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THE BAYCITIES OBSERVER
Virginia McCullough


"Have I missed the  mark, or, like a true archer,  do I strike my mark?
Or am I a prophet of lies, a babbler from door to door?"
                                                     
Cassandra, as reported by Agamemnon

E CLAMPUS VITUS
 IN SUNOL, CALIFORNIA

Sunol, California is a very small town nestled in the eastern foothills of the San Francisco/Oakland bay area.  It remains small because the feisty population fights off development constantly to keep their oasis in an ever expanding sea of concrete.  Sunol's citizens trust no politician, not even fellow Sunolians elected to public office.  That is why they elected as their mayor a beautiful black Labrador named Bosco Ramos.   Bosco won over two humans who ran against him.

With the exception of political battles, Sunol is a very quiet community.  The town has its own K-8 school district and a Little Brown Church were many couples come to get married.  It is a place where one can look up at the sky at night and no city lights compete with the stars.  You can still hear the train whistle in the late night and the church bells on Sundays.  Sunol only has five streets and two of those are crossed by railroad tracks.

Sunol's main street is just two blocks long and it is really named Main Street.    Following a series of arson fires which destroyed businesses in the 1980's, a new building began construction.  One of the first things that happened during the construction process was that Sunol's historical monument was knocked down.  It lay face down near Main Street for well over a year.  Yesterday, June 17, 2000,  it was righted and placed back in its original position.  The restoration of the town's monument was the main subject of conversation at the local cafe as Sunolian's remembered when it was first put up.

A group of red shirted men known as E Clampus Vitus first donated and erected the Sunol monument on April 7, 1984.  It is a handsome monument similar to the one shown here (Click).  The cast bronze plate inserted in the rock structure reads:

       SUNOL

Named in honor of Antonio Maria Sunol, merchant, naval man and cattlebaron, who acquired a Spanish/Mexican land grant in 1840.

Along with vast ranching and fertile farmland, coal and gold were found in the Sunol area in the 1870's.

Sunol became a typical western cattletown with the arrival of the railroad in 1869, and a favorite hang out for bandits.

If was rumored that when Joaquin Marrietta stayed here his horse stood on a bed of charcoal keeping his hooves warm for a quick get-away.

Donated by Joaquin Marrietta Chapter 13
E Clampus Vitus
April 7, 1984
5989

There is an old saying that goes "curiosity killed the cat - satisfaction brought it back".  As I read the inscription, I began to wonder what is this organization that goes around the western states collecting and protecting history and putting up monuments in many small towns and large cities.  Who are the Clampers?

Using the Google search engine on the world wide web, I found 179 citations supplying information on E Clampus Vitus.   The web site http://www.irjr.com/postoffice/ecvhistory.htm states the following:

The history of E CLAMPUS VITUS involves an old organization of the same name, started in the Ol' West's gold rush era and revitalized about 1931 at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco and now encompassing Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Washington D.C.

A non-profit organization, E CLAMPUS VITUS is currently involved in humanitarian and public help programs while maintaining a steadfast program of historical preservation.

Funds for very expensive projects such as solid bronze plaques and their stone monuments to be placed at long forgotten historical sites are obtained by having chapter sponsored outings, family barbecues and dances, sales of historical memorabilia and other such functions.

This same web site has excellent short and long histories of the brotherhood.  In the long version the "Plaquing" is described as follows:

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, presently cost a thousand dollars or more to erect.

Following such a dedication of 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 requires that those who partake have a "Brother of sobriety holding the reins".

For those readers interested in reading more about this organization go to http://www.santacruzpl.org/readyref/files/eclamp.htm  for a list of books, articles and chapters.

San Francisco's world famous columnist Herb Caen in his San Francisco Chronicle dated Wednesday, January 3, 1996 commented: 

"COLORFUL:  Why is the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus, the prankster group that dates back to the Gold Rush, celebrating the beginning of the 61st Century?  Explains veteran Clamper Duane Bryant: `1995 was 6000 because time began on Monday, January 1, 4005 B.C., at 12:00:01 a.m., remember?'  Sorry to say I do."

