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288: This Week: Little Big Man, Public Enemies, Dahmer

In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in these movies: Little Big Man, Public Enemies, and Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

November 27th, 1868. Oklahoma.

Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie, Jack Crabb, emerges from his tepee holding his new baby boy. Outside, we can see white snow covers the grounds. Jack’s breath puffs in the cold air as he smiles down as his baby. His wife is smiling, too, as she stands next to him. Her name is Sunshine, and she’s played by Aimee Eccles in the movie.

Neither of them seems to be bothered by the cold as they’re focused on holding and looking at the new baby as it’s wrapped in cloth. Come to think of it, the cold doesn’t seem to bother the baby, either, because it’s not making any noises.

An older Jack Crabb is giving some voiceover saying that he could probably have spent the rest of his days like with his family. But that’s not how life goes.

Just then, we can hear some ponies neighing in the distance. The sound catches Jack’s attention. Something’s wrong. Probably wolves, he says out loud, and he hands the baby to Sunshine and rushes off in the direction of where they keep the ponies.

When he arrives, we can see a row of nine or so ponies against a wooden fence. It looks like there may be more beyond, but before we can count them all he turns around to his grandfather sitting there to ask what’s wrong. That’s when his grandfather points out a new noise in the distance.

More horses. But these aren’t the ones standing calmly by Jack. These are off in the distance and the sound of hoofbeats tells us they’re running. Fast.

Jack looks, but between the snowy ground and what looks to be either a foggy or just snowy atmospheric haze, it looks like one of those whiteouts where nothing is really visible. It’s not snowing or anything, it’s just impossible to see what horses are coming.

As he continues to stare, we can hear the sound of drums in the distance, too. Then, the camera cuts to a different angle and we can see a line of soldiers on horses trotting along the snowy ground. The drums are accompanied by flutes and we can see a few of the soldiers are walking along with the men on horses.

They’re a distance away on the open ground, but they seem to be speeding up as they get closer. Jack’s eyes start to tear up as he watches them come. By the time the soldiers reach the village of tepees, they’re at a full gallop with swords raised in what’s clearly an attack.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Little Big Man

That sequence comes from the 1970 film directed by Arthur Penn called Little Big Man. The event it’s depicting is what we now know as the Battle of the Washita River, also sometimes called the Washita Massacre, which happened this week in history on November 27th, 1868 near the Washita River in Roger Mills County, Oklahoma. Today, that’s near the small town of Cheyenne in southwestern Oklahoma. I’ll add a link to the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site in the show notes if you want to see where it’s at exactly.

Something about this movie to keep in mind is that it’s intended to be a parody of sorts of Western films. It’s based on a novel, and overall, it’s not really trying to be entirely true to history.

With that said, it’s not really a surprise that the movie doesn’t do a great job depicting the Battle of the Washita River because it doesn’t really tell much of the true story at all.

To help us dig deeper into this, I had a chat with historian Gregory J.W. Urwin from Temple University about the way the Battle of the Washita River is depicted in Little Big Man, and here’s what he had to say:

[00:29:46] Gregory J.W. Urwin: One thing to keep in mind, this movie is released in 1970 at the height of the Vietnam War.

And Arthur Penn uses the Battle of the Washington as a thinly disguised way of condemning the U. S. Army for the atrocities it committed. in Vietnam. When you look at the Washita, you’re looking at the My Lai Massacre. Jack Krab’s wife, they cast an Asian actress to play her. She’s not a Native American.

The thing about these Indians living on land that was theirs for all eternity, as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers flow, et cetera. The Treaty of Medicine Lodge, which was concluded in 1867, the year before the Washita tragedy, it staked out a Cheyenne reservation, but the Washita area was not within those parameters.

The Indians didn’t like the land that the whites said, this is your new home. So in the wintertime as was their want, they would come together in large numbers to live off the pemmican, the dried buffalo meat that they had gathered during the warmer weather and just hole up. It was a time to socialize with friends.

The village that Jack Crabb inhabited, I won’t say it in the movie, but where it was headed by a chief named Black Kettle, was one of a series of villages of Cheyenne, Kiowa, Arapaho in the Ouachita Valley. Now Black Kettle… Was reputed to be a peace chief, which I think was true. He had his own idea of what peace was.

