Monday, April 24, 2017

Family of Nellie Ligon, Chickasaw Freedmen

For anyone researching Chickasaw Freedmen, it can be a challenge to conduct the research in a thorough manner because in many cases the data was sparse in the application files. However, there are amazing clues to the family history to be found on the Dawes Cards, and by studying the additional members of the family.

Nellie Ligon lived in Pontotoc County of the Chickasaw Nation at the time of the Dawes Commission. She lived in the community of Wiley, I.T., and appeared for the interview on September 27, 1898. She applied for herself and her daughter Caroline Moore, with whom she also resided. She was 60 years old at the time, and had clearly been enslaved in her younger years. She was once enslaved by Chickasaw Elsie Harris, as was her daughter as well.

An interesting notation appears on the card describing the fact that there was a "Nellie Ligon Contested Case." U.S., Native American Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 
1898-1914 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008.
Chickasaw Freedman Card N 827

From the reverse side of the card, it is noted that Nellie did not provide the name of her father and it was only noted that he was deceased at the time. Her mother's name was Tena Clifton, and she was also deceased at the time. There is no clear indication why the father's name was not mentioned. Considering Nellie's age, it is possible that like some who were once enslaved, the names of both parents was not always known. Nellie's mother Tena, had once been enslaved by Tokolski of the Chickasaw Nation.

Source: Same as above

Thankfully an interview was found in the file. With Chickasaw Freedmen, the commissioners ended up submitting abbreviated files as the final version. They were later interrogated about this practice of submitting interviews as short as 2-3 sentences. The file of Nellie Ligon was a file with some content.

Much of the focus on the file was placed on her status while enslaved and then freedmen. Her movement outside of the territory during the war was an area of focus and the length of time spent living in Indian Terriotory. Like many people enslaved during the Civil war, she was taken south, as a method of preventing any escapes while the turmoil unfolded in the Territory.

Nellie was asked who her owner was before the war, then who the owner was after the war, and whether or not she had been sold. (This was significant because had she been sold to someone in Texas then she may have been made ineligible for enrollment and a subsequent land allotment.)

National Archives Publication M1301, Application Jackets, compiled 1898-1914
Record accessed from Fold 3, Native American Collection, 
Chickasaw Freedmen Dawes Packets File #827

A witness was brought in to corroborate what Nellie said about her life as a Chickasaw slave. The witness was John Childers who knew Nellie for many years. He pointed out in his testimony that he knew Nellie had been a slave of "Granny Harris" as he referred to Eloise Harris the slave holder listed on Nellie's Dawes Card. It was recorded that Granny Harris was actually the grandmother of Governor R. M. Harris of the Chickasaw Nation.
Source: Same as for above image

There were additional letters in the file, but no additional interviews, so it was not clear upon first read exactly what the "contested" case was noted in a document above.

At the top of the page of the interview pertaining to Nellie, they would point to the related case. That was the case of her son, Frank, who also lived in Pontotoc, in the same town. Frank applied for himself and his wife Viney, a step son, and two children who were his wards, Turner Cheadle, and Bertie Love.

A note also points out that his status would depend upon the status of Nellie Ligon. U.S., Native American Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 
1898-1914 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008.
Chickasaw Freedman Card N 864

Rich parental data is found on the reverse side of the card. Although Frank's father is not listed, Nellie Ligon is identified as his mother. Viney's parents were Randel Sticks and Anecky Henderson. The names of the parents of the step son, and the wards are also listed on the back of the card. Viney's mother was enslaved by Har-no-ta-tubby a Chickasaw. The ward Turner Cheadle's parents were listed and the mother was enslaved by another Chickasaw Serena Gray.

Source: Same as above image.

The application jacket of Frank Ligon contained some of the identical items found in the file of Nellie to that of Nellie, with two significant additions. One was another interview pertaining to Caroline Moore, Nellie's daughter. That interview was significant because all of Nellie's children were mentioned in that series of questions.

The primary concerns with Nellie's case focused on her movement to Texas during the war and the birth of Frank in Texas while she was taken and held there. There was the concern that perhaps she was sold which would have been the technicality to prevent her being allowed to enroll, and to choose her land allotment. In the file was a tender letter written by Nellie explaining her story.

