AS TOLD BY THE ORGANIZATION
E CLAMPUS VITUS is said by its adherents to be the most ancient of all fraternal orders. It’s founding, as the tale is told, was coeval with the origin of the human race.
It is related that in 1852 Steamboat Jake. a merchant from Yreka, thinking to improve his business by fraternal affiliations, made arrangements through certain Clampers for initiation into the Masons, the Odd Fellows and E CLAMPUS VITUS at one bargain priceof $98.50. When the various brethern were assembled at the Hall of Comparative Ovation and Jake, bound and blindfolded was brought to be initiated, the question arose as to which Order should first apply the branding iron. It was agreed that the oldest should have priority.
The Odd Fellows presented their claim for that honor, stating that their order was created by a charter issued in the form of a golden tablet by the Emperor Titus to his Jewish Legion in the first century A.D.
The Masons disputed the claim, relating the scholarly history of Reverend Dr. Anderson to prove that the Grand Master Moses often marshalled the Isrealites onto a regular and general lodge whilst in the wilderness, and that King Solomon was “Grand Master of the Lodge at Jerusalem”.
The Noble Grand Humbug of E Clampus Vitus then rose and confounded the rival oraganizations with proof abducted from the unimpeachable unwritten works of St. Vitus, the final authority in all such matters, that E CLAMPUS VITUS was founded by our Clampatriarch Adam himself in the Garden of Eden, and that the original Staff of Relief, which figures so greatly in the Clamper ritual, was a branch that Adam broke from the Tree of Knowledge and smuggled out with him, hidden beneath his apron, when he was driven from Eden. All present in the Hall agreed that such antiquity was beyond compare.
The senority of the Clampers was recognized, and Steamboat Jake accordingly was given into the hands for initiation. It is then told that by the time they were through with him he had lost all desire for further fraternal connections.
The unsurpassable antiquity of E CLAMPUS VITUS has been recognized and proven on many occasions. There are those who claim they can trace it through the times of the Old Testament and the beginnings of the Christian Era when its rites were conducted in the catacombs of Rome and referred to as the “Enigmatical Book ofVitus” and the “Curious Book of the Clampers”. These tales tell how it was spread through Europe by the Frolicking Friars, and carried to the Orient by the indomitable Vituscan Fathers.
According to the Clampers, the introduction of the order into the United States has long been shrouded in mystery and legend. Only recently has the true history been traced by the Royal Platrix Chapter and the Archivist of the West Virginia Lodge. The result of this research supposedly proves by documentary evidence that the secrets and symbols of E CLAMPUS VITUS were imparted by the Emperor of China, Tao-Kwang, Great Hotchot of the Chinese Grand Lodge to Caleb Cushing when the latter visited China in 1844 to negotiate the first treaty between the United States and the Celestial Kingdom. Cushing was specially charged by the Emperor to deliver the secrets and signs of authority to Ephrairn Bee, innkeeper of Bush Creek, Boone County, Virginia, to be disseminated by him at his descretion among the fellow citizens so that the Chinese and American People might henceforth be united by the Bonds of Fraternal Brotherhood as well as by the more formal ties of diplomatic relations. By virtue of his authority, Ephraim Bee traveled about his native state organizing lodges of E CLAMPUS VITUS in villages and county seats.
It is also said that among others, a number of drummers were taken into the order, with or without authority from Bee. These travelers took the gullible villagers and townsmen along their routes into the Brotherhood, until by 1849, the East and Middle West were dotted with Clamper Lodges. From these Lodges many lusty Clampers went West in the Gold Rush and founded the historic lodges in the mining camps that constitiuted themselves as guardians of the morals of these communities.Their duty as they saw it was to prevent the preachers and pious wives who followed the 49′ers, from imposing any excess of morality that might hamper the full enjoyment of life. How well the Clampers performed this function is commonly known, despite the lack of written records. This lack of written records is attributed to the circumstance that during the meetings there was never anyone capable of keeping the minutes and that afterwards no one remembered what had taken place.
As E CLAMPUS VITUS mushroomed along with the rapid growth of the gold towns, it declined as rapidly as they did, and, therefore, lived only in the memory of a few ancient dwellers in the mountains and in the annals of the county histories until, in 1930, when a new prophet, a second Ephraim Bee , appeared in the person of Carl Wheat to reorganize the historic organization.