As the movie conveys, the Indian society was not highly structured. It tolerated a great deal of individuality, and you could be a peace chief and tell your young men, do not war on the whites. And some of your young men would listen. And some of your young men would not. And there were raids going on in Western Kansas in the months preceding this battle.

In fact, Custer’s. Osage Scouts. These were Indians who were fighting on the side of the, on the side of the lights. One thing to remember is that Custer fought against Indians, but he also fought for Indians. Indians who had been oppressed by the Indians who were his target of the day. But the Osage Scouts traced the trail of a war party coming out of western Kansas to Black Kettle’s camp.

That’s what brought Custer’s 7th Cavalry to that area. Now, it wasn’t really a policy to kill Indian women and children. Males, even when it wasn’t said explicitly, no one expected you to bring back male prisoners. And this would include boys who were old enough to bear arms. But women and children, there was this vestige of Victorian.

Chivalry, but when you attack an urban area, as the American military has done as recently as Iraq, and bullets are flying through an urban area, a lot of non-combatants could be killed, especially if they’re living in buffalo skin lodges, which are not bulletproof. Also, you attack an urban area and this would be the same thing if Indians attacked a white settlement or a white homestead, some of the women and people we might consider kids would pick up weapons. in their own defense. So you go charging at this thing swirling through and bullets are flying and you see somebody moving and you’re not sure if they have a weapon or not.

Just like police today, we’re in their hot pursuit. You shoot first and you ask questions later. There was some, probably some cavalry troopers who acted with bad blood. They had seen friends who were killed and mutilated by the Indians, or they just shared the general prejudice of their society against.

Indians and felt the fewer Indians there are, the less problems there’ll be for us whites in the West. And then there are others who are either taking fire or afraid that they might. The Osage scouts were deliberately killing every Cheyenne they could get, they could cut, they could get their hands on, including women and children who obviously were, Custer will intervene and more than 55 shy and women and children will be spared. They’ll be carried back to his base. Custer will stop the promiscuous murder of non-competence, but a large number were killed.

Massacre? Yeah, there were certainly massacre moments in the Battle of the Washita, but like a lot of things that happened in history, the nuance gets lost when it’s put on show.

It’s good guy versus bad guy. One part of the Washita sequence that outraged a lot of white Americans when the movie first aired was Custer’s order to kill the Indian pony herd. A lot of animal lovers were upset by that. And I can understand that, but that was a sound military decision. The pony was an Indian man’s.

It was his source of wealth, his source of standing, but it also was his means of mobility for making war and also for gathering food, hunting buffalo. You take away the enemy’s ponies and they have no choice but to turn themselves in and live off white charity on their reservation. It made as much sense as destroying German tanks after battle.

It’s harsh. Not fun to look at. And if Custer tried to bring, herd those ponies back to camp supply his base in what is today, Oklahoma. Young Indian men, they would have stolen most of them back on the march. That was one of their major skills stealing horses from rival tribes and from whites.

So it made the most sense to just eliminate those ponies, except for the ones he used to mount Indian women and children for the return trip to his base. But again, you leave out certain facts and a different kind of picture emerges.


If you want to watch the way the movie portrays the event that happened this week in history, you’ll find it about an hour and a half into the 1970 film called Little Big Man. And if you want to hear the rest of my discussion with Professor Urwin about the true story behind that movie, scroll back to episode #268 of Based on a True Story.


November 27th, 1934. Barrington, Illinois.

It’s nighttime. We’re in the woods, making it almost pitch black. The little bit of light we do have lets us see a few men in suits and fedoras. They’re all looking in the same direction and after a moment, the camera cuts to show us what they’re seeing: A building through the woods that almost looks like a lodge.

One of the men in the woods, Christian Bale’s character, Melvin Purvis, gives orders to the rest of the men. The man next to him warns Purvis that there’s too much to cover. We don’t have enough men. They’ll get away; we should wait for the others to get here. Purvis thinks on this for a brief moment, then he decides against it. He says he’s not going to let them slip past the Bureau again. He continues issuing orders to the agents before they start making their way quietly toward the lodge.