After receipt of her letter and a series of memorandums that appear in the file, a decision in Nellie's favor was eventually made. Thankfully she persevered and was allowed to enroll, and subsequently select her land allotment. Oklahoma and Indian Territory, 
Land Allotment Jackets for Five Civilized Tribes, 
1884-1934 [database on-line]. 
Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2014.

Original data: Department of the Interior. Office of Indian Affairs. Five Civilized Tribes Agency.

The file reflecting Nellie Ligon and her family are encouraging for the reflect a woman who was clearly the matriarch of her family face the commissioners in her interviews and to address the status of her family with passion and dignity. Seeing her live to select her land as well, reflects her strength, resilience and devotion to her family.


This is the 13th article in a series devoted to sharing histories and stories of families 
once held as slaves in Indian Territory, now known as Oklahoma.
The focus of the series is on the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, and these posts 
are part of a project goal of documenting 52 families in 52 weeks.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Family of Will and Judy Brown, Choctaw Freedmen

The Brown family from the Choctaw Nation is an interesting family case presented on two separate enrollment cards. Will and Judy Brown were married and lived in Luk-fah-la, Indian Territory. They lived together as husband and wife, with their extensive family, and yet they appear on two different enrollment cards.

Will is listed on Choctaw Freedman enrollment card number 284, and his wife Judy is listed on enrollment card number 285. Each card also mentions that the spouse is also an enrolled citizen of the Choctaw Nation. (see image below)

(Choctaw Freedman Card #284 and 285 - Front side
For full citation see images below)

The Browns lived in Lukfala in the Choctaw Nation, not far from Broken Bow, Oklahoma. They resided with three children, Otha and Onnie and their youngest son Crockett. In addition, they petitioned for their nieces and nephews to also be enrolled. The nieces and nephews were Arabella, Polly, Luther, Alvin, Conley, Clay, and Lovely.

Early history

Since the slavery was abolished in 1866 by treaty with the United States, Will, who was only 33 at the time of the Dawes enrollment, was too  young to have been enslaved or have any memory of it. However, both of his parents Tony and Jennie, were enslaved and they were enslaved by the Pitchlynn family. Will's parents were both slaves of Tom Pitchlynn. The Pitchlynns were a very prominent family within the Choctaw Nation.  Matt Brown, who was Will's brother and father to the other children in the household, had also been enslaved by Tom Pitchlynn.

Choctaw Freedman Card #284
The National Archives at Ft Worth; Ft Worth, Texas, USA; Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914; NAI Number: 251747; Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Record Group Number: 75

The family lived in Eagle County, and the nieces and nephews had been enrolled earlier out of Towson County. The parents of Will Brown were Tony and Jennie Brown. Vina was the mother of the two older boys, Otha and Onnie. Judy, his current wife was the mother of Crockett.
Matt Brown was the father of the nieces and nephews, and he was at that time, deceased, thus Will Brown was appearing on their behalf. The mother of Will's two older children, who was Vina, was not a Choctaw citizen, nor was the mother of Matt Brown's children. (See following image.)

(Source: Same as for above image)

Judy's Card

Judy Brown's card was bearing only two names--hers and an infant Beulah Brown. Judy's parents were Ben and Lucy Pitchlynn. Both had been enslaved. Her father had been enslaved by Choctaw Chief Peter Pitchlynn, and both she and her mother was enslaved by Calvin Howell. (Calvin Howell was married to Rhoda Pitchlynn, who was related to Peter Pitchlynn, the tribe's principal chief.)
Her youngest child at the time, Beulah was recorded on the same card as Judy.

Choctaw Freedman Card #285
(Source: Same as for above image)

(Source: Same as for above image)

More Ancestors Found!
Looking at the reverse side of Will's card, his parents are listed. It was noticed however, that unlike brother Matt, who was deceased, there was no indication that Tony Brown---Will's father had died. 

(Source: Same as for previous images)

As a result, Tony Brown was indeed still living, and he also had a Dawes Card! Both Will and Jennie were on the same card, living also in Eagle Township with additional members of the Brown family as well. 

(Source: Same as for previous images)

In the household with Tony and Jennie were three additional children, Rufus, Tom, and Amandy. A line is drawn through Amandy's name for she died before the enrollment process ended. A note pertaining to Amandy indicates that she died in February 1902, and thus cancelled her enrollment. Another daughter Amy Lewis is mentioned on the card, however, she was then married to Monroe Lewis who was also an enrolled Choctaw Freedman. In addition, two of Amy's children are also enrolled on the same card.
The reverse side of the card is most revealing, because more ancestors names are revealed. Although Will did not name his father--he pointed out that his mother's name was Polly Linscom, and she had lived in Columbus Mississippi.

This is so significant, because at the time these documents were created---Tony Brown was 72 years old. That means that he was born about 1827. The Choctaws did not move to Indian Territory until 1831, thus he was clearly born in Mississippi. In addition---he points out exactly who his mother was and where she lived!

It is quite rare to find a reference to a birth place of Indian-held slaves prior to removal to the west--and in this case, Tony Brown pointed to the community exactly where his mother Polly lived. Columbus Mississippi!

(Source: Same as for previous images)

Jennie's parents were Buckleys--Abraham and Jennie Buckley. Both were deceased, and there is the likelihood that both died in Mississippi, by the remarks pertaining to their enrollment.

Judy's Parents

Judy was enrolled on her own separate card, so zooming in on her parental data it is also noticed that HER parents Ben and Lucy Pitchlynn were also still living! 

So, could another enrollment card also be found for them? Well, not only were cards found reflecting her parents, but also they still lived! More information, and more ancestral data for this family is there to be found!

The answer is yes! Both Ben and Lucy were enrolled on Choctaw Freedman card in the same community of Eagle County of the Choctaw Nation. And to the delight of any researcher both sets of parents for each of them was listed on the reverse side of the card.

(Source: Same as for previous images)

(Source: Same as for previous images)

Judy's parents Ben and Lucy Pitchlynn were clearly a part of the Pitchlynn estate, for decades, and their association through slavery clearly pre-dated the removal of Choctaws to the west. Ben's parents were Adam and Judy Pitchlynn, and Lucy's parents were Abram and Judy Buckley. It is also interesting to note the naming pattern within the family as some of the names of their children and grandchildren would match the names of their own elders and loved ones.

Lucy's parents were Hannibal Pitchlynn, and Dicey Howell. Hannibal was enslaved by the Pitchlynns and Dicey was enslaved by Calvin Howell. (Also note that among the slaveholders, the Pitchlynns and Howells were closely affiliated families.)

By following the cards for both Will and Judy, and for Will's father Tony, so much more has been learned about the family history.

The Dawes Application Jacket 

Several pages were found in the application Jacket. The actual formal interview of Will Brown was also included in the file. His interview confirmed that he also was speaking on behalf of his brother's children. The end result was that they were all enrolled together.

National Archives Publication M1301
Choctaw Freedman File 284
Image Accessed through

(Source: same as above)

(Source: same as above)

Judy's Enrollment Card

National Archives Publication M1901
Choctaw Freedman File #285

Source: same as for above image

Source: same as for above image

Will's fathers Tony Brown's  application packet contained only a handful of items, including one of the abbreviated Freedman interviews. The actual text of a longer more detailed interview no longer exists. Other papers were letters pertaining to the enrollment of grandchildren living in the household with him at the time.
National Archives Publication M1301, Application Jackets
Choctaw Freedman File #216

What the file consists of, is a brief exchange of simple questions and answers with few details. Thankfully with the data obtained from the enrollment cards so much more can be gleaned from these records.
The Brown family of Eagle County has a fascinating history! Thanks to the data found on the enrollment cards, so much more has been learned. As simple as the Dawes application jackets were, having the names of both sets of parents, and even the names of the grandparents of both Will and Judy was revealing. The data also reflected the exact community where the enslaved family was located in Mississippi, before removal to the west with Choctaw slave holders.

