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The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus (ECV) is a fraternal organization dedicated to the study and preservation of Western Heritage, especially the history of the Mother Lode and gold mining regions of the area. There are chapters in California, Nevada and other Western states. Members call themselves "Clampers." The organization's name is in Dog Latin, and has no known meaning; even the spelling is disputed, sometimes appearing as "Clampus", "Clampsus", or "Clampsis". The motto of the Order, Credo Quia Absurdum, is generally understood as meaning "I believe it because it is absurd."; the proper Latin quotation Credo quia absurdum est, is from the Christian apologist Tertullian (140-230), who rejected rationalism and accepted a Gospel which addressed itself to the "non-rational levels of perception."
The history of the organization is steeped in mythology. History shows that the organization was brought to the United States in 1845 in Lewisport, Virginia, now West Union, West Virginia, when tavern and stable owner Ephraim Bee was given a commission from the Emperor of China to "extend the work and influence of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus."
Bee claimed to have received his commission from Caleb Cushing, the American minister to China. West Union has a monument to Ephraim Bee on the site of the old "Beehive" Tavern, where the RailTrail comes through. The original tavern, the "Bee Hive", was destroyed in the late 1800s during a flood.
At the age of 60, he was a Captain of the Doddridge County Militia, which protected the area from roving Confederate forces, horse thieves & outlaws. The Militia also had a part in the Underground Railroad in Doddridge County. They were hidden in hidden cellars of homes and also in Jaco Cave. Ephraim Bee played his greatest joke on his local West Virginian neighbors. Occasionally, the entire town was invited to a great party. After the Civil War, it was discovered that Jaco Cave was a holding area for the runaway slaves. When the cave was full, E. Bee gave a party to keep all busy while that group of people were moved further north to the next stop.
Bee felt that an organization was needed which was less exclusive than the other organizations of the day, such as the Masons, Elks and Odd Fellows. In addition, nativism was rising in the United States, as evidenced by such political organizations as the Know-Nothing Party. Bee opened membership in ECV to any "upstanding" man who had come of age. It is known that there were E Clampus Vitus chapters in Bedford, Pennsylvania; Metropolis, Illinois; Bowling Green, Missouri; and Dahlonega, Georgia. (It has been rumored that ECV brethren within the U.S. Army even attempted to bring the order as far south as Mexico City following the Mexican-American War as a gesture of brotherhood and reconciliation, but all record has vanished of the well-intentioned Chapultepec chapter.)
The organization is said to have been taken to California by an ECV member named Joe Zumwalt, who first heard of it in Missouri. Zumwalt opened an ECV lodge in Mokelumne Hill in 1851, when Mokelumne Hill Lodge No. 1001 was established. There are arguments that previous lodges had been founded in Hangtown, Downieville and Sierra City, but none of those became permanent.
ECV flourished, in part, as the result of the miners' reaction to the "established" organizations such as the Masons and Odd Fellows. Those groups had come to the mining country prior to ECV, and when ECV appeared, the older, more established groups looked down upon the more rowdy nature of E Clampus Vitus. ECV, on the other hand, made fun of the stuffed shirts of the Masons: they made great fun of the sashes and ceremonial attire of the "upscale" fraternities, and began dressing in red shirts and pinning on badges made of cut-out tin can lids. This practice, called "wearing the tin," continues to this day, although the badges are frequently professionally made. Members usually dress in a red shirt, black hat and Levi's jeans. ECV titles reflected the tongue-in-cheek nature of the organization. Officials were called "Noble Grand Humbug," "Roisterous Iscutis," "Grand Imperturbable Hangman," "Clamps Vitrix," and "Royal Gyascutis." All members are officers and all officers, the organization professes, are of equal indignity.
Clamper meetings were held in the Hall of Comparative Ovations, generally the back room of a saloon. Some chapters even built their own Halls of Comparative Ovations. One still stands in Murphys. The Clamper flag was a hoop skirt, with the words "This is the flag we fight under." Meetings were held "at any time before or after a full moon." New members were called "Poor Blind Candidates." They were required to present a poke of gold dust, although the value of the poke was left to the discretion of the brotherhood, and was frequently waived entirely if the prospective member could not afford it.
Despite the humor and rowdiness of E Clampus Vitus, the members do take their brotherhood seriously. When a member became sick or injured, the group would collect food or money to help him. They frequently trekked through the vastness of the Sierra Nevada to reach lonely miners who otherwise would have had no Christmas celebration. The society was also careful to assist the widows and orphans of fallen members.