Members of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E CLAMPUS VITUS have always been adventurers and many have been leaders in conquest of their respective countries. The most noteworthy of that band of stalwarts was Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, a doughty explorer in the service of the Spanish Empire, who on October 19, 1542, raised the Spanish Flag at a point near the beach city of Hueneme in Ventura County and took possession of the land in the name of the King. Cabrillo is buried on San Miguel island and some Clampers make an annual pilgrimage to his grave.
Sir Francis Drake was a Clamper but not in good standing because of his piratical exploits until June 15, 1579, when this bold bucaneer reached California in the famous ship, the “Golden Hind”, and anchored in Drakes Bay where he raised the English Flag and took possession for Queen Elizabeth and called the land New Albion.
Then Spain decided to occupy California to protect her colonial possessions, so two courageous Clampers were selected for the expedition: one was Don Gaspar de Portola, and the other was Father Junipero Serra. These men raised the Emperors flag at San Diego on May 17, 1769.
After Mexico revolted from Spain, an admirable Clamper, General Antonio de Santa Ana, ordered the flag of the Mexican Republic raised at Monterey on January 7,1769.
John Charles Fremont was a peritatetic Clamper and he raised his ensign as Captain of the United States Topographical Engineers above every camp that he made in California during his expeditions between 1844 and 1846. That flag is now in the custody of the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles.
On June 14, 1846, a Sonoma group of justly indignant Clampers rebelled against the aggression of Mexican officials. They captured the garrison at Sonoma, issued a clampotent proclamation declaring California to be an independent republic and raised a crudely designed but historic Bear Flag.
Clampers played an important part in the history of California in the nineteenth century because the American membersof this Order worked in unison. Commodore John D. Sloat in command of thePacific Squadron of the U.S. Navy captured Monterey and on July 7, 1846 he instructed a fellow Clamper William Mervine to raise the flag of the United States above the customhouse. When Fremont learned of Brother Sloat’s coup he ordered the Bear Flag struck at Sonoma and replaced by a 28-star flag of the United States.
It is manifest that Clampers have been leaders throughout the history of California and the flag-raising members of the Order of E CLAMPUS VITUS have contributed glamor and deeds of courage and gallantry to our heritage. It must be noted however that this history has never been proven.
CREDO QUIA ABSURDUM – BECAUSE ITS ABSURD I BELIEVE
QUOTED FROM E CLAMPUS VITUS, THEN AND NOW, 1852-1979
Lodges of E Clampus Vitus were active in many towns in the mining country of California from
the early 1850’s. ECV as an organization in California was established by Joseph Zumwalt.
Joseph was born on the 15th of July, 1800, in Boone County,Kentucky. At about the age of 49, he, his wife Mary, and 8 of their 11 surviving children decided to leave their farm in Illinois and head for California.
The wagon train went by way of Bowling Green, Missouri, where Zumwalt and a partner, C.W. Wright, stopped at the local newspaper office to inquire about the road to California. In that office, they picked up copies of the ritual of an amusing organization called “Ecclampus Vitus” (Written by Ephraim Bee)
Zumwalt and Wright each bought a copy and put it in their trunks. Zumwalt and his family reached the “diggins” on September 5, 1849. ( C.W. Wright has been lost in history )
After a period of time in Sacramento and then in the diggins, it appears that Zumwalt remembered the ritual and observed that the men in the mines were in need of a humorous outlet. During his wanderings in the diggins around Hangtown ( Placerville ) in 1850 and early 1851, he apparently tried, with no great success, to start chapters of what became known as
E CLAMPUS VITUS in various camps.
However, in 1851, he moves to Mokelumne Hill where he started Chapter #1001. the chartering was held in the community jail which was unoccupied at the moment. From then on in the diggins, the idea of E CLAMPUS VITUS spread like wildfire.
E CLAMPUS VITUS had several facets. It was a benevolent organization that gave aid to fellow miners, their widows and children, as the many newspaper articles of the period record.
But, ECV was also the greatest practical joke ever conceived and put over by all the thousands of miners (and jokers) who made light of their hardships and miseries in the diggins. The organization was, by nature, a spoof on the more dignified, straight-laced and deeply ritualistic fraternal orders of the day. In this vein, it’s purpose seems to have been solely to entertain its members by initiation of new members.