The family has a rich legacy and the survival of Will, Judy and even Will's parents speaks to the resilience of this family and their determination to survive. What a joy to research their files and to go back two more generations beyond Will and Judy!  May their family continue to thrive and grow stronger.
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This is the 12th article in a series devoted to sharing histories and stories of families 
once held as slaves in Indian Territory, now known as Oklahoma.
The focus of the series is on the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, and these posts 
are part of a project goal of documenting 52 families in 52 weeks.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Johnson Family of Benge, Indian Territory, A Cherokee Freedman Family

The Johnson family of Benge, Indian Territory (now Muldrow, Oklahoma) is a family of Cherokee Freedmen rooted in the Cherokee Nation, in what is now the old Shady Grove Community. This family was descended from Mose Johnson, an early arrival in the Territory.

During the years of the Dawes Commission, Lewis Johnson who was then the head of the Johnson clan, appeared in front of the commission in 1901. The family lived in the Sequoyah District of the Cherokee Nation, (now Sequoyah County). Lewis Johnson was 50 years old at the time, and at one time he was enslaved by Cherokee Ben Johnson.

He appeared for the purposes of enrolling himself and his sons, James, Sanford, and Lewis Jr. as well as his daughter Louella.

Cherokee Freedman Card #113
The National Archives at Ft Worth; Ft Worth, Texas, USA; 
Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914;
NAI Number: 
251747; Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Record Group Number: 75

Source: Same as Above
Color images accessed on 
Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Dawes Census Cards for Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914 
[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.

The mother of Lewis Johnson's first 3 children was Hester Pope Johnson, and the mother of his last child was Frances Smiley Gunter Johnson his second wife. He pointed out when asked, that both women were non-citizens of the tribe, and it was he who was the Cherokee citizen making the application on behalf of the family.

The Dawes Application PacketThis interview with Lewis Johnson was a straight forward one and their case was without complication. The head of the family Lewis was asked about his past and whether he was a citizen. Of interest to the commissioner was where he was during the Civil War Conflict, and when he returned to the Cherokee Nation after the war. This was an important question, because for many Freedmen, if they returned after 1866 there may have been problems and that was often a line of questioning for Cherokee Freedmen.

Source: National Archives Microfilm Publication M1301
Cherokee Freedman File 113
Image accessed through

Although the wife was not applying for citizenship there was strong interest in the marriage between Lewis and first wife, Hester.  Because J. H. Alexander, was in the vicinity of the hearings he was able to provide a marriage record, hand written, and he recalled performing the marriage several years earlier. He indicated that he personally knew Lewis Johnson, and that he did perform the marriage between Lewis Johnson and Hester Pope. At time of the marriage, J. H. Alexander was serving as clerk of the Sequoyah District, of the Cherokee Nation.

There does not appear to have been any doubt about J. H. Alexander's statement, therefore the document was accepted as an official certificate.

The result was that the family was enrolled without complication.

Acquiring the Land

As enrolled Cherokees, each member of the family was to receive a parcel of land. The Land Allotment jackets reveal more detail about the family and their selection of land. Apparently Lewis Johnson had received land through this process, but he chose to relinquish it, because he had already selected land and was making improvements upon the parcel of land where he had been residing. This was reflected in a second interview. (This interview was found among the records of the Land Allotment process, also on Ancestry.) Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Land Allotment Jackets for Five Civilized Tribes, 1884-1934 
[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2014.

(same as above)

At the end of the process each land owner received a letter similar to this one sent to Sanford Johnson, one of Lewis's sons.

(same as above)

It might generally be assumed that there is not much more that can be learned about the Johnson family. However, years ago, it was pointed out by Doug Johnson, a descendant of Lewis Johnson, that his ancestor, Mose Johnson had an interesting headstone and it looked as if it was a military stone. After that conversatin, he went to visit the cemetery, and sure enough Mose Johnson did have an interesting headstone.  He shared the information from the stone with me, and it turns out that Mose Johnson, (the father of Lewis Johnson) was a Union Army Civil War soldier. Having been born enslaved--he was a true freedom fighter.