The Clampers pride themselves on the age of their organization and several of the web sites talk about the competition among brotherhoods for the oldest existing order.

One book in this author's Western History Collection dedicates Chapter XXVII  to the author's "Experience with the Lodge of E Clampus Vitus".  The author, W.T. Ellis entitled his 1939 publication "MEMORIES:  My seventy-two years in the Romantic County of Yuba, California."  Published by the University of Oregon at Eugene, this biography is a treasure trove of history.

So in appreciation of Sunol's monument makers and in honor of E Clampus Vitus this author posts author Ellis' entire chapter below:

EXPERIENCE WITH THE LODGE OF E CLAMPUS VITUS

In a previous chapter, I have mentioned that I first joined this lodge on my first business trip to Downieville, having been advised that it was necessary to be a member of this lodge if I expected to obtain any business with the merchants.

The night I joined, the meeting was held in quite a large hall, and there must have been about one hundred men present.  When the proceedings were about to commence and the meeting called to order by the presiding officer, whose title was "Noble Grand Humbug" those present were seriously admonished to keep quiet and preserve due decorum during the initiation.

I was then led out by two husky men and was stationed before the Noble Grand Humbug, who proceeded to ask my name, my age, my occupation and this was followed by very embarrassing questions.

The Noble Grand Humbug, then addressed those assembled and asked them in a loud voice, if in their opinion I had answered all questions in a satisfactory manner and asked, "What is the will of the lodge?"  In unison and with practically one voice, all those present roared, "Initiate the Son of a B----."  They all then joined in a song which commenced as follows:--

        "You will get all that is coming to you,
        And a damn sight more before you are through.."

(I will not give the rest of the song for obvious reasons.)

I have still a very vivid recollection that the DID initiate me and for about two hours I was put through various hazings, from being dropped for a coffin, suspended in the air with a trick opening bottom, into a tank of cold water, to crawling through what was called a "noiseless cavern," which consisted of a long pipe, just wide enough to crawl through and when I got about the middle of the pipe, several husky fellows, commenced to roll it back and forth the hall's length, all the time belaboring the tank with clubs, which made it anything but "noiseless."  The finishing touch was trying to ride the back of a large stuffed bear in my birthday suit, the bear being so adjusted that it would buck me off quite frequently; there was no use to attempt to refuse to "do my stuff"; I soon found that out because four good husky fellows would compel me to keep up with the programme.  It was rather a cold evening but notwithstanding my lack of clothing, I was bathed in perspiration; the final stunt was to throw me in a bank of snow outside the building "to cool me off" and then immediately returned to the hall, where two huskies with Turkish crash towels gave me a rubdown and then helped me to put on my clothes.  Then each "brother" in turn came up and saluted and welcomed me and shook my hand, each one apparently trying to outdo the other in the violence of the hand shake, which left my hand sore for a week.  Otherwise, outside of being "just a little sore and bruised," there were no ill effects from my experience.

As far as I can learn, this lodge of E Clampus Vitas started in the mountain areas for amusement purposes during the long winter months, when snows prevented mining and where there was little or no communication with the outside world except the mails.  Several of the larger mountain towns had their separate lodges and they really did a lot of charitable work.  I remember that at Downieville one time, a miner was accidentally killed, leaving a wife and several children; a meeting of the full membership of the Lodge was called and every one was expected to contribute to a charity fund which was at once turned over to the widow amounting to several hundred dollars.

However, my "initiation" was not forgotten and I swore to get even on some and shortly afterwards, I helped to start a lodge of E Clampus Vitus in Marysville.  We had a large hall of the second story of the present brick building at the southeast corner of D and First Streets; we raised funds and had a complete set of necessary paraphernalia, obtained a copy of the "ritual" from Downieville and were "ready for business."  It wasn't long before most all business men and their clerks had joined the lodge.  We initiated candidates quite often, mