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  • Timeline

  • 1806 Detail

    September 23, 1806 - The Lewis and Clark Expedition to map the northwest United States ends. Essential to the journey was Sacagawea, their female Indian guide.

    Clark and men shooting bears


    By the time the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery arrived at their home base in St. Louis on September 23, 1806, they had been gone over two years. Their exploration of the territory bought in the Louisiana Purchase from Spain, up the Missouri River, west over the Continental Divide, and the final float west on the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean, had been a success. Their guides, including Toussaint Charbonneau and his wife Sacagawea, now left behind at the Mandan camp, had led the expedition on a trek of over eight thousand miles. William Clark had estimated that the outward trip was 4,162 miles; he was only forty miles off. There had been minimal confrontation.

    The feared trouble with the Teton (Lakota) Sioux had caused some consternation amongst the party on the return trip as they traveled into their territory at the end of August 1806, but it had been mitigated, after some tension, by William Clark. His likely ruse of arming the Mandan with a cannon, worked, at least for the moment, and in the end, the predicted trouble for the Corps of Discovery as they passed would not materialize. As they proceeded down the river a few days later, another meeting, this time with the Yankton Sioux, of which the Corps had good relations, had gone better from the start. They would continue past the Sioux territory toward St. Louis.


    Journal Entries, Corps of Discovery, Sioux Nation


    August 30, 1806 Clark Diary - Saturday 30th of August 1806. Capt. Lewis is mending Slowly. we set out at the usial hour and proceeded on very well a fiew miles Jo Field who was on the Shore being behind I derected one of the Small Canoes with R. Fields & Shannon to continue on the point of a Sand bar untill he coms up. I took 3 hunters and walked on the N E Shore with a view to kill Some fat meet. we had not proceeded far before Saw a large plumb orchd of the most deelicious plumbs, out of this orchard 2 large Buck Elks ran the hunters killed them. I Stoped the Canoes and brought in the flesh which was fat and fine. here the party Collected as many plumbs as they could eate and Several pecks of which they put by &c. after a delay of nearly 2 hours we again proceeded on downwards passed 3 Small Islands and as we were about to land at the place appointed to wait for the 2 fields and Shannon, I saw Several men on horseback which with the help of a Spie glass I found to be Indians on the high hills to the N E we landed on the S. W. Side and I sent out two men to a village of Barking Squirels to kill Some of those animals imedeatily after landing about 20 indians was discovered on an eminanc a little above us on the opposite Side. one of those men I took to be a freinch man from his a blanket Capoe & a handkerchief around his head. imediately after 80 or 90 Indian men all armed with fusees & Bows & arrows Came out of a wood on the opposite bank about 1/4 of a mile below us. they fired of their guns as a Salute we returned the Salute with 2 rounds. we were at a loss to deturmin of what nation those indians were. from their hostile appearance we were apprehensive they were Tetons. but from the Country through which they roved we were willing to believe them eithe the Yanktons, Ponars or Mahars either of which nations are well disposed towards the white people. I deturmined to find out who they were without running any resque of the party and indians, and therefore took three french men who could Speak the Mahar Pania and some Seioux and in a Small canoe I went over to a Sand bar which extended Sufficently near the opposite Shore to Converse. imedeately after I Set out 3 young men Set out from the opposite Side and Swam next me on the Sand bar. I derected the men to Speak to them in the Pania and mahar Languages first neither of which they could understand I then derected the man who could Speak a fiew words of Seioux to inquire what nation or tribe they belong to they informed me that they were Tetons and their Chief was Tar-tack-kah-sabbar or the black buffalow This Chief I knew very well to be the one we had seen with his band at Teton river which band had attempted to detain us in the fall of 1804 as we assended this river and with whome we wer near comeing to blows. I told those Indians that they had been deef to our councils and ill treated us as we assended this river two years past, that they had abused all the whites who had visited them since. I believed them to be bad people & Should not Suffer them to cross to the Side on which the party lay, and directed them to return with their band to their Camp, that if any of them come near our camp we Should kill them certainly. I lef them on the bear and returned to th party and examined the arms &c. those indians seeing Some Corn in the Canoe requested Some of it which I refused being deturmined to have nothing to do with those people. Several others Swam across one of which understood pania, and as our pania interpreter was a very good one we had it in our power to inform what we wished. I told this man to inform his nation that we had not forgot their treatment to us as we passed up this river &c. that they had treated all the white people who had visited them very badly; robed them of their goods, and had wounded one man whome I had Seen. we viewed them as bad people and no more traders would be Suffered to come to them, and whenever the white people wished to visit the nations above they would Come Sufficiently Strong to whip any vilenous party who dare to oppose them and words to the Same purpote. I also told them that I was informed that a part of all their bands were gorn to war against the Mandans &c, and that they would be well whiped as the Mandans & Menetarres & had a plenty of Guns Powder and ball, and we had given them a Cannon to defend themselves. and derected them to return from the Sand bar and inform their Chiefs what we had Said to them, and to keep away from the river or we Should kill every one of them &c. &c. those fellows requested to be allowed to Come aecross and make Cumerads which we positively refused and I directed them to return imediately which they did and after they had informed the Chiefs &c. as I Suppose what we had Said to them, they all Set out on their return to their Camps back of a high hill. 7 of them halted on the top of the hill and blackguarded us, told us to come across and they would kill us all &c. of which we took no notice. we all this time were extreamly anxious for the arival of the 2 fields & Shannon whome we had left behind, and were Some what consd. as to their Safty. to our great joy those men hove in Sight at 6 P. M. Jo. Fields had killed 3 black tail or mule deer. we then Set out, as I wished to See what those Indians on the hill would act. we Steared across near the opposit Shore, this notion put them Some agitation as to our intentions, some Set out on the direction towards their Camps others walked about on the top of the hill and one man walked down the hill to meet us and invited us to land to which invitation I paid no kind of attention. this man I knew to be the one who had in the fall 1804 accompaned us 2 days and is Said to be the friend to the white people. after we passd. him he returned on the top of the hill and gave 3 Strokes with the gun [NB?: on the earth - this is swearing by the earth] he had in his hand this I am informed is a great oath among the indians. we proceeded on down about 6 miles and encamped on a large Sand bar in the middle of the river about 2 miles above our encampment on Mud Island on the 10th Septr. 1804 haveing made 22 miles only to Day. Saw Several Indians on the hills at a distance this evening viewing us. our (camp) encampment of this evening was a very disagreable one, bleak exposed to the winds, and the Sand wet. I pitched on this Situation to prevent being disturbed by those Scioux in the Course of the night as well as to avoid the Musquetors - . Killed 9 whisteling squirels.

    September 1, 1806 Clark Diary - Musquitors very troublesom last night, we set out at the usial hour and had not proceeded on far before the fog became So thick that we were oblige to come too and delay half an hour for the fog to pass off which it did in Some measure and we again proceded on R. Jo. Fields and Shannon landed on an Ponceras Island to try to kill Some deer which was Seen on the beech and the (remainder of the) Canoes all passed them at 9 A. M we passed the enterance of River Quiequur which had the Same appearance it had when we passed up water rapid and of a milky white Colour about two miles below the Quicurre, 9 Indians ran down the bank and beckened to us to land, they appeared to be a war party, and I took them to be Tetons and paid no kind of attention to them further than an enquirey to what tribe they belonged, they did not give me any answer, I prosume they did not understand the man who Spoke to them as he Spoke but little of their language. as one Canoe was yet behind we landed in an open Commanding Situation out of Sight of the indians deturmined to delay untill they Came up. about 15 minits after we had landed Several guns were fired by the indians, which we expected was at the three men behind. I calld out 15 men and ran up with a fill deturmination to Cover them if possible let the number of the indians be what they might. Capt Lewis hobled up on the bank and formed the remainder of the party in a Situation well calculated to defend themselves and the Canoes &c. when I had proceeded to the point about 250 yards I discovered the Canoe about 1 mile above & the indians where we had left them. I then walked on the Sand beech and the indians came down to meet me I gave them my hand and enquired of them what they were Shooting at, they informed me that they were Shooting off their guns at an old Keg which we had thrown out of one of the Canoes and was floating down. those Indians informed me they were Yanktons, one of the men with me knew one of the Indians to be the brother of young Durion's wife. finding those indians to be Yanktons I invited them down to the boats to Smoke. when we arived at the canoes they all eagerly Saluted the Mandan Chief, and we all Set and Smoked Several pipes. I told them that we took them to be a party of Tetons and the fireing I expected was at the three men in the rear Canoe and I had went up with a full intention to kill them all if they had been tetons & fired on the Canoe as we first expected, but finding them Yanktons and good men we were glad to See them and take them by the hand as faithfull Children who had opened their ears to our Councils. one of them Spoke and Said that their nation had opened their years, & done as we had directed them ever Since we gave the Meadel to their great Chief, and Should Continue to do as we had told them we enquired if any of their Chiefs had gone down with Mr. Durion, the answered that their great Chief and many of their brave men had gone down, that the white people had built a house near the Mahar village where they traded. we tied a piec of ribon to each mans hair and gave them Some Corn of which they appeared much pleased. The Mandan Cheif gave a par of elegant Legins to the principal man of the indian party, which is an indian fashion. [NB: to make presents] the Canoe & 3 men haveing joined us we took our leave of this party telling them to return to their band and listen to our councils which we had before given to them. Their band of 80 Lodges were on plum Creek a fiew miles to north. those nine men had five fusees and 4 bows & quivers of arrows. at 2 P. M we came too on the upper point of bon homme opposit the antient fortification and Sent out men to hunt on each Side and on the island. and the canoes on each Side of the island to receive any meat might be killed I walked on the N. E. main Shore found the bottom rich and thickly covered with Peavine rich weed grass interwoven in Such a manner with grape vines that I could not get through and was obliged to assend a high plains the passing through which I also found tiresom. the grass was nearly as high as my head and the musquitors excessively bad. at the lower point of the Island all the Canoes & hunters Came together. Labeech killed an Elk only the flesh of which was brought on in the perogue. at this island we brought 2 years together or on the 1st of Septr. 1804 we Encamped at the lower point of this Island. after we all Came together we again proceeded on down to a large Sand bar imediately opposit to the place were we met the Yanktons in Council at the Calumet Bluffs and which place we left on the 1t of Septr. 1804. I observed our old flag Staff or pole Standing as we left it. the musquitors excessively troublesom untill about 10 P. M. when the S W wind became Strong and blew the most of them off. we came 52 miles to day only with a head wind. the Country on either Side are butifull and the plains much richer below the Queiquer river than above the river. -

    September 1, 1806 Gass Diary - Monday 1st Sept. 1806. This was a fine pleasant day and we set out early, and about 10 o'clock met nine of the Yonktin band of the Sioux nation of Indians on the south side of the river. We halted and gave them some corn, and then proceeded on with an unfavourable wind. At night we arrived at our encampment of the 31st of August 1804, where we held a treaty with a band of the Sioux nation, and encamped for the night.



    The Corps of Discovery Reaches St. Louis


    By the last month of travel down the Missouri River, the Corps of Discovery had gained a steady fast pace, averaging seventy miles per day. Their trip had established diplomatic relations with more than two dozen indigenous nations over the two years of travel. They had eaten surprisingly well. How well? Nine pounds of meat per man per day. Their had been only one casualty amongst the crew. If there had been one failure, and it was at no fault of the Corps, no continous waterway had been found that went west from the Mississippi River all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Of course, that was because there was no such river in that part of the United States, with the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountains making certain of that. When the Corps of Discovery arrived back at St. Louis, and on subsequent trips to Washington, D.C., they were greeted as national heroes.

    September 23, 1806 Clark Diary - Thursday 23rd of Septr. 1806. we rose early took the Chief to the publick store & furnished him with Some clothes &c. took an early breckfast with Colo. Hunt and Set out decended to the Mississippi and down that river to St. Louis at which place we arived about 12 oClock. we Suffered the party to fire off their pieces as a Salute to the Town. we were met by all the village and received a harty welcom from it's inhabitants &. here I found my old acquaintance Majr. W. Christy who had Settled in this town in a public line as a Tavern Keeper. he furnished us with Store rooms for our baggage and we accepted of the invitation of Mr. Peter Choteau and (par) took a room in (the) his house (of Mr. Peter Cadeaus Choteau) we payed a friendly visit to (Mes. Choteau and) Mr (Ogustus) August Chotau and Some of our old friends this evening. as the post had departed from St. Louis Capt Lewis wrote a note to Mr. Hay in Kahoka to detain the post at that place untill 12 tomorrow which was reather later than his usial time of leaveing it

    September 23, 1806 Ordway Diary - Tuesday 23rd Sept. 1806. a wet disagreeable morning. we Set out after breakfast and procd. on Soon arived at the Mouth of the Missourie entered the Mississippi River and landed at River deboise where we wintered in 1804. here we found a widdow woman who we left here & has a plantation under tollarable good way Since we have been on the Expedition we delayed a Short time and about 12 oClock we arived in Site of St. Louis fired three Rounds as we approached the Town and landed oppocit the center of the Town, the people gathred on the Shore and Huzzared three cheers. we unloaded the canoes and carried the baggage all up to a Store house in Town. drew out the canoes then the party all considerable much rejoiced that we have the Expedition Completed and now we look for boarding in Town and wait for our Settlement and then we entend to return to our native homes to See our parents once more as we have been So long from them. - finis.

    September 24, 1806 Clark Diary - Wednesday 24th of September 1806. I sleped but little last night however we rose early and Commencd wrighting our letters Capt. Lewis wrote one to the presidend and I wrote Govr. Harrison & my friends in Kentucky and Sent of George Drewyer with those letters to Kahoka & delivered them to Mr. Hays &. we dined with Mr. Chotoux to day, and after dinner went to a Store and purchased Some Clothes, which we gave to a Tayler and derected to be made. Capt Lewis in opening his trunk found all his papers wet, and Some Seeds spoiled


    Teepossible.com T-Shirts and Gifts


    Meriweather Lewis Letter to President Thomas Jefferson


    St. Louis September 23rd 1806.

    Sir, It is with pleasure that I announce to you the safe arrival of myself and party at 12 OClk. today at this place with our papers and baggage. in obedience to your orders we have penitrated the Continent of North America to the Pacific Ocean, and sufficiently explored the interior of the country to affirm with confidence that we have discovered the most practicable rout which dose exist across the continent by means of the navigable branches of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers. Such is that by way of the Missouri to the foot of the rapids five miles below the great falls of that river a distance of 2575 miles, thence by land passing the Rocky Mountains to a navigable part of the Kooskooske 340; with the Kooskooske 73 mls. a South Easterly branch of the Columbia 154 miles and the latter river 413 mls. to the Pacific Ocean; making the total distance from the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi to the discharge of the Columbia into the Pacific Ocean 3555 miles. The navigation of the Missouri may be deemed safe and good; it's difficulties arise from it's falling banks, timber imbeded in the mud of its channel, it's sand bars and steady rapidity of it's current, all which may be overcome with a great degree of certainty by taking the necessary precautions. The passage by land of 340 miles from the Missouri to the Kooskooske is the most formidable part of the tract proposed across the Continent; of this distance 200 miles is along a good road, and 140 over tremendious mountains which for 60 mls. are covered with eternal snows; however a passage over these mountains is practicable from the latter part of June to the last of September, and the cheep rate at which horses are to be obtained from the Indians of the Rocky Mountains and West of them, reduces the expences of transportation over this portage to a mere tifle. The navigation of the Kooskooske, the South East branch of the Columbia itself is safe and good from the 1st of April to the middle of August, by making three portages on the latter; the first of which in descending is that of 1200 paces at the great falls of the Columbia, 261 mls. from the Ocean, the second of two miles at the long narrows six miles below the falls, and the 3rd also of 2 miles at the great rapids 65 miles still lower down. The tides flow up the Columbia 183 miles, or within seven miles of the great rapids, thus far large sloops might ascend in safety, and vessels of 300 tons burthen could with equal safety reach the entrance of the river Multnomah, a large Southern branch of the Columbia, which taking it's rise on the confines of Mexico with the Callarado and Apostles river, discharges itself into the Columbia 125 miles from it's mouth. From the head of tide water to the foot of the long narrows the Columbia could be most advantageously navigated with large batteauxs, and from thence upwards by perogues. The Missouri possesses sufficient debth of water as far as is specifyed for boats of 15 tons burthen, but those of smaller capacity are to be prefered.