Upon learning of his service, I took a look to see what could be learned about him. It turns out that he served in the 83rd US Colored Infantry, having enlisted in Ft. Scott, Kansas. After enlisting, he served as a nurse in the medical unit of the 2nd Kansas Colored, the original name of the regiment.

His Civil War service is noted and most interestingly, there is additional information to be found on the Johnson family, because Moses Johnson, (known as Mose) also left behind a widow after his death and she filed for and received a Civil War widow's pension.

The family receive payments from the Civil War service of Moses Johnson, in the 83rd US Colored infantry, and the family survived living on the family land allotments for several decades.

The Johnson family now has many branches from coast to coast, and many are now part of other families such as the Davis family clan of western Arkansas, the Waltons also of Western Arkansas, the Dedners of Washington DC, the Moons of Colorado, and many extended parts around the country.

Much more to the family's history can be examined and the story deserves to be told. Mose Johnson's name is also inscribed on the wall of Civil War soldiers at the Civil War African American Memorial in Washington DC.

This Cherokee Freedman family has a rich legacy literally from that of people enslaved, to people empowered. They were freedom fighters, survivors in freedom, and the family still strives to continue its legacy.

* * * * * * * * * *
(This is the 11th article in a series devoted to sharing histories and stories
of families once held as slaves in Indian Territory, now known as Oklahoma. 

The focus is on the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes,
are part of a project goal of documenting 52 Families in 52 weeks.)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Legacy of Samuel & Betsey Mahardy, A Story of Seminole & Chickasaw Identity

The family of Betsey Mahardy of the Seminole Nation presents a very complicated and complex family from Indian Territory. The story is complicated not because of size, but because of the family's personal identity of itself, as well as the official label placed upon them. It is complex because of the many "types" of lives lived by the family and the generation that preceded them.

The family story is one of a family of free people of color, of enslaved people, of those who intermarried between tribes and of Africans who also had spouses who were Indians as well. The case also includes one of identity and affiliation that will be reflected in one of the more extensive interviews that can be found.

Betsey Mahardy and her family resided in Wynnewood, Indian Territory in the Chickasaw Nation. An application was made in 1899 in front of the Dawes Commission to enroll Betsey and her children as Seminoles. It was stated that she belonged to the Ceasar Bruner Band of Seminole Freedmen. She was 57 years old at the time and had once been enslaved by Seminole Sam Bruner.

Her sons were Richard Bruner, Samuel Mahardy and Lyman Mahardy. Betsey's parents were Charlie Stedham, and Eliza Canard. Her father was once the slave of Sallie Stedham, and her mother was a slave of Seminole Wiley Canard.

Her first husband, the father of her son, Richard Bruner, was Sam Bruner, a Seminole Indian, and thus, always free. He had died during the Civil War. Her second husband was Wyatt Mahardy, the father of her other two sons. The question arose when their son requested to be transferred to that as Chickasaw by blood. That would become the focus of much discussion that will be illustrated in the application jacket and series of complicated interviews to follow.

However, it should be noted that on the front of Betsey Mahardy's enrollment card, it was noted that Wyatt Mahardy was actually a Chickasaw by Blood. The reverse side of the card reflects that he was born free and had not been enslaved.

And, most interestingly, on the enrollment card itself, there was a clear boldly written notation that explains the entire issue---Betsey Mahardy was married to a man who was not Seminole, but actually Chickasaw. But the note from the commission on the card, pointed out that though he was Chickasaw,  "his father was a Negro."

The National Archives at Ft Worth; Ft Worth, Texas,
Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914;
NAI Number: 
251747; Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; 
Record Group Number: 
(Also microfilmed as National Archives Publication M1186 Seminole Card #843)

Source: Same as above.

(Close up of image on front of Mahardy card)

The Interviews

The application jackets, contain one of the most complicated cases of identity, belonging, recognition and self identity, and several pages are included here. What appears on the surface by looking at the enrollment cards to be a simple case took many directions as the case of Wyatt Mahardy unfolded.

The outside cover of the file reveals the complicated nature, of the issues contained.

Several pages of letters appear in the front of the file, and I am presenting the "Statement of Case"that summarizes much of the case. Note that the focus was placed upon the son Samuel and the request made by the father to have him removed from Seminole Freedman status to that as Chickasaw by Blood.