At the ECV's peak, around 1870, so many miners were members that many mining camps shut down during ECV celebrations (some mining towns had two chapters). At one point, Lord Sholto Douglas, a British peer leading a troupe of actors in Marysville, was so downheartened by the lack of ticket sales that he had determined to leave town. When a local Clamper found out that the troupe was having trouble, Lord Douglas was immediately initiated into ECV, and the brothers bought enough tickets to fill the local theater. A 20th century chapter of the ECV was named for Lord Douglas LSD in honor of this event. Mark Twain was a member, and it was while attending an ECV meeting that he heard the story which he wrote as The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.
Members of note included Adam, the first "Clampatriarch"; Philip D. Armour, the meat packer; John Mohler Studebaker, the automobile manufacturer; and John Hume, a California state assemblyman. ECV also claims Ulysses S. Grant, J. Pierpont Morgan, Horace Greeley, and Horatio Alger as members, but claims have also been made to Solomon, Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar, Henry VIII of England, Sir Francis Drake, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ronald Reagan, and of course, His Imperial Majesty Joshua A. Norton, "Emperor of these United States and Protector of Mexico". These fanciful claims show ECV's propensity for not taking much of anything particularly seriously, least of all itself.
There is evidence to support the ECV claim to Ulysses S. Grant. One of the early capitals of California was Benicia. At the close of the War with Mexico, Lt. William Tecumseh Sherman was Adjutant to Col. Richard Barnes Mason at the time of the gold discovery at Sutter's Mill. Upon Sherman's retirement in 1853, his replacement at the Benicia Arsenal was Lt. Ulysses S. Grant, who spent 30 days in the Arsenal Guardhouse for being drunk on duty and firing his cannons at the Martinez shoreline. Considering Benicia's position as the major inland Army post and transport hub to the valley, both Grant's and the Brotherhood's affinity for strong drink and the early spread of the Brotherhood through Northern California, it is entirely possible that Grant was inducted into the Organization.
As the mining industry faded towards the end of the 19th century, ECV started to fade as well. It was revitalized in 1931 by San Francisco historian Carl Wheat and his friends G. Ezra Dane and Leon O. Whitsell. They were contacted by one of the last surviving members of the original ECV, who passed on all that he could remember of the organization's rites and legends. The three founded a new chapter, Yerba Buena Number 1, or the "Capitulus Redivivus." Wheat described E Clampus Vitus as "the comic strip on the page of California history."
New chapters sprang up in Los Angeles (Platrix Chapter #2) and other major cities in California, and were numbered sequentially. However, once Lodge 10 was established in 1936, members pointed out that it was illogical for such a rowdy organization to be so neat in its numbering scheme, and so some creativity was developed in the numbering. The "Pair-o-Dice" chapter in Paradise, for example, is Lodge No. 7-11. The de la Guerra y Pacheco chapter, halfway between Lodge Number 1 in San Francisco and Lodge Number 2 in Los Angeles, is Lodge Number 1.5. There were chapters in British Columbia and Hawaii, but they no longer exist.
In 1937, a plaque appeared in Northern California purporting to have been made by Sir Francis Drake during his voyage of discovery in which it was stated that he had claimed all of California for England, and that he had the authority of the claim by having been ceded the land by the local Miwok Indians. The man who was chief of the Miwoks in 1937, William Fuller, was a member of E Clampus Vitus. During an ECV meeting, he revoked the cession of land to England, and ceded it all to the United States government. The so-called Drake's Plate of Brass was accepted as authentic for forty years, yet was in actuality a hoax initiated by Dane that got out of control. It is now thought that the Fuller ceremony was part of an effort for the perpetrators to tip off the plate's finders as to its true origins.
The Current ECV
There are currently 40 ECV chapters in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Washington, as well as an offshore chapter (the Floating Whang chapter), an online chapter (the Cyber Whang chapter), and 2 more proposed chapters.
Al Packer Chapter 100 in Colorado was chartered in 2000 — the year 6005 on ECV's idiosyncratic calendar. This chapter has four encampments statewide for members to get together and socialize.
Doc Maynard Chapter #54-40 in Washington State was chartered in 2006, the year 6011 in Clamper years, signifying the first Chapter in the Pacific Northwest.
