Journals of Lewis and Clark: Clatsop Native Indians
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Journals of Lewis and Clark
Account of the Clatsop Native Indians


This article provides interesting facts about the Clatsop Native Indians that were described taken from the Journals of Lewis and Clark.

Lewis and cClark Expedition: Jounal Dates

The Journals of Lewis and Clark: Clatsop Native Indians

The Journals of Lewis and Clark: The Clatsop Native American Indians
The following excepts are taken from entries of the Journals of Lewis and Clark - Clatsop Native Indians.

An account of the Clatsops, Killamucks, Chinnooks and Cathlamahs - their uniform custom of flattening the forehead--the dress of these savages, and their ornaments, described--the licensed prostitution of the women, married and unmarried, of which a ludicrous instance is given--the character of their diseases--the common opinion, that the treatment of women is the standard by which the virtues of an Indian may be known, combatted, and disproved by examples--the respect entertained by these Indians for old age, compared with the different conduct of those nations who subsist by the chase--their mode of government--their ignorance of ardent spirits, and their fondness for gambling--their dexterity in traffic--in what articles their traffic consists--their extraordinary attachment to blue beads, which forms their circulating medium.

The Killamucks, Clatsops, Chinnooks, and Cathlamahs, the four neighboring nations with whom we have had most intercourse, preserve a general resemblance in person, dress, and manners. They are commonly of a diminutive stature, badly shaped, and their appearance by no means prepossessing. They have broad thick flat feet, thick ankles, and crooked legs: the last of which deformities is to be ascribed, in part, to the universal practice of squatting, or sitting on the calves of their legs and heels, and also to the tight bandages of beads and strings worn round the ankles, by the women, which prevent the circulation of the blood, and render the legs, of the females, particularly, ill shaped and swollen. The complexion is the usual copper colored brown of the North American tribes, though the complexion is rather lighter than that of the Indians of the Missouri, and the frontier of the United States: the mouth is wide and the lips thick; the nose of a moderate size, fleshy, wide at the extremities, with large nostrils, and generally low between the eyes, though there are rare instances of high acqueline noses; the eyes are generally black, though we occasionally see them of a dark yellowish brown, with a black pupil. But the most distinguishing part of their physiognomy, is the peculiar flatness and width of their forehead, a peculiarity which they owe to one of these customs by which nature is sacrificed to fantastic ideas of beauty. The custom, indeed, of flattening the head by artificial pressure during infancy, prevails among all the nations we have seen west of the rocky mountains. To the east of that barrier, the fashion is so perfectly unknown, that there the western Indians, with the exception of the Alliatan or Snake nation, are designated by the common name of Flatheads. The singular usage, which nature could scarcely seem to suggest to remote nations, might perhaps incline us to believe in the common and not very ancient origin of all the western natians. Such an opinion might well accommodate itself with the fact, that while on the lower parts of the Columbia, both sexes are universally flatheads, the custom diminishes in receding eastward, from the common centre of the infection, till among the remoter tribes near the mountains, nature recovers her rights, and the wasted folly is confined to a few females. Such opinions, however, are corrected or weakened by considering that theflattening of the head is not, in fact, peculiar to that part of the continent, since it was among the first objects which struck the attention of Columbus.

But wherever it may have begun, the practice is now universal among these nations. Soon after the birth of her child, the mother, anxious to procure for her infant the recommendation of a broad forehead, places it in the compressing machine, where it is kept for ten or twelve months; though the females remain longer than the boys. The operation is so gradual, that it is not attended with pain; but the impression is deep and permanent. The heads of the children when they are released from the bandage, are not more than two inches thick about the upper edge of the forehead, and still thinner above: nor with all its efforts can nature ever restore its shape; the heads of grown persons being often in a straight line from the nose to the top of the forehead.

The hair of both sexes is parted at the top of the head, and thence falls loosely behind the ears, over the back and shoulders. They use combs, of which they are very fond, and indeed, contrive without the aid of them, to keep their hair in very good order. The dress of the man consists in a small robe, reaching to the middle of the thigh, tied by a string across the breast, with its corners hanging loosely over their arms. These robes are, in general, composed of the skins of a small animal, which we have supposed to be the brown mungo. They have besides, those of the tiger, cat, deer, panther, bear, and elk, which last is principally used in war parties. Sometimes they have a blanket woven with the fingers, from the wool of their native sheep; occasionally a mat is thrown over them to keep off rain; but except this robe, they have no other article of clothing during winter or summer, so that every part of the body, but the back and shoulders, is exposed to view. They are very fond of the dress of the whites, whom they call pashisheooks or clothmen; and whenever they can procure any clothes, wear them in our manner: the only article, indeed, which we have not seen among them is the shoe.