    We view this passage across the Continent as affording immence advantages to the fur trade, but fear that the advantages which it offers as a communication for the productions of the East Indies to the United States and thence to Europe will never be found equal on an extensive scale to that by way of the Cape of Good hope; still be believe that many articles not bulky brittle nor of a very perishable nature may be conveyed to the United States by this rout with more facility and at less expence than by that at present practiced.

    The Missouri and all it's branches from the Chyenne upwards abound more in beaver and Common Otter, than any other streams on earth, particularly that proportion of them lying within the Rocky Mountains. The furs of all this immence tract of country including such as may be collected on the upper portion of the River St. Peters, Red river and the Assinniboin with the immence country watered by the Columbia, may be conveyed to the mouth of the Columbia by the 1st of August in each year and from thence be shiped to, and arrive in London. The British N. West Company of Canada were they permitted by the United States might also convey their furs collected in the Athabaske, on the Saskashawan, and South and West of Lake Winnipic by that rout within the period before mentioned. Thus the productions nine tenths of the most valuable fur country of America could be conveyed by the rout proposed to the East Indies.

    In the infancy of the trade across the continent, or during the period that the trading establishments shall be confined to the Missouri and it's branches, the men employed in this trade will be compelled to convey the furs collected in that quater as low on the Columbia as tide water, in which case they could not return to the falls of the Missouri until about the 1st of October, which would b so late in the season that there would be considerable danger of the river being obstructed by ice before they could reach this place and consequently that the commodites brought from the East indies would be detained until the following spring; but this difficulty will at once vanish when establishments are also made on the Columbia, and a sufficient number of men employed at them to convey annually the productions of the East indies to the upper establishment on the Kooskooske, and there exchange them with the men of the Missouri for their furs, in the begining of July. By this means the furs not only of the Missouri but those also of the Columbia may be shiped to the East indies by the season before mentioned, and the commodities of the East indies arrive at St. Louis or the mouth of the Ohio by the last of September in each year.

    Although the Columbia dose not as much as the Missouri abound in beaver and Otter, yet it is by no means despicable in this rispect, and would furnish a valuable fur trade distinct from any other consideration in addition to the otter and beaver which it could furnish. There might be collected considerable quantities of the skins of three species of bear affording a great variety of colours and of superior delicacy, those also of the tyger cat, several species of fox, martin and several others of an inferior class of furs, besides the valuable Sea Otter of the coast.

    If the government will only aid, even in a very limited manner, the enterprize of her Citizens I am fully convinced that we shal shortly derive the benifits of a most lucrative trade from this source, and that in the course of ten or twelve years a tour across the Continent by the rout mentioned will be undetaken by individuals with as little concern as a voyage across the Atlantic is at present.

    The British N. West Company of Canada has for several years, carried on a partial trade with the Minnetares Ahwayhaways and Mandans on the Missouri from their establishments on the Assiniboin at the entrance of Mouse river; at present I have good reason for beleiving that they intend shortly to form an establishment near those nations with a view to engroce the fur trade of the Missouri. The known enterprize and resources of this Company, latterly strengthened by an union with their powerfull rival the X. Y. Company renders them formidable in that distant part of the continent to all other traders; and in my opinion if we are to regard the trade of the Missouri as an object of importance to the United States; the strides of this Company towards the Missouri cannot be too vigilantly watched not too firmly and speedily opposed by our government. The embarrasments from which the navigation of the Missouri at present labours from the unfriendly dispositions of the Kancez, the several bands of Tetons, Assinniboins and those tribes that resort to the British establishments on the Saskashawan is also a subject which requires the earliest attention of our government. As I shall shortly be with you I have deemed it unnecessary here to detail the several ideas which have presented themselves to my mind on those subjects, more especially when I consider that a thorough knowledge of the geography of the country is absolutely necessary to their being undestood, and leasure has not yet permitted us to make but one general map of the country which I am unwilling to wrisk by the Mail.