In the next shot, we’re inside as we see some men drinking at a bar. They seem to be oblivious to the men outside as they’re enjoying a relaxing evening. Stephen Graham’s character, a man cast in the movie as Baby Face Nelson, goes around to some of the other patrons of the lodge making jokes. A woman eating dinner with her husband don’t seem too amused by Nelson’s jokes.

Back outside, Purvis and his agents advance. A few men leave the lodge and get in a car, about to drive away. Purvis has a decision to make. He hesitates for a moment. Then, with his machine gun raised, he yells at the car to stop. It doesn’t. So, Purvis gives the order to open fire.

With a hail of bullets, the woods light up as agents hiding behind the trees are only seen by the muzzle blasts as they open fire. As the bullets riddle the car, it stops. It also lets everyone inside know what’s happening, and at least one of the men who was lying down on a bed inside jumps to the window to start shooting back.

When he manages to get closer to the car, Purvis notices the people inside. They’re dead. They’re also ordinary citizens. Not who he was after, which means that was a huge mistake and also the gangsters he was trying to catch are still inside.

Now, we can see even more men going to the windows of the lodge and shooting out with their own machine guns. This is a full-fledged shootout. Amidst the chaos, some of the gangsters sneak out of a window and make their way out of the lodge.

One of the agents yells to Purvis to let him know someone got out. Purvis yells back, “Is it Dillinger?” The agent replies, “I think so!”

Purvis gives orders to try and flank the escaping gangster. As they do, another shootout in the woods takes place. We can see a little better that there were two gangsters on the run. One of them is Johnny Depp’s character, John Dillinger, while the other is Jason Clarke’s character, Red Hamilton.

As they’re trying to escape through the darkness, it looks like Red might’ve gotten hit. But he’s not dead, so they continue on.

Somewhere else in the woods, Baby Face Nelson is alone when a car drives up on the road behind him. Nelson turns around and acts casual until the car stops to check on him. Then, without warning, he turns around and shoots the driver point blank. Amazingly the driver doesn’t seem to be dead. A moment later, we find out why as Nelson talks about how agents wear vests, so now he’s going to shoot to avoid hitting the vest. He’s going to kill the agent. Then, a moment later, he does.

Getting in the car, Nelson drives away just as another agent arrives at the man lying on the ground. He gets there just in time to for the man’s dying words to identify his killer: Nelson.

Now it’s a race with cars as we see agents pile into another car and speed off into the night after Nelson. Nelson happens upon two of his gangster friends on the road. With his gun raised, one of the gangsters is about to steal the car from Nelson when Nelson yells out to his fellow gangsters to get into the car. They do, and the three men drive off.

While the movie doesn’t identify them here, if we pause the movie, we can tell from the actors that the man with the gun who was about to hijack the car is Stephen Dorff’s character, Homer Van Meter. The other is Michael Vieau’s character, Ed Shouse.

In the next shot, we see Purvis and the Federal agent’s car catching up to the gangster’s car. Now it’s a shootout between the cars as Van Meter hangs out the window to shoot at the Fed’s car behind them. Purvis does the same, hanging out the side window of the car to shoot at the gangster’s car. Purvis seems to get a better shot because he hits one of the tires, causing Nelson to lose control of the car. It flips over a few times before landing off the road in a field.

But the gangster’s aren’t dead. Van Meter jumps out of the wrecked car and races away.

The Fed’s car stops and Purvis starts shooting at Van Meter, hitting him multiple times. Nelson is right behind, pulling out his machine gun to shoot at the Feds. He hits one of them, and then Purvis pulls out his pistol and takes aim. He hits Nelson, making him fall to the ground. Nelson gets back up quickly and starts shooting his machine gun wildly for a moment, but Purvis continues shooting Nelson until he lies motionless on the ground and the night finally falls silent.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Public Enemies

That sequence comes from the 2009 movie directed by Michael Mann called Public Enemies. The event it’s depicting is when notorious bank robber Baby Face Nelson was killed, which happened this week in history on November 27th, 1934, in Barrington, Illinois.