The robe of the women is like that worn by the men, except that it does not reach below the waist. Those most esteemed are made of strips of sea-otter skin, which being twisted are interwoven with silk-grass, or the bark of the white cedar, in such a manner that the fur appears equally on both sides, so as to form a soft and warm covering. The skin of the racoon or beaver are also employed in the same way, though on other occasions these skins are simply dressed in the hair, and worn without further preparation. The garment which covers the body from the waist as low as the knee before and the thigh behind, is the tissue already described, and is made either of the bruised bark of white cedar, the twisted cords of silk-grass, or of flags and rushes. Neither leggings nor moccasins are ever used, the mildness of the climate not requiring them as a security from the weather, and their being so much in the water rendering them an incumberance. The only covering for the head is a hat made of bear-grass, and the bark of cedar, interwoven in a conic form, with a knob of the same shape at the top. It has no brim, but is held on the head by a string passing under the chin, and tied to a small rim inside of the hat. The colors are generally black and white only, and these are made into squares, triangles, and sometimes rude figures of canoes and seamen harpooning whales. This is all the usual dress of females; but if the weather be unusually severe, they add a vest formed of skins like the robe, tied behind, without any shoulder-straps to keep it up. As this vest covers the body from the armpits to the waist, it conceals the breasts, but on all other occasions they are suffered to remain loose and exposed, and present, in old women especially, a most disgusting appearance.

Sometimes, though not often, they mark their skins by puncturing and introducing some colored matter: this ornament is chiefly confined to the women, who imprint on their legs and arms, circular or parallel dots. On the arm of one of the squaws we read the name of J. Bowman, apparently a trader who visits the mouth of the Columbia. The favorite decoration however of both sexes, are the common coarse blue or white beads, which are folded very tightly round their wrists and ankles, to the width of three or four inches, and worn in large loose rolls round the neck, or in the shape of earrings, or hanging from the nose, which last mode is peculiar to the men. There is also a species of wampum very much in use, which seems to be worn in its natural form without any preparation. Its shape is a cone somewhat curved, about the size of a raven's quill at the base, and tapering to a point, its whole length being from one to two and a half inches, and white, smooth, hard and thin. A small thread is passed through it, and the wampum is either suspended from the nose, or passed through the cartilage horizontally, and forms a ring, from which other ornaments hang. This wampum is employed in the same way as the beads, but is the favorite decoration for the noses of the men. The men also use collars made of bears' claws, the women and children those of elks' tusks, and both sexes are adorned with bracelets of copper, iron, or brass, in various forms.

Yet all these decorations are unavailing to conceal the deformities of nature and the extravagance of fashion; nor have we seen any more disgusting object than a Chinnook or Clatsop beauty in full attire. Their broad flat foreheads, their falling breasts, their ill shaped limbs, the aukwardness of their positions, and the filth which intrudes through their finery; all these render a Chinnook or Clatsop beauty in full attire, one of the most disgusting objects in nature. Fortunately this circumstance conspired with the low diet and laborious exercise of our men, to protect them from the persevering gallantry of the fair sex, whose kindness always exceeded the ordinary courtesies of hospitality. Among these people, as indeed among all Indians, the prostitution of unmarried women is so far from being considered criminal or improper, that the females themselves solicit the favours of the other sex, with the entire approbation of their friends and connexions. The person is in fact often the only property of a young female, and is therefore the medium of trade, the return for presents, and the reward for services. In most cases, however, the female is so much at the disposal of her husband or parent, that she is farmed out for hire. The Chinnook woman, who brought her six female relations to our camp, had regular prices, proportioned to the beauty of each female; and among all the tribes, a man will lend his wife or daughter for a fish-hook or a strand of beads. To decline anoffer of this sort is indeed to disparage the charms of the lady, and therefore gives such offence, that although we had occasionally to treat the Indians with rigour, nothing seemed to irritate both sexes more than our refusal to accept the favours of the females. On one occasion we were amused by a Clatsop, who having been cured of some disorder by our medical skill, brought his sister as a reward for our kindness. The young lady was quite anxious to join in this expression of her brother's gratitude, and mortified that we did not avail ourselves of it, she could not be prevailed on to leave the fort, but remained with Charbonneau's wife, in the next room to ours, for two or three days, declining all the solicitations of the men, till finding, at last, that we did not relent, she went away, regretting that her brother's obligations were unpaid.