Every traveling salesman was forced to join E CLAMPUS VITUS before he could obtain an order. In Marysville, the renowned Lord Sholto Douglas opened a theatrical engagement, but the first performance failed to pay the rent. When he determined that he had to become a clamper to draw a crowd, he immediately applied for membership, and on the night of his initiation he played to a $1500 house.
The roisterous spirit of the new lodge, expressed by the slogan “Credo Quia Absurdum” ( I believe because it is absurd) and by the Constitution of the Order which said that “all members are officers and all offices are of equal indignity”, had a tremendous appeal to the miners, who thought that hoaxing a tenderfoot was the greatest of sports. Therefore, when the hewgag would bray, signifying that a Poor Blind Candidate had appeared in camp and was ready to have the veil of ignorance lifted from his eyes by having revealed to him the great truths and secrets of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E CLAMPUS VITUS, the brethren hurriedly gathered from far and near for the merriment.
With the decline of mining and the depopulation of the camps in the diggins, ECV also declined, so that by 1915, there was only one lodge left.
E CLAMPUS VITUS redivivus, Clamperhood as it exists today, started about 1930 as the observance of an historical curiosity. Lovers of California history Carl Wheat, George Ezra Dane, Leon Whitsell and several of their friends gathered in San Francisco to talk about this colorful group that they had read about. They continued to meet periodically after that to enjoy its amusing aspects, and they formally revived E CLAMPUS VITUS in 1931, at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco as Yerba Buena Redivivus #1
They discovered a man, then in his 80’s, who had been a member of Balaam Lodge #107402 ECV in Sierra City during the decline of the mining days. This man, Adam Lee Moore, was able to recall the ritual of initiation and the signs of ECV almost in its entirety. (It is said that during the early clamper meetings, none of the brothers was in any condition to keep the minutes and afterwards nobody could remember what had taken place.)
There are 40+ chapters as of this writing, with many more “Outposts” ( wannabe chapters) to join the organization in the future.
A NON CLAMPER’S GUIDE TO CLAMPERDOM
Vice Noble Grand Humbug, Lucinda Jane Saunders Chapter 1881
Material for this guide has been gathered from various sources including liberally plagiarizing, stealing, absconding, purloining, pilfering, looting and misappropriating the work of others. Be that as it may, I believe it is reasonably accurate. It is unsolicited, unofficial, unsanctioned, unblessed and unapproved. And, like other perfectly good stories, it is subject to spoilage by an eye witness.
Credo Quia Absurdum
What is E CLAMPUS VITUS anyway? And who, or what, are these men dressed in red shirts adorned with impressive looking badges, pins and other strange items? Many things, really, but perhaps some history would be helpful in order to better understand the organization and its members who are known as CLAMPERS.
Back in the Gold Rush Days of the mid-nineteenth century literally thousands of mining camps and towns sprang up throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains and in neighboring territories that now comprise the western states. A new town would appear almost overnight at the mere rumor of a fresh strike. But as the gold or silver petered out the mines closed, claims were abandoned and most of the people moved on. What had been a thriving town was soon reduced to empty buildings and a few hardy souls struggling for existence. Today many tiny hamlets no bigger than a small dot on a seldom traveled back road map once boasted an area population of fifteen or twenty thousand at its peak. Stripping away the fictional glamour, one finds a picture that stands in stark contrast to the romantic Hollywood image. The miner’s life, whether working his own claim or in a larger operation, was rugged, dangerous, often short and, for many, a nomadic existence that took them from one area to another in search of riches. For all but a few their arduous labor produced scant reward. Entertainment was whatever they could make of whatever was at hand and a good prank or practical joke brought much needed relief from the serious business of just getting through the day. Not infrequently, their revelry consisted of exchanging gold dust for a raucous night at one of the many saloons or gambling halls and, whenever possible, at some unsuspecting person’s expense.