Snake River Chapter #1811 (Idaho) and Umpqua Joe Chapter #1859 (Oregon) are the most recently chartered, changing their status from "Outpost" to "Chapter" in May 2010, the year 6015 in Clamper years.
The organization has raised historical plaques in many places throughout the West (often those sites such as bordellos and saloons overlooked by more traditional historical societies), with a traditional "doin's," or party, after each plaque dedication. These are now common in historical areas around California and the West — when in the Gold Country, a Clamper-placed plaque is never far away. The fraternity is not sure if it is a "historical drinking society" or a "drinking historical society." In 2006, Platrix Chapter #2 erected a plaque commemorating the 50th Anniversary of "Godzilla, King of the Monsters" at the former studio site where Raymond Burr's insert scenes were filmed by director Terry Morse in 1956. The plaque is at the entrance of the Frank del Olmo Elementary School, the current occupant of the site. The current Modesto regional leader is a man named Jacob K Couch, who has once again led the group to surprising new results.
On February 19, 2009 the Nevada Assembly agreed to make the 19 "Clamper Day" the motion has not yet been passed by the state senate.
By tradition, a man can only become a Clamper by invitation. However, one can express his desire to join. Initiation rites are sometimes spur-of-the-moment, such as forcing a blindfolded candidate to be lifted into the air by a block and tackle. Other times, the blindfolded initiate is seated upon a wet sponge in a wheelbarrow, and taken upon the "Rocky Road to Dublin" (a ladder lying on the ground). The initiations are secret and vary greatly in execution and severity. Once he has been asked to answer several questions, the Scales of Darkness (the blindfold) are removed, the new member "sees the light", is handed the Staff of Relief, is presented the Stone of Enigma, and appointed Chairman of the Most Important Committee. Afterward everyone toasts the new member with drink. Once enlightened, a brother is a brother for life.
(Verb-age from The Before & After ECV book)
Designed by Clamper C. Holling in 1941 (He signed "H" on one of the rocks), originally for the letterhead of Platrix Chapter No. 2. The "grand council" adopted it as the official symbol of ECV.
Founder John A. Sutter"
Sutter was born on February 15 of 1803 in Kandern, Baden, a few miles from the
Swiss border. As an apprentice to a firm of printers and booksellers, Sutter
soon found the paper business was not for him.
He met his
future wife, Annette D'beld, while clerking in a draper's shop, and the two were
married in Burgdorf on October 24 of 1826.
of business failures propmted Sutter's decision to seek his fortune in America.
At the age of thirty-one, he left his wife and four children, a step ahead of
arriving in America Sutter headed west for Missouri where he worked as a
merchant and innkeeper for several years. All the while dreaming of establishing
his own agricultural empire somewhere out west. In April of 1838 he joined a
trapping party on their way to the Pacific Coast. The traders reached Fort
Vancouver, the Pacific headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company, in October.
Unable to leave for California immediately, Sutter sailed on the Hudson's Bay
ship Columbia for the Sandwich Islands, where he landed at Honolulu on December
9 of 1838. From there he sailed to the Russian colony at Sitka, Alaska, and
thence to Yerba Buena, where he arrived on July 1 of 1839. He had finally
with Governor Alvarado at Monterey to discuss establishing himself in the
country. In search of his dream, Sutter chartered the schooner Isabella from the
firm of Spear & Hinckley, and two smaller vessels. Loaded with provisions he
led his fleet up the Sacramento River on August 1 of 1839. Two weeks later they
landed near where the American River joins the Sacramento and established camp.
A tent and some brush huts provided the first shelter for the small party;
later, a more substantial adobe building was erected with Indian labor.
to qualify for a land grant, Sutter became a naturalized Mexican citizen on
August 29 of 1840. The following year, on June 18, he received title to 48,827
acres from Governor Alvarado. He named the grant New Helvetia after his homeland
and began building his empire.
Sutter bought the Russian settlements of Ross and Bodega for $32,000, secured by
mortgage on New Helvetia. Sutter established the Hock farm on the West bank of
the Feather River a few miles south of what would become Yuba City. This farm
supplied the settlement at Sutter's Fort on the Sacramento River.
Fort was pretty well completed by 1844. The Fort was also a trading post and as
it occupied one of the most strategic positions in Northern California. Because
of the overland trails, it became the natural objective for parties crossing the
dreams of an agricultural empire were soon fulfilled as he branched out into
many pursuits. local Indians employed were to sow and harvest his wheat fields;
large herds of cattle and horses grazed in fields about the fort. Hunters were
sent into the mountains for furs and elk skins. A distillery was built. A
blacksmith shop furnished tools and a launch carrying freight and passengers ran
regularly between the Fort and San Francisco Bay.
1847 Sutter contracted with James Marshall to build a sawmill on the south fork
of the American River about 50 miles east of Sutter's Fort. The sawmill was
almost completed when, on January 24, 1848, James Marshall discovered gold in
the tail race. On January 28, 1848 Marshall came to Sutter's Parlor at the
fort's main building. Marshall met privately with Captain Sutter to show him the
gold he had found at the mill. Grabbing a book, Sutter performed a few simple
tests on the yellow metal. "Its gold," he said. Simple words that
ignited the imagination of the world.
news of the discovery spread, more and more people began traveling through the
region and Sutter saw his settlement overrun with gold seekers. They trampled
his crops, stole his animals, tools, and supplies, and infected his workers with
gold fever. Sutter saw his empire crumbling away and there was nothing he could
do about it.
he was joined by his wife, daughter Eliza, and sons Emil Victor and William
Alphonse, whom he hadn't seen for sixteen years. As life at the Fort had become
intolerable, he took his family north to Hock Farm. The family enjoyed a few
years peace in their beautiful redwood home, surrounded by vineyards, orchards
and gardens of rare plants, before misfortune struck once again. Rustlers stole
his livestock and squatters overran his land. The squatters eventually took
Sutter to court over the legality of his titles. The U.S. Land Commission
decided in Sutter's favor in 1857, but a year later the Supreme Court declared
portions of his title invalid. The final blow came on June 7 of 1865, when a
small band of men set fire to and completely destroyed the house.
his wife went to Washington D.C. seeking restitution from Congress, but were
unsuccessful. He and his wife settled down in the Moravian town of Lititz,
Pennsylvania, around 1871, but he never gave up the fight.
On June 16 of 1880, Congress adjourned before passing a bill which would have given him $50,000. Two days later on June 18, 1880, John Augustus Sutter died as poor as he was born into the world. He was returned to Lititz and buried in the Moravian Brotherhood's Cemetery.
is August 1848, a mere 161 years ago this month, John A. Sutter Jr. arrives from
his native Switzerland to go into business with his father our founder.
seeing the growth of the West and an opportunity to turn the trade business into
a much larger entity, he laid out plans to build a city where the 2 rivers meet,
the city would be called Sacramento.
1849, Sacramento City is founded by John Sutter Jr. & Sam Brannan. The two
begin to survey the land named as the city and begin to sell lots of land. This
movement along with the demise of his trading post left John A. Sutter Sr. upset
as he planned to make Sutterville the area city. A short time later John A.
Sutter Sr. sold what was left of Sutter's Fort to Alden Bayly for $7,000 and
moved to his Hock farm up North.
1849 Sacramento and other Northern California cities were recognized with the
establishment of mail stops in Sacramento, Benecia, & San Jose. With people
leaving in droves for the gold fields in the foothills, Sacramento still boasted
a population of 2000.
of 1849 California's State Constitution is approved, the motto is to be Eureka.
The following month California elected its first Governor, although John Sutter
Sr. ran with a strong voter base, he was soundly defeated by Peter Burnett,
Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court and an active member of the framing of
the California Constitution.
County is created in February 1850 and Congress grants statehood to California
in September that same year, remarkably Sacramento isn't named the capitol until
4 years later in 1854.
population of the West increasing by as many as 15,000 a year, in 1860 the Pony
Express names Sacramento as its main terminal in the West. Later that same year
railroad magnates Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Charles
Crocker begin planning for a Transcontinental railroad to connect the East to
the New West naming Sacramento as one of only a few major stops.
Sacramento is now a city, although not formally named until 1854 and flourishing
more and more at every turn, both locally and nationally.
Sutter Jr. & Sam Brannon have now sold many parcels and attracted several
businesses that will lay the framework for a city that doesn't rely on the gold
rush to continue its existence.
formally designates a cemetery named for itself at 10th & Broadway to keep
the dead in one place rather than buried where they died or on family property.
Steamships are bringing in goods and immigrants from up and down the coast, from
flowers to ice the ships are making regular service from Sacramento to San
introduction of the city's first fish packing plant in 1851 and the first meat
packing plant & butcher shop in early 1852, California forms the Agriculture
Society (based in Sacramento) to showcase the states diverse crops &
livestock, this was to later become the foundation for the State Food & Ag
the river had its share of problems, with several floods creating setbacks, in
mid 1852 some 85% of the city was lost to fire, and this prompted the rebuilding
and all new construction to be of brick rather than wood. The flooding continued
to be a problem even with the building and refortification of the city's levees,
it wasn't until 1962 that a decision was made to raise the city by some 15 feet
creating an "underground" city that exists still today.
1852, amid the rebuilding of the city, Wells Fargo & Co. opens its first
bank in Sacramento, bringing loans & other financial services to the city.
Later that same year the Sacramento Valley Railroad incorporates and begins the
ground work for their first route, Sacramento to Folsom. In September the first
agricultural fair is held at Warrens' New England Seed Store on "J"
street, this would go on to become the California State Fair we know today.
itself as a year of many transportation milestones as the California Stage
Company and California Steam Navigation Company are formed to provide
transportation to and from the Sacramento to Folsom line that formally began
service as the first passenger rail service in the West in August of 1855. This
new mode of transportation caught the eye of a couple of hardware store owners
Collis Hunnington & Mark Hopkins, who with financial magnates Leland
Stanford & Charles Crocker sought to take the new passenger rail service
much further East and a short 5 years later in 1860 they incorporate the Central
Pacific Railroad buying up land and smaller railroads at will to become one of
the largest and most powerful companies of the time.
"Can You Hear The Train a Coming"
is April 4, 1860 and the Pony Express makes its first run from Sacramento to St.
Joseph, Missouri in less than 10 days, by today's standards and with highways
& cars that would still be a 3 day ride.
A short 14
months later the 'Big 4' incorporate the Central Pacific Railroad and begin to
take the smaller railroads of the day and turn them into one bigger entity with
a single driving force & direction.
worst flood in recorded history behind them and the resent signing of the
Pacific Railway Act by President Lincoln, the Central Pacific Railroad breaks
ground on the first building located at First & "K" streets in
January 1863 and lays the first rail in October of the same year. A short two
weeks later in a very jubilant ceremony the CPRR places its first locomotive in
service, the No. 1 Governor Stanford rolls down the track for the first time and
shows the East what the West is truly capable of.
the Central Pacific Railroad passes another milestone by providing service to
and from Newcastle daily showcasing their ability to climb the foothills and
mountains that surround the Sacramento Valley. A short 5 years later the Central
Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads inaugurates the completion of the railway
between the East & West with a "Golden Spike Ceremony" at
Promontory Point, Utah, the Transcontinental Railroad is now completed. With the
locomotives from Sacramento having the power to maneuver mountain passes the
CPRR made regular deliveries from Sacramento to Omaha where the Union Pacific
would take it to its final destination.
was well underway to showcasing its ability to move freight & passengers
from Sacramento to points east, now it needed to move more of what California
was known for. In 1870 the CPRR produced and placed into service the first
"Ice Car" capable of moving California's fruit and other perishables
to other states increasing the notoriety of the young state. In March of 1874
after several remodels and improvements were made the first load of salmon &
produce from California made its way to the East Coast.
In a short
15 years the "Big 4" transformed a small city, a brand new state, and
a side of the country best known for renegades and outlaws into a respectable
productive part of a very fast growing America.
In the years to come several more acquisitions and mergers would take place as the railroads of America took shape and the old shop at 1st & "K" Street was still there repairing the old and creating the new until the path of change was too much and modernization & innovation took over and left in its wake a passage into the mid 1800's for all of us to share the stories of the past with our children.
Bee was born December 26, 1802 in Salem, New Jersey. When he was only 19 years
old, his family moved to Western Virginia, where Bee would ultimately become a
wealthy, self-made man, despite having only four months of schooling in his
life. By the time he was 21, Bee was the first clerk of the Middle
Island Seventh Day Baptist Church in West Virginia. That same year, he married
Catharine Davis, with whom he would have 10 children who lived past childhood.
In 1829 Bee and his wife established a log home on what is now West Union,
West Virginia. They later built an Inn at Lewisport, which was a very popular
place for travelers and locals to meet, revive themselves and pick up provisions
for their journeys. Bee also
operated the area’s first blacksmith shop, a farm, stables, tannery, and
horseracing track. He later got involved in land speculation, owning some 40,000
acres of land.
1845, Bee founded Ephraim’s Clampin Vipers, a fraternity similar to that of
the Masons. It is said that Bee was given a commission from the Emperor of China
to “extend the work and influence of the Ancient and Honorable Order of
Ephraim Clampin Vipers." Bee claimed to have received his commission from
Caleb Cushing, the American minister to China.
1853, Bee married Mary Melissa “Polly” Welch. They had seven children who
lived past childhood, bringing Ephraim’s total to 17 kids.
the age of 60, Bee became a Captain of the Doddridge County Militia, which
protected the area from roving Confederate forces, horse thieves & outlaws.
He became a candidate for the First West Virginia Legislature in 1863.
His opponent was Joseph H. Diss Debar, a talented Frenchman who had
settled in the area about 1843. He was an artist who drew caricature sketches of
Bee, some of which can still be seen in the State Capitol at Charleston, West
Virginia. It is with some irony Mr. Diss Debar was the one who gave the Bee’s
inn the nickname “The Beehive,” since the place was buzzing full of Bee
children. The name stuck.
Debar was apparently elected and presented himself at the state capitol to take
his seat. Ephraim Bee also presented himself, contesting the seat of Mr. Diss
Debar. A committee of the house
heard the merits and the claims of each and after an impassioned speech by
Ephraim, decided in favor of Mr. Bee. Bee then served in the First West Virginia
Legislature of 1863, and went on to serve two additional terms of office in 1866
was also an ardent abolitionist who helped slaves from the Southern states
escape to the North via the Underground Railroad. When he discovered that a
group of slaves were hiding in a nearby cave, Bee helped them move further North
by distracting his West Virginian neighbors with a great party. This became
known as one of Bee’s greatest practical jokes.
of the reasons Bee founded E Clampus Vitus was because he felt an organization
was needed that was less exclusive than the other organizations of the day, such
as the Masons, Elks and Odd Fellows. During
that time, nativism was rising in the United States, as evidenced by such
political organizations as the Know-Nothing Party, which sought to limit
immigrants. Conversely, Bee opened membership in E Clampus Vitus to any
"upstanding" man who had come of age.
were E Clampus Vitus chapters in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Missouri and Georgia.
The organization is said to have been brought to California by a member named
Joe Zumwalt, who first heard of it in Missouri. Zumwalt opened a lodge in
Mokelumne Hill in 1851, when Mokelumne Hill Lodge No. 1001 was established.
serving his terms of office Ephraim Bee retired from public life. He died in
1888 in West Virginia. He is buried under a beautiful monument at Cabin Run
Cemetery, with his second wife, near where they lived.
ON, SUCKERS, ON TO NEW HELVETIA!*
*By the Capitol Doctor, ofttimes yclept Clark.
A milling crowd of angels surged about the Bolden Bar of Heaven. Some drank ambrosia, some argued in subdued tones. An air of antipication (sic), of suppressed desire, was noticeable. The 21st of February, 1936, had just been torn from the calendar. For some time it had been dull as hell in heaven. Now, one Guardian Angel was being detailed to earth. All had volunteered for the service, each had advanced her qualifications. Suddenly it was deathly quiet. Jehovah himself appeared, saying, “it is not strange that you all should wish to go to California. But one only can be spared. The little lady who had the California beat in 1849 will please step forward.”
A sun-tanned blonde sprang to her feet.
“This is a mission of grave responsibility, my dear. You will be in New Helvetia by five this afternoon; better be there by noon. You know the lay of the land. Ninety years have wrought great change in the roads, but you will know them. Sandwiched among the trucks you will find many carloads of men filled with the spirit of 1849. These men will be hurrying to the Fort of Johann Sutter. Guard them well. Protect them. I know how greatly they need divine protection. For there lives in the Fort of Johann Sutter a lineal descendant of Ananias. Watch him! Report at high noon tomorrow. Begone!”
Califia, for such was her name, ordered out a cloud. She was chagrined to find that all the big clouds had already been sent to Southern California. But a small one would be satisfactory for so short a trip, and selecting a tiny white one she was soon off, floating along the Milky Way.
At high twelve of February 23rd, a worn out, discouraged, but highly excited Califia shot thru the Pearly Gates and was quickly taken before Jehovah.