The little intercourse which the men have had with these women is, however, sufficient to apprise us of the prevalence of the venereal disease, with which one or two of the party had been so much afflicted, as to render a salivation necessary. The infection in these cases was communicated by the Chinnook women. The others do not appear to be afflicted with it to any extent: indeed, notwithstanding this disorder is certainly known to the Indians on the Columbia, yet the number of infected persons is very inconsiderable. The existence of such a disorder is very easily detected, particularly in the men, in their open style of dress; yet in the whole route down the Columbia, we have not seen more than two or three cases of gonorrhoea. and about double that number of lues venerea. There does not seem to be any simples which are used as specifics in this disorder, nor is any complete cure ever effected. When once a patient is seized, the disorder ends with his life only; though from the simplicity of their diet, and the use of certain vegetables, they support it for many years with but little inconvenience, and even enjoy tolerable health; yet their life is always abridged by decrepitude or premature old age. The Indians, who are mostly successful in treating this disorder, are the Chippeways. Their specifics are the root of the lobelia, and that of a species of sumac, common to the United States, the neighborhood of the rocky mountains, and to the countries westward, and which is readily distinguished by being the smallest of its kind, and by its winged rib, or common footstalk, supporting leaves oppositely pinnate. Decoctions of the roots are used very freely, without any limitation, and are said to soften the violence of the lues, and even to be sovereign in the cure of the gonorrhoea.

The Clatsops and other nations at the mouth of the Columbia, have visited us with great freedom, and we have endeavored to cultivate their intimacy, as well for the purpose of acquiring information, as to leave behind us impressions favorable to our country. In their intercourse with us they are very loquacious and inquisitive. Having acquired much of their language, we are enabled with the assistance of gestures, to hold conversations with great ease. We find them inquisitive and loquacious, with understandings by no means deficient in acuteness, and with very retentive memories; and though fond of feasts, and generally cheerful, they are never gay. Every thing they see excites their attention and inquiries, but having been accustomed to see the whites, nothing appeared to give them more astonishment than the air-gun. To all our inquiries they answer with great intelligence, and the conversation rarely slackens, since there is a constant discussion of the events, and trade, and politics, in the little but active circle of Killamucks, Clatsops, Cathlamahs, Wahkiacums, and Chinnooks. Among themselves, the conversation generally turns on the subjects of trade, or smoking, or eating, or connexion with females, before whom this last is spoken of with a familiarity which would be in the highest degree indecent, if custom had not rendered it inoffensive.

The treatment of women is often considered as the standard by which the moral qualities of savages are to be estimated. Our own observation, however, induced us to think that the importance of the female in savage life, has no necessary relation to the virtues of the men, but is regulated wholly by their capacity to be useful. The Indians whose treatment of the females is mildest, and who pay most deference to their opinions, are by no means the most distinguished for their virtues; nor is this deference attended by any increase of attachment, since they are equally willing with the most brutal husband, to prostitute their wives to strangers. On the other hand, the tribes among whom the women are very much debased, possess the loftiest sense of honor, the greatest liberality, and all the good qualities of which their situation demands the exercise. Where the women can aid in procuring subsistence for the tribe, they are treated with more equality, and their importance is proportioned to the share which they take in that labor; while in countries where subsistence is chiefly procured by the exertions of the men, the women are considered and treated as burdens. Thus, among the Clatsops and Chinnooks, who live upon fish and roots, which the women are equally expert with the men in procuring, the former have a rank and influence very rarely found among Indians. The females are permitted to speak freely before the men, to whom indeed they sometimes address themselves in a tone of authority. On many subjects their judgments and opinions are respected, and in matters of trade, theiradvice is generally asked and pursued. The labors of the family too, are shared almost equally. The men collect wood and make fires, assist in cleansing the fish, make the houses, canoes, and wooden utensils; and whenever strangers are to be entertained, or a great feast prepared, the meats are cooked and served up by the men. The peculiar province of the female is to collect roots, and to manufacture the various articles which are formed of rushes, flags, cedar-bark, and bear-grass; but the management of the canoes, and many of the occupations, which elsewhere devolves wholly on the female, are here common to both sexes.

The observation with regard to the importance of females, applies with equal force to the treatment of old men. Among tribes who subsist by hunting, the labors of the chase, and the wandering existence to which that occupation condemns them, necessarily throws the burden of procuring provisions on the active young men. As soon, therefore, as a man is unable to pursue the chase, he begins to withdraw something from the precarious supplies of the tribe. Still, however, his counsels may compensate his want of activity; but in the next stage of infirmity, when he can no longer travel from camp to camp, as the tribe roams about for subsistence, he is then found to be a heavy burden. In this situation they are abandoned among the Sioux, Assiniboines, and the hunting tribes on the Missouri. As they are setting out for some new excursion, where the old man is unable to follow, his children, or nearest relations, place before him a piece of meat and some water, and telling him that he has lived long enough, that it is now time for him to go home to his relations, who could take better care of him than his friends on earth, leave him, without remorse, to perish, when his little supply is exhausted. The same custom is said to prevail among the Minnetarees, Ahnahawas, and Ricaras, when they are attended by old men on their hunting excursions. Yet, in their villages, we saw no want of kindness to old men. On the contrary, probably because in villages, the means of more abundant subsistence renders such cruelty unnecessary, the old people appeared to be treated with attention, and some of their feasts, particularly the buffalo dances, were intended chiefly as a contribution for the old and imfirm.

The dispositions of these people seem mild and inoffensive, and they have uniformly behaved to us with great friendship. They are addicted to begging and pilfering small articles, when it can be done without danger of detection, but do not rob wantonly, nor to any large amount; and some of them having purloined some of our meat, which the hunters had been obliged to leave in the woods, they voluntarily brought some dogs a few days after, by way of compensation. Our force and great superiority in the use of firearms, enable us always to command, and such is the friendly deportment of these people, that the men have been accustomed to treat them with the greatest confidence. It is therefore with difficulty that we can impress on our men a conviction of the necessity of being always on our guard, since we are perfectly acquainted with the treacherous character of Indians in general. We are always prepared for an attack, and uniformly exclude all large parties of Indians from the fort. Their large houses usually contain several families, consisting of the parents, their sons and daughters-in-law, and grand children, among whom the provisions are common, and whose harmony is scarcely ever interrupted by disputes. Although polygamy is permitted by their customs, very few have more than a single wife, and she is brought immediately after the marriage into the husband's family, where she resides until increasing numbers oblige them to seek another house. In this state the old man is not considered as the head of the family, since the active duties, as well as the responsibility, fall on some of the younger members. As these families gradually expand into bands or tribes or nations, the paterternal authority isrepresented by the chief of each association. This chieftain however is not hereditary; his ability to render service to his neighbors, and the popularity which follows it, is at once the foundation and the measure of his authority, the exercise of which does not extend beyond a reprimand for some improper action.

The harmony of their private life is indeed secured by their ignorance of spirituous liquors, the earliest and most dreadful present which civilization has given to the other natives of the continent. Although they have had so much intercourse with whites, they do not appear to possess any knowledge of those dangerous luxuries; at least they have never inquired after them; which they probably would have done if once they had been introduced among them. Indeed we have not observed any liquor of an intoxicating quality used among these or any Indians west of the Rocky mountains, the universal beverage being pure water. They however sometimes almost intoxicate themselves by smoking tobacco of which they are excessively fond, and the pleasures of which they prolong as much as possible, by retaining vast quantities at a time, till after circulating through the lungs and stomach it issues in volumes from the mouth and nostrils. But the natural vice of all these people is an attachment for games of hazard which they pursue with a strange and ruinous avidity. The games are of two kinds. In the first, one of the company assumes the office of banker, and plays against the rest. He takes a small stone, about the size of a bean, which he shifts from one hand to the other with great dexterity, repeating at the same time a song adapted to the game, and which serves to divert the attention of the company, till having agreed on the stake, he holds out his hands, and the antagonist wins or loses as he succeeds or fails at guessing in which hand the stone is. After the banker has lost his money, or whenever he is tired, the stone is transferred to another, who in turn challenges the rest of the company. The other game is something like the play of ninepins; two pins are placedon the floor, about the distance of a foot from each other, and a small hole made behind them. The players then go about ten feet from the hole, into which they try to roll a small piece resembling the men used at draughts; if they succeed in putting it into the hole, they win the stake; if the piece rolls between the pins, but does not go into the hole, nothing is won or lost; but the wager is wholly lost if the chequer rolls outside of the pins. Entire days are wasted at these games, which are often continued through the night round the blaze of their fires, till the last article of clothing or even the last blue bead is won from the desperate adventurer. In traffic they are keen, acute and intelligent, and they employ in all their bargains a dexterity and finesse, which, if it be not learnt from their foreign visiters, may show how nearly the cunning of savages is allied to the little arts of more civilized trade. They begin by asking double or treble the value of their merchandise, and lower the demand in proportion to the ardor or experience in trade of the purchaser; and if he expresses any anxiety, the smallest article, perhaps a handfull of roots, will furnish a whole morning's negotiation. Being naturally suspicious, they of course conceive that you are pursuing the same system. They, therefore, invariably refuse the first offer, however high, fearful that they or we have mistaken the value of the merchandise, and therefore cautiously wait to draw us on to larger offers. In this way, after rejecting the most extravagant prices, which we have offered merely for experiment, they have afterwards importuned us for a tenth part of what they had before refused. In this respect, they differ from almost all Indians, who will generally exchange in a thoughtless moment the most valuable article they possess, for any bauble which happens to please their fancy.

These habits of cunning, or prudence, have been formed or increased by their being engaged in a large part of the commerce of the Columbia; of that trade, however, the great emporium is the falls, where all the neighboring nations assemble. The inhabitants of the Columbian plains, after having passed the winter near the mountains, come down as soon as the snow has left the valleys, and are occupied in collecting and drying roots, till about the month of May. They then crowd to the river, and fixing themselves on its north side, to avoid the incursions of the Snake Indians, continue fishing, till about the first of September, when the salmon are no longer fit for use. They then bury their fish and return to the plains, where they remain gathering quamash, till the snow obliges them to desist. They come back to the Columbia, and taking their store of fish, retire to the foot of the mountains, and along the creeks, which supply timber for houses, and pass the winter in hunting deer or elk, which, with the aid of their fish, enables them to subsist till in the spring they resume the circle of their employments. During their residence on the river, from May to September, or rather before they begin the regular fishery, they go down to the falls, carrying with them skins, mats, silk grass, rushes, and chappelell bread. They are here overtaken by the Chopunnish, and other tribes of the Rocky mountains, who descend the Kooskooskee and Lewis's river for the purpose of selling bear-grass, horses, quamash, and a few skins which they have obtained by hunting, or in exchange for horses, with the Tushepaws.

At the falls, they find the Chilluckittequaws, Eneeshurs, Echeloots, and Skilloots, which last serve as intermediate traders or carriers between the inhabitants above and below the falls. These tribes prepare pounded fish for the market, and the nations below bring wappatoo roots, the fish of the seacoast, berries, and a variety of trinkets and small articles which they have procured from the whites.

The trade then begins. The Chopunnish, and Indians of the Rocky mountains, exchange the articles which they have brought for wappatoo, pounded fish, and beads. The Indians of the plains being their own fishermen, take only wappatoo, horses, beads, and other articles, procured from Europeans. The Indians, however, from Lewis's river to the falls, consume as food or fuel all the fish which they take; so that the whole stock for exportation is prepared by the nations between the Towahnahiooks and the falls, and amounts, as nearly as we could estimate, to about thirty thousand weight, chiefly salmon, above the quantity which they use themselves, or barter with the more eastern Indians. This is now carried down the river by the Indians at the falls, and is consumed among the nations at the mouth of the Columbia, who in return give the fish of the seacoast, and the articles which they obtain from the whites. The neighboring people catch large quantities of salmon and dry them, but they do not understand or practice the art of drying and pounding it in the manner used at the falls, and being very fond of it, are forced to purchase it at high prices. This article, indeed, and the wappatoo, form the principle subjects of trade with the people of our immediate vicinity. The traffic is wholly carried on by water; there are even no roads or paths through the country, except across the portages which connect the creeks.