Baby Face Nelson. Pretty Boy Floyd. They were a couple of the most popular gangsters in John Dillinger’s gang.

Obviously, those were nicknames. Pretty Boy Floyd’s real name was Charles Floyd. He’s played by Channing Tatum in the movie, although he’s not in the scene we talked about. But the movie was also correct to show other gangsters in our segment today: John “Red” Hamilton and Homer Van Meter.

But today’s segment focuses on the death of Baby Face Nelson. His real name was Lester Joseph Gillis, although he more commonly went by George Nelson.

Probably the biggest thing the movie got wrong about history is that John Dillinger was there at all. You see, as the leader of the gang, John Dillinger was Public Enemy Number One, according to the FBI. Hence the name of the movie.

But in the true story, John Dillinger was killed by the FBI in July of 1934. So, he wasn’t there in November when Nelson was killed like we see happening in the movie. Something else we see happening in the movie is Homer Van Meter being killed in the same shootout, but that also didn’t happen. In the true story, Van Meter was killed the month after Dillinger, in August of 1934. As a side note, even though we don’t talk about him in today’s segment, for historical purposes it’s important to note that Pretty Boy Floyd was killed in October.

What these deaths did, though, was to elevate one of the more notorious of the remaining in the gang, Baby Face Nelson, to be the new Public Enemy Number One.

But obviously, the movie changed quite a few things, even just in the segment we talked about today.

So, here’s what really happened this week in history.

On November 27th, 1934, Nelson was driving south toward Chicago with a couple other people in his car. No, it wasn’t Van Meter and Ed Shouse like we see in the movie. As we learned, Van Meter was already dead at this point. Ed Shouse, on the other hand, really was part of the Dillinger Gang and he was alive in November of 1934—Shouse actually lived until 1959—he wasn’t in the car with Baby Face Nelson that November day.

The other two people in the car was Nelson’s right-hand guy, John Paul Chase, as well as Nelson’s wife, Helen.

So, anyway, Nelson and the two others are driving down the road on what is now U.S. Route 14—it was route 12 back then. Meanwhile, a couple FBI agents were driving north from Chicago to support other agents who had reported seeing Nelson just across the state border in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. That’s maybe 80 miles or so from Chicago. Roughly 130 kilometers.

Right around the town of Fox River Grove, Illinois, which is about 50 miles or 80 kilometers to the north of Chicago, Nelson’s car just happened to pass by the FBI agent’s car going the other way.

Since the agents knew there had been a sighting of Nelson, no doubt they were scanning every car they passed as they drove. And, of course, they were driving a standard issue federal sedan so not likely hard to spot for a criminal like Nelson.

As they passed each other, both sides identified the other almost immediately. The agent’s did a U-turn…but so did Nelson and it ended up with Nelson chasing after the agents. John Paul Chase, one of the passengers, opened fire on the agents. Neither of the agents were hit and they managed to speed away.

Their car, though, wasn’t as lucky. As it turns out, the water pump was hit so they couldn’t re-engage.

About that time, though, another FBI car joined the pursuit of Nelson’s car. Seeing a park nearby, Nelson swerved off the road and into it. That’s the Barrington Northside Park. His car didn’t wreck like we see in the movie, but he stopped the car and opened fire on the two agents inside the FBI car that chased them.

The two agents, Herman Hollis and Samuel Cowley, parked their car and then got out to use it as cover while they fired back. Nelson’s wife, Helen, quickly escaped into the park to hide while Nelson and Chase shot at the agents.

The guns used in this shootout between Nelson and Chase on one side Hollis and Cowley on the other were substantial. Three of them had automatic weapons, and the last a semi-automatic 12-gauge shotgun. And then, of course, various handguns. On top of that, Nelson was notorious for having a psychotic desire to kill federal agents.

This gunfight had to have been an intense hail of bullets.

Nelson was the first to get hit, but he didn’t go down. Instead, when his machine gun jammed, he didn’t bother to clear it, but instead swapped it out for a new one—that tells you they had extra weapons in the car—and moved toward the agents.