Humbly she struck a few harp notes and reported, “I’ve spent the night with the Clampers” and fell in a swoon at his feet. A little nectar was poured between her lips; her frame shook; her bosom heaved; she sat up and whispered huskily:
“Now, listen, here’s my story and I’m going to stick to it. First I repaired to the appointed spot and found all cars heading for a place called Morven. Car after car unloaded its quota. Half a hundred men entered,--a motley throng. Some had about them the fresh clean smell of the Sierra, others the odor of the cow pastures of La Reina de Los Angeles. These latter seemed so happy, so carefree and innocent. I thought them returning from an exile. It seemed no place for me, dear God, but I got close enough to hear a great gurgling, a smacking of many lips. I thought myself discovered when I heard them singing praises of the product of the Angel’s Tit. And I shivered with fear when a man telephoned the Master of Morven and said the Sacramento Bee wanted a story of the scene for its next edition.
Promptly at six they roared away to the westward. I followed them on my cloud. Soon all were at the Fort of Johann Sutter. At the gate stood an armed watchman, scanning each passport in the flicker of a bull’s eye lantern. I recognized him as an acquaintance of my old beat. Inside was a banquet. On the table were beef, beans, cornbread, just such as I saw John Henry Brown prepare for Captain Sutter ninety years ago. Those men from south of the Tehachapi must not have eaten for a week.
Followed much oratory from Leonidas Whitsell, whom they called Noble Grand Humbug, and from Tom Norris and Roger Dalton. They also seemed to be Humbugs. Adam Lee Moore, who was born just before I was taken off the California beat in 1850, played the fiddle. He also sang. (The poor angel blushed). Doctor Barr paid a glowing tribute to good old Bill Meek, our newly arrived brother on your right; Earl Burke talked 5000 years on history; Lindley Bynum and George Dane made reports on something (Dane’s was clean). The world’s oldest game, Gazinta, was explained by an obvious expert and past-master, “Panchito” Springer. His learned discourse brought reminiscent expressions to many faces. He, it was, who presented to Leonidas Whitsell the only hand carved Gazinta in existence. The ceremonies of initiation were performed by Carl Ignatius Wheat and the rest of the recking(sic) crew from the cow pastures. Lord, do not ask me for details. Doctor Porter of the Bay Regions had himself elected president of his class,--an ideal candidate. I recommend him to you for future initiation here, if he should make the grade. A swarthy Southerner and a curly-haired Swede then proved that wild oats will grow in white hair, if parted in the middle. The finale came with the unveiling, by Leon Whitsell, of a plaque marking the spot where Jim Marshall exhibited to Sutter his flake of gold. In the pouring rain the Noble Grand Humbug unveiled the plaque with many graceful and appropriate gestures. But he left it leaning against the adobe wall, the four screws necessary to fasten it to the door in the proper place being just four more than he had left. Then, Oh Lord, their 5,941st annual banquet broke up and they disappeared to the four winds.”
Califia was warmly commended for her thorough report and her guardianship of the Clampers, whereupon she burst into tears and hysterical sobbing.
“But, God, I failed. I failed miserably. I was deceived,--and by a Clamper,--by that old wretch Harry C. Peterson, who lives at the Fort of Johann Sutter. He must be the lineal descendant of Ananias, about whom you warned me. He was not billed on the program. The Noble Grand Humbug simply declared that Harry Peterson was going to make an important Historical Announcement. This man, apparently so simple, so guileless, briefly told the story of the Bear Flag Affair. Well do you know the tale. After getting the Flag raised at Sonoma, that sleepy June morning in 1846, and after the Vallejos and Victor Prudon had been imprisoned (in the very room in which he was now speaking), this Munchausen quickly changed the scene to Palo Alto on that April morning in 1906 when you gave the terrible lesson to San Francisco. He told of his bed shaking, and the furniture coming across the room. He sprang from the bed and rushed to the Stanford Museum. The relics there were safe. He bethought himself of his sister, in the fire. His brother owned one of the four cars in Palo Alto. They stopped at two drug stores for bandages and other first-aid supplies, at a department store for blankets. These they carried with them, the first such taken into the stricken city. At Fourth Street they were stopped by Federal troops. No one could cross that line. Peterson knew Lieutenant Lowsley. He begged for one last look in Pioneer’s Hall. The Lieutenant agreed to look the other way but warned that the building must soon be blown