Then, the interview begin. Betsey Mahardy points out that she was actually Creek, and thus casting doubt into data that appears about her on the enrollment card. She states that some relatives of her were the ones who had enrolled her as a Seminole Freedman, but she clearly states "No sir, no Seminole Indian ever owned me."

She pointed out that her sister "Ben Bruner's wife" was the relative who enrolled her, but her identity was that as being Creek, and not Seminole. The interview also goes on to inquire about her marriage to Wyatt Mahardy as well as her first marriage that was performed by John Ishtone, a well known Seminole preacher.

It was revealed during the interview that Wyatt Mahardy was now deceased, and had passed only a few months before.

An interesting exchange occurred about whether Betsey was Creek or Seminole. She explained how at the time the war began, she was visiting her sister who was Seminole, then all of them had to leave and go south into Chickasaw country to avoid the war.

Questions about her son by her first marriage then arose, and she explained how she was married to a Seminole, which brought about the question:

 Q."What do you mean by saying you was a slave and married to this Indian? A. "Indians has slaves."
 Q. "You said you were married to Bruner who was an Indian?" A. "I married him."

She went on to later describe issues about payments and life in the Territory, including whether the children attended Indian school.

A very strong statement of support for Samuel Mahardy came from John Thomas a Chickasaw by blood. He confirmed much of what Betsey had said about their coming into Chickasaw country during the war. He also confirmed that Samuel had attended Chickasaw schools and had boarded with him, while going to that school. He confirmed that Mahardy was always viewed as being Chickasaw. He also confirmed that Wyatt Mahardy had received payments on behalf of the boy Samuel, while attending school, and he, John Thomas has witnessed Wyatt Mahardy receiving payments.

The interview with Samuel Mahardy himself is most revealing, and he tells a fascinating story about himself, his childhood and his identity as a Chickasaw. Having once been given land as a Seminole freedmen he returned the certificates awaiting correction or adjustment to his status as being Chickasaw.

He confirmed that his father collected Chickasaw money on his behalf, and pointed out how his father once purchased red boots for him and a fine saddle for his mother.

The most clear statement by Mahardy and how he identified himself  was when the questioning went back to his status as a Seminole. He interrupted the questioner and made a powerful statement:

The entire portion of his interview appears below.

Samuel explains the confusion of how he came to seen as Seminole and his objection from his early years and insisting on his strong identity as Chickasaw.

The young Mahardy recalled how Chickasaw officials came to their home and even spent the night there, took down the names of the family, and he would later learn that their names were stricken from the Chickasaw rolls. Clearly the young Samuel wished to be officially recognized by the tribe where he lived, was a part of his entire life, and was adamant about his being recognized by the officials as part of the community in which he had been a member his entire life.

There were more pages in the file, but the final decision was not made in Samuel Mahardy's favor. His name remained on the Seminole Rolls.

Many times, the issue of whether one is "Indian" or not arises. In this case, clearly Samuel Mahardy was Chickasaw. Not only by blood, but by culture and identity. Yet, he was treated differently because of the "Negro" blood from a grandfather. The current practice of the day to insure that a perceived "stain" from African blood would be his identity, thus enforcing a racially influenced policy of racial "superiority" and a racist "inferiority" to be place on having an African presence.

Betsey would remain on the Seminole lists also though she stated that she was Creek and not Seminole. The nations were clearly close to each other geographically, and contact among people was fluid. The Mahardy family is clearly a family with blended cultures, blood lines, and tribal histories. Theirs is one that reflects a true "melting pot" that was the life of families in Indian Territory, and it is one that can be studied from many perspectives. The Mahardy legacy is richly rooted in multiple tribes, and is one that exemplifies the complexity of life in a pre-statehood land that would eventually become the state of Oklahoma.
* * * * *     * * * * *     * * * * *
This is the 10th article in a series devoted to sharing histories and stories of families once held as slaves in Indian Territory, now known as Oklahoma. The focus of the series is on the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, and these posts are part of a project with a goal of documenting 52 families in 52 weeks.