Agent Cowley was hit by Nelson and went down, after which Hollis hit Nelson with a blast from his shotgun. It hit his legs, so still not enough to take him down, but that was the last round Hollis had in his shotgun, so he dropped that and pulled out his pistol. Nelson shot Hollis in the head, killing him.

With the agents not moving anymore, Nelson limped to the agent’s car. He backed it up next to their car, which had been disabled at this point, and with Chase’s help loaded the weapons over. Helen hopped back into the car and the three drove off. Chase was driving because Nelson was wounded too badly.

In fact, at this point, he’d been hit a total of nine times. One from the machine gun in his abdomen and another eight pellets in his legs from the shotgun. They drove to a nearby safe house where, at about 7:35 PM, Baby Face Nelson succumbed to his wounds.

Agent Hollis was declared dead upon arriving at the hospital while Agent Cowley was mortally wounded. He died on the surgery table trying to remove a bullet from his abdomen.

If you want to watch the movie’s way of showing this event, even though it’s not very accurate to what really happened, you can see that in the 2009 film called Public Enemies. We started our segment today at about an hour and 23 minutes into the movie.


November 28th, 1994. Portage, Wisconsin.

The cell door clicks as it unlocks. Opening it, the uniformed guard looks inside to see Evan Peters’ character, Jeffrey Dahmer, lying on his back reading a Bible on his bed. He tells Dahmer it’s time for work duty. Clearly annoyed by this, Dahmer lets the Bible fall to his chest as he sighs. Then, after a moment, he gets up and sets the Bible down on the mattress.

In the next shot, we can see him and another prisoner cleaning the weights in what looks like the prison gym. They’re talking about what they’re going to do with the 25 cents an hour they’re making. Dahmer says he’ll probably just give it to the church—the other inmate says that’s lame. After an awkward pause, he says he’s just joking, and they both laugh.

The camera cuts to another cell, now, and we’re looking through the bars at an inmate inside. The door unlocks as he looks up at who we can assume is the prison guard unlocking his cell door. The angle changes and we can see that, yes, it’s the same prison guard who unlocked Dahmer’s cell earlier. And he’s telling this inmate the same thing: Work duty.

We can tell from the actor this prisoner is Furly Mac’s character, Christopher Scarver. He gets up and walks out of the cell, then waits as the guard closes the door behind him.

We’re back in the gym now and Dahmer is mopping the floors. From the door behind him, the prison guard and Scarver walk in. The guard tells the two prisoners already cleaning up the gym that they’re going to get some help this morning.

Dahmer shrugs. Sure. The three prisoners get back to cleaning. After a brief moment, the other inmate tells Scarver they he’s going to clean the locker room and asks for help. Scarver agrees, and the two walk into another room. Meanwhile, the prison guard leaves the room, leaving Dahmer cleaning by the weights, alone in the gym.

It’s quiet. Dahmer is bent down and using a towel to wipe down what looks like a weight bench. From the locker room where the other two prisoners just went, we can hear a mop handle clatter to the floor followed by a loud thud. Dahmer stands up and looks in the direction of the locker room as we hear one of the inmates screaming amidst the sound of punches. It’s obvious the two other prisoners are fighting, but Dahmer doesn’t do anything other than listen.

After a moment, one of the prisoners emerges with a broken broom handle. It’s Scarver.

He stands for a while, holding the broom handle as blood drips from the end. Dahmer looks at him and asks what he did. Scarver replies by saying the other guy murdered his wife. No need to cry for him. Then he points the broom handle at Dahmer, but that’s nothing compared to what you’ve done.

He drops the broom handle on the floor and walks closer to Dahmer. Holding up what looks like a newspaper clipping, he asks if he really ate their flesh. Dahmer says he did. Scarver asks about the 14-year-old boy. Dahmer says yes. He asks Dahmer why he did it, and Dahmer’s response is simply that he was lost. He turned away from God. But now I’ve returned to God, he says. Scarver says he believes in God, too, but my God punishes evil. I’m his vessel, Scarver says. Dahmer just says, “Okay.”

Then, in a flash, Scarver punches Dahmer in the face and knocks him to the ground. Dahmer doesn’t try to get up. Grabbing a barbell bar, Scarver stands over Dahmer and asks how he killed the 14-year-old boy. Dahmer says he drugged him first so he wouldn’t feel anything.