But the circumstance which forms the soul of this trade, is the visit of the whites. They arrive generally about the month of April, and either remain until October, or return at that time; during which time, having no establishment on shore, they anchor on the north side of the bay, at the place already described, which is a spacious and commodious harbor, perfectly secure from all except the south and southeast winds; and as they leave it before winter, they do not suffer from these winds, which, during that season, are the most usual and the most violent. This situation is recommended by its neighborhood to fresh water and wood, as well as to excellent timber for repairs. Here they are immediately visited by the tribes along the seacoast, by the Cathlamahs, and lastly by the Skilloots, that numerous and active people, who skirt the river between the marshy islands and the grand rapids, as well as the Coweliskee, and who carry down the fish prepared by their immediate neighbors the Chilluckittequaws, Eneeshurs, and Echeeloots, residing from the grand rapids to the falls, as well as all the articles which they have procured in barter at the market in May. The accumulated trade of the Columbia now consists of dressed and undressed skins of elk, sea-otter, the common otter, beaver, common fox, spuck, and tiger cat. The articles of less importance, are a small quantity of dried or pounded salmon, the biscuits made of the chapelell roots, and some of the manufactures ofthe neighborhood. In return they receive guns (which are principally old British or American muskets) powder, ball and shot, copper and brass kettles, brass tea-kettles, and coffee-pots, blankets, from two to three points, coarse scarlet and blue cloth, plates and strips of sheet copper and brass, large brass wire, knives, tobacco, fish-hooks, buttons, and a considerable quantity of sailors' hats, trowsers, coats and shirts. But as we have had occasion to remark more than once, the object of foreign trade which is the most desired, are the common cheap, blue or white beads, of about fifty or seventy to the penny weight, which are strung on strands a fathom in length, and sold by the yard, or the length of both arms: of these blue beads, which are called tia commashuck, or chief beads, hold the first rank in their ideas of relative value: the most inferior kind, are esteemed beyond the finest wampum, and are temptations which can always seduce them to part with their most valuable effects. Indeed, if the example of civilized life did not completely vindicate their choice, we might wonder at their infatuated attachment to a bauble in itself so worthless. Yet these beads are, perhaps, quite as reasonable objects of research as the precious metals, since they are at once beautiful ornaments for the person, and the great circulating medium of trade with all the nations on the Columbia.

These strangers who visit the Columbia for the purpose of trade or hunting, must be either English or Americans. The Indians inform us that they speak the same language as we do, and indeed the few words which the Indians have learnt from the sailors, such as musket, powder, shot, knife, file, heave the lead, damned rascal, and other phrases of that description, evidently show that the visiters speak the English language. But as the greater part of them annually arrive in April, and either remain till autumn, or revisit them at that time, which we could not clearly understand, the trade cannot be direct from either England or the United States, since the ships could not return thither during the remainder of the year. When the Indians are asked where these traders go on leaving the Columbia, they always point to the southwest, whence we presume that they do not belong to any establishment at Nootka Sound. They do, however, mention a trader by the name of Moore, who sometimes touches at this place, and the last time he came, he had on board three cows; and when he left them, continued along the northwest coast, which renders it probable, that there may be a settlement of whites in that direction. The names and description of all these persons who visit them in the spring and autumn are remembered with great accuracy, and we took down, exactly as they were pronounced, the following list: The favorite trader is Mr. Haley, who visits them in a vessel with three masts, and continues some time. The others are

Youens, who comes also in a three masted vessel, and is a trader.

Tallamon, in a three masted vessel, but he is not a trader.

Callalamet in a ship of the same size, he is a trader, and they say has a wooden leg.

Skelley, also a trader, in a vessel with three masts, but he has been gone for some years. He had only one eye.

It might be difficult to adjust the balance of the advantages of the dangers of this trade to the nations of the Columbia, against the sale of their furs, and the acquisition of a few bad guns and household utensils.

The nations near the mouth of the Columbia enjoy great tranquillity; none of the tribes being engaged in war. Not long since, however, there was a war on the coast to the southwest, in which the Killamucks took several prisoners. These, as far as we could perceive, were treated very well, and though nominally slaves, yet were adopted into the families of their masters, and the young ones placed on the same footing with the children of the purchaser.

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