By 1850 two fraternal organizations, the Masonic Lodge and the Odd Fellows (IOOF), were well established in California and virtually all men of influence were members of either or both of these orders. Both groups were viewed as very strict in nature with impressive badges of office and formal attire. In short, they provided little humor and certainly no relief from the arduous task of just staying alive. In 1851 a group of men at Mokelumne Hill, California, felt another fraternal organization, one much less serious of nature, was needed and The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus, with an avowed dedication to the protection of “Widows and Orphans”, came to life in the west. Originally, the order was a spoof or mockery of the well known fraternal orders. But it also recognized a certain absurdity that was so much a part of their lives and, indeed, had become something that was cherished whether viewed as an escape or just another thing that had to be endured. One can only imagine the difficulty in maintaining a serious expression as these Clampers carried on their satire by addressed each other with lofty sounding titles of “Noble Grand Humbug”, “Clamps Vitrix”, “Roisterous Iscutis”, “Royal Gyascutis”, “Grand Imperturbable Hangman”. To further their mockery the members bedecked themselves with badges and self created awards fashioned from tin can lids. The latter became known as “wearing the tin”. Rather than having a strict officialdom, all members were declared officers with none ranking higher than his fellow Clampers. Initiates, known as Poor Blind Candidates or PBCs, were subjected to a withering blast of humiliation and relieved of as much gold dust as possible which was promptly used to sustain the gathering at the saloon. The PBC was instantly transformed into a full fledged Clamper. Although there are no formal uniforms, Clampers today maintain a tradition of wearing red shirts at their functions as a remembrance of the red union suits of old. And most will be seen wearing a vest of some sort that is adorned with a multitude badges, pins and patches. There were no dues then and none are collected today. E Clampus Vitus is now and has been since its inception a “men only” organization.
Just how E Clampus Vitus came to be is a matter of some conjecture and sometimes subject to a variety of versions and interpretations well suited to the occasion at hand. Legend tells of its creation in 4004B.C. but most of the supporting historical records and tablet archives were destroyed in a cataclysmic event many centuries ago when a huge comet passed near the Earth and wrecked havoc on our planet before being trapped in our solar system. That catastrophic celestial passing was described by the late Immanuel Velikovsky in his book “Worlds in Collision” with the comet identified as what we now know to be the planet Venus. The surviving records are thought to have been lost in the fire that destroyed the Great Libraries of Alexandria, Egypt in the third century B.C. What is know is that in 1845 a tavern, hotel and stable owner in Lewisport, West Virginia, named Ephriam Bee received a commission authorizing him to extend the work and influence of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus from the Emperor of China. The commission was handed to Mr. Bee by a Mr. Caleb Cushing who had returned from China in 1844 while serving the government in establishing diplomatic and trade relations in the far east. E Clampus Vitus, or ECV as it is also known, succeeded and flourished where other orders failed for it was Bee’s belief that any man of upstanding character who was of age could join, unencumbered by the restrictions of other fraternal organizations. ECV was brought to California by Mr. Joe Zumwalt in 1849, although the exact route is subject to debate. One account has Zumwalt leaving Illinois in March of 1849 and arriving in Sacramento in late October of the same year. Others believe he left Missouri with a Clamper companion named W.C.Wright and first settled in Hangtown (later renamed Placerville) before moving on to what is now properly known as Mokelumne Hill in 1850. Typical migration routes to the gold fields could have made either or both versions correct. Regardless of which path Zumwalt took, Mokelumne Lodge Number 1001 first opened its doors in September, 1851. In later years an argument arose claiming Clamper activity in both Sierra City and Downieville before the generally accepted beginnings in Mokelumne. No doubt that debate will never be settled to everyone’s satisfaction.
Clamper membership grew like wildfire and chapters sprang up nearly everywhere there was mining activity. Before long it was the largest organization in the Gold Rush country and had spread to the nearby territories. As noted in Back Roads of California (Sunset, Lane Publishing), nearly every man was a Clamper and those who weren’t found themselves on the outside of business and social life. Itinerant salesmen, known as Drummers or Hawkers, soon learned that Clampers only did business with other Clampers. It was, after all, a fun loving group that provided diversion and camaraderie in what was more often than not a hazardous life.
One should never overlook the fact that the Clampers were in fact a highly respected and honored organization. In spite of their well deserved reputation as hard drinking pranksters, there was a benevolent serious side to their activity. Caring for the “Widows and Orphans” of miners was more than a mere slogan. Indeed, E Clampus Vitus was by far the largest charitable organization of the time and certainly the only one assisting the families of killed or injured miners. Mining accidents and injuries were common. A man killed or injured and unable to work left an almost instantly destitute family. In many cases gifts of money or food mysteriously appeared but the donor was always anonymous. In other instances the widow, or “widder” as they were known, discovered some unnamed person had made the mortgage or rent payments and saved her and the children from homelessness in a hostile land. Clamper charity was unique in that, with few exceptions, it was always done anonymously, quietly and without fanfare although there was rarely any question as to the benefactor’s true identity.