Scarver pauses for a moment. Then, he says, Well, Dahmer, you’re about to feel every second of this.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the TV series Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story

That sequence comes from the final episode of the first season in 2022’s Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. The event it’s depicting is when Jeffrey Dahmer was killed in prison, which happened this week in history on November 28th, 1994, in the Columbia Correctional Institution located in Portage, Wisconsin.

And the series did a pretty good job showing what happened in the true story, although there were some slight differences.

On the morning of Monday, November 28th, Dahmer went about his normal work duties. The other two inmates working with him in the prison gym were Jesse Anderson and Christopher Scarver. In the series, we see Scarver mention that Anderson—who isn’t named in that segment—had killed his wife. And that’s true.

That happened on April 21st, 1992, when Jesse Anderson went on a date with his wife Barbara Anderson. They went to dinner and a movie. Then, after dinner, Jesse stabbed his wife five times in the face and head. He then proceeded to stab himself four times in the chest in an apparent murder-suicide. Barbara died of her wounds while Jesse did not.

The other guy we see in the series, Christopher Scarver, was also a convicted murderer to land him in prison. His murder happened on June 1st, 1990, when he robbed the Wisconsin Conservation Corps at gunpoint. While he held one employee, a man named Steve Lohman, at gunpoint, he demanded money from the manager, John Feyen. Feyen gave Scarver $15, which made Scarver mad and he shot Lohman in the head. After this, Feyen wrote Scarver a check for $3,000 before managing to flee. Scarver was sentenced to life in 1992.

Back to the prison gym, though, it was these three who were cleaning the gym on the morning of November 28th, 1994. Now, even though it happened in a prison, since it was in the gym and the adjoining restrooms, locker rooms, etc. there weren’t any cameras there. So, the only way we know the sequence of events is from the one man who survived. In other words, Christopher Scarver.

From his reports, though, Scarver didn’t jump on them right away like we see in the series. After the guard left the room, the three were cleaning for about 20 minutes before he got into a fight with both Anderson and Dahmer. He also didn’t attack Anderson first, like we see in the series.

Scarver said that after the altercation, he went into the gym’s weight room and grabbed a metal bar. Although later he admitted to hiding the bar in his clothing before the killings, suggesting that perhaps he had planned it all a little bit more than being the unplanned attack that he said it was right afterward.

In the series, we don’t see Dahmer fighting back. We also see Scarver telling Dahmer that he’s acting on God’s behalf. Both of those things are based in truth although, again, we have to take Scarver’s word for it because he was the only one who made it out of there alive.

Well, kind of. Dahmer didn’t die right away; he was taken to a hospital nearby and pronounced dead about an hour later. Anderson died of his wounds two days after the attack. Neither really talked about it before their death, though, so we only have Scarver’s version of events.

Scarver said that Dahmer didn’t make any noises at all while he was attacked, as if he was accepting it. So, that’s why we see that sort of thing happening in the series.

When Scarver got back to his prison cell after the attack, he told the guards that God told him to attack them. So, that’s why we see the religious side being brought into the series.

Something we don’t see in the series, though, that is worth pointing out is that Scarver had a history of, as the doctors called it, “messianic delusions,” along with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

And while we’re on the topic, something else we don’t see in the series is that Scarver’s attack wasn’t the first time Dahmer was attacked in prison. Speaking of the religious side, the series was correct to show that Dahmer was baptized.

It actually happened in the prison whirlpool, though, not in a tub like we see in the series, but, Dahmer did supposedly “find God,” at the end. That happened in May of 1994. Then, in July of 1994, another inmate tried to cut Dahmer’s throat while they were both in the prison chapel. Dahmer wasn’t seriously hurt in this attack, but he also didn’t seem to care if something happened to him. In fact, his mom later said that he regularly told her things like, “I don’t care if something happens to me.”

If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history as it’s shown in the series, though, check out episode ten of the Netflix series: Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. We started our segment today at about 31 minutes into that episode.

And if you want to dig deeper into the true story, we covered that whole series back on episode #217 of Based on a True Story.



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