to bits and that he must leave on the command. Wildly he rushed into the building, past the Mastodon, tears streaming down his cheeks as he took a last look at those priceless relics, doomed to destruction. A man brushed by his arm. It was a soldier laden with dynamite. The command to evacuate rang out. The fuses had been lighted. As he fled the building he reached into a showcase tottering to the floor, and seized a rag which he stuffed beneath his coat. Reaching his brother’s car he hid it under the seat, and proceeded to forget it. Six weeks later, when helping the brother clean the car, he rediscovered the rag. It would be useful in the cleaning. Opening it up he gazed a moment in terror, then hid it away in the woodshed, where it lay for fifteen years before he moved it to a more secure place. Through thirty long years this thing preyed on his mind. At last he could stand it no longer. He confessed, to a Sacramento physician, who convinced him that he was safe from prosecution, because of the statute of limitations; that the institution of New Helvetia Chapter of E Clampus Vitus made this the most important evening in the history of Sacramento since Marshall came in with his gold; and finally, that the men there assembled were real lovers of California and her romantic history. In consideration of all this, he produced a package, wrapped in a San Francisco newspaper of 1906. From it he took a dusty rag, shook out clouds of dust, and unfurled the Bear Flag. As the flag was run up the pole, cheers rent the roof. Hands were clapped till they hurt. Backs were thumped and pounded. Peterson was lauded to the skies. It was suggested by many that he be made permanent Grand Honorary Humbug. Pandemonium reigned supreme. After ten minutes of hysteria the Noble Grand Humbug was reminded of his promise to ask for further proof. He that asks shall receive. Peterson furnished the proof. He did not need to prove the Fort, for they were sitting in the very room in which the Vallejos and Prudon were imprisoned. He had stated the mountain men “forded” the river, and as proof he exhibited the steering wheel of an old Ford. He had stated that the men rode to Sonoma on horseback, and he passed around neat cellophane-wrapped packages containing the proof, well preserved. He had told of the difficulty of getting the men started for Sonoma, not wishing to leave their squaws unprotected. And he passed around little bags of sand with which the squaws were provided, and demonstrated the technique. On the approach of a man, if she perceived that he was a Clamper, she immediately sanded herself generously. He proved the San Francisco fire with a can of pickled ashes; that he was in Pioneer’s Hall with the jawbone of the Mastodon, coyote size, explaining that it had been steadily shrinking through the years. And as final proof he exhibited a parchment document swearing to the accuracy and honesty of all his statements and all his exhibits, signed on the 14th of June, 1846, by Johann Sutter, James Marshall, John Frémont, Kit Carson, Robert Semple, William B. Ide and Mariano G. Vallejo.”
Jehovah sat in deep thought, while Califia knelt with downcast eyes. Finally He smiled and said, “Rise Califia, and be of good cheer. I still commend you for a task well done. I, myself, believed that old son-of-a-gun while he was telling his story.”
The above story is taken from a booklet entitled, “My Darling’s ECV” published in 1936 by E Clampus Vitus. Among other stories, it tells the tale of the ECV Pilgrimage taken on Feb. 22, 1936 to New Helvetia (Sutter’s Fort), and the hoax perpetrated on the members by Harry Peterson, Curator of the Fort at the time.
I believe that this meeting was the time and place for the inauguration of the New Helvetia Chapter, with Harry Peterson being named the first Noble Grand Humbug of the Chapter.
This archival record is the CLAMPCHARTER for the original ECV Chapters and their charter members as written & authorized by Carl I. Wheat and Ezra Dane in 1931. These founding chapters were to have tenure in perpetuity, i.e. forever!
The material presented here was sent for safekeeping from Yerba Buena # 1 to Quivira # 4 at the beginning of World War II. It was stored until recently at Victorio Peak, an ancient Apache Cache used for hiding gold as well as for ceremonial purposes.
Capitulus Redivius, No. 1, Yerba Buena
Capitulus Platrix-In-Exilo, No. 2, Queen of Cow Counties
Lord Sholto Douglas Chapter, No. 3, Auburn
Quivira Chapter, No. 4, Santa Fe, New Mexico(1931).
New Helvetia Chapter, No. 5, Sutter's Fort
President Walker Chapter, No. 6, San Diego
Captain Jack Chapter, No. 7, Alturas
Floating (or Whang) Chapter, No. 8, Pacific Ocean
Bill Meek Chapter, No. 9, Clamptonville
Ephraim Bee Chapter, No. 10, Lewisport, West Virginia
Balaam Lodge, No. 107,304, Sierra City
King Solomon Lodge, No. 107, Marysville
Thanks to XNGH Dynamite Deke for this information!