    As a sketch of the most prominent features of our perigrination since we left the Mandans may not be uninteresting, I shall indeavour to give it to you by way of letter from this place, where I shall necessarily be detained several days in order to settle with and discharge the men who accompanyed me on the voyage as well as to prepare for my rout to the City of Washington.

    We left Fort Clatsop where we wintered near the entrance of the Columbia on the 27th of March last, and arrived at the foot of the Rocky mountains on the 10th of May where we were detained untill the 24th of June in consequence of the snow which rendered a passage over the those Mountains impracticable untill that moment; had it not been for this detention I should ere this have joined you at Montichello. In my last communication to you from the Mandans I mentioned my intention of sending back a canoe with a small party from the Rocky Mountains; but on our arrival at the great falls of the Missouri on the 14th of June 1805, in view of that formidable snowey barrier, the discourageing difficulties which we had to encounter in making a portage of eighteen miles of our canoes and baggage around those falls wer such that my friend Capt. Clark and myself concieved it inexpedient to reduce the party, lest by doing so we should lessen the ardor of those who remained and thus hazard the fate of the expedition, and therefore decline that measure, thinking it better that the government as well as our friends should for a moment feel some anxiety for our fate than to wrisk so much; experience has since proved the justice of our dicision, for we have more than once owed our lives and the fate of the expedition to our number which consisted of 31 men.

    I have brought with me several skins of the Sea Otter, two skins of the native sheep of America, five skins and skelitons complete of the Bighorn or mountain ram, and a skin of the Mule deer beside the skins of several other quadrupeds and birds natives of the countries through which we have passed. I have also preserved a pretty extensive collection of plants, and collected nine other vocabularies.

    I have prevailed on the great Cheif of the Mandan nation to accompany me to Washington; he is now with my frind and colligue Capt. Clark at this place, in good health and sperits, and very anxious to procede.

    With rispect to the exertions and services rendered by that esteemable man Capt. William Clark in the course of late voyage I cannot say too much; if sir any credit be due for the success of that arduous enterprize in which we have been mutually engaged, he is equally with myself entitled to your consideration and that of our common country.

    The anxiety which I feel in returning once more to the bosom of my friends is a sufficient guarantee that no time will be unnecessarily expended in this quarter. I have detained the post several hours for the purpose of making you this haisty communication. I hope that while I am pardoned for this detention of the mail, the situation in which I have been compelled to write will sufficiently apologize for having been this laconic.

    The rout by which I purpose traveling from hence to Washington is by way of Cahokia, Vincennes, Louisvill Ky., the Crab orchard, Abington, Fincastle, Stanton, and Charlottesville. Any letters directed to me at Louisville ten days after the reciept of this will most probably meet me at that place. I am very anxious to learn the state of my friends in Albemarle particularly whether my mother is yet living. I am with every sentiment of esteem Your Obt. and very Humble servent.Meriwether Lewis Capt.

    1st. U.S. Regt. Infty.

    N.B. The whole of the party who accompanyed me from the Mandans have returned in good health, which is not, I assure you, to me one of the least pleasing considerations of the Voyage.M.L.

    RC in the hand of Meriwether Lewis. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress.

    As noted in the journal entries above, reprinted courtesy of lewisandclarkjournals.unl.edu, much of the Corps of Discovery history has been kept in the journals of six men; Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, Joseph Whitehouse, John Ordway, Patrick Gass, and Charles Floyd.

    Image above: Illustration of Captain Clark and his Men shooting bears, 1810, Patrick Gass. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Engraving of Meriwether Lewis, 1805, Saint-Memin, Charles Balthazar, Julien Fevret de. Courtesy Library of Congress. (left) and (right) William Clark, 1807, Saint-Memin, Charles Balthazar, Julien Fevret de. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info source: Library of Congress, Meriwether Lewis to Thomas Jefferson, September 23, 1806, from Thomas Jefferson and Early Western Explorers, Transcribed and Edited by Gerard W. Gawalt, Manuscript Division; https://lewisandclarkjournals.unl.edu/; Diaries of William Clark, Meriwether Lewis, Joseph Whitehouse, Patrick Gass, John Ordway; lewisclark.net; Wikipedia Commons.


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