The heyday of western mining and the wild life that accompanied it lasted actually less than thirty years before starting to decline. Thriving communities saw their population dwindle from the thousands to the hundreds or less and many were abandon altogether. The decrepit ruins of these ghost town stand today as a stark reminder of an age gone by. With the decline of mining activity the popularity of E Clampus Vitus also faded until in 1910 there was only one chapter, in Marysville, California, still functioning. By 1930 the order was all but extinct and had become just another useless relic of the past confined to history.
Not long after the order was declared dead and buried, a group of California historians lead by Carl Wheat, George Ezra Dane and Leon O. Whitsell became interested in the many references to Clamper activity found in old newspaper articles and letters. They also shared a belief that a significant part of California and U.S. history was being lost in the frantic pace of the twentieth century. Resuscitating the Order of E Clampus Vitus seemed a proper vehicle to commemorate and preserve that history. Through their efforts and assisted by Mr. Adam Lee Moore, the last known survivor of the old Clamper days, the order was revived with the incorporation of a chapter in San Francisco known as Yerba Buena Number 1. The chapter was christened “Capitulus Redivivus E Clampus Vitus”, or Revived Capital of E Clampus Vitus, in 1931 and the modern era of Clamperdom had begun. Yerba Buena was followed in 1934 by Platrix Chapter 2 in Los Angeles. Then came Lord Sholto Douglas Chapter 3 and Quivira Chapter 4. Sometime after 1936 it was determined that numbering chapters in consecutive order constituted a flagrant violation of the spirit of absurdity that was such an important aspect of the original Clamper activity. From that time on new chapters took whatever name and number seemed fitting. The mining camp originally named Pair-O-Dice had been incorporated and changed its official name to Paradise and is the home of aptly named Pair-O-Dice Chapter 7-11. Arroyo Grande, located midway between San Francisco (Chapter 1) and Los Angeles (Chapter 2) is home to De La Guerra y Pacheco Chapter 1.5 while we in Elko belong to Lucinda Jane Saunders Chapter 1881. In all there are now over forty chapters in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Oregon and Colorado. And one must not forget the offshore Floating Wang Chapter or the Cyber-Wang Chapter 68040/48.1 located in cyberspace.
Modern day E Clampus Vitus combines a dedication to preserving western and mining history with a never ending quest for fun. And, lest we be untrue to our heritage, a liberal dash of the absurd is added for good measure. In both California and Nevada the Clampers are the largest historical organization. We have erected many hundred historical markers and plaques to commemorate sites, people and events that played a role in our western heritage but might otherwise be lost or forgotten. Many of these plaques are recorded in state and national registries. Before a plaque is erected the subject is clearly identified, documented and researched. The research work alone, often taking a year or more to complete, involves many people spending long hours digging through libraries, official records, newspaper files and interviewing people. The work is, of course, voluntary. A single large cast bronze plaque, typical of that used, frequently cost a thousand dollars or more to erect.
Following such a dedication, or Plaquing as it is called, there is a traditional party still called a doin’s. As one writer noted, these party gatherings of red shirted pranksters wearing vests covered with pins, medals, ribbons and badges lead to the organization’s reputation as either a “Historical Drinking Society” or a “Drinking Historical Society”. While there is no denial that distilled and fermented beverages freely flow, the group is officially and vehemently opposed to public intoxication and require that those who partake have a “Brother of sobriety holding the reins”.
Becoming a Clamper is not an easy task. Certainly a man may express a desire but he must be invited. Clearly, the prospect must have a genuine interest in western history. Other requirements have been listed as a good sense of humor, a relatively thick skin, a cast iron stomach, an open mind, a flare for the ridiculous, and an appreciation of absurdity. If the invitation is accepted, the candidate is presented by his sponsor at a doin’s and must survive a time honored ritual at the hands of the Grand Imperturbable Hangman. It is also important to know that an invitation is only given once. If refused it is never tendered again. But who, we ask, would refuse such an honor? After all, among our members are college professors, truckers, U.S. Presidents, clerics, sheriffs, mechanics, miners, judges, laborers, pilots, bartenders, senators, carpenters, lawyers, plumbers, entrepreneurs, authors and just about anything else you could think of. Each treated the same or, as we say, “with equal indignity”. In the words of a noted Brother, “Clampers are not made, they are born. Like gold, they just have to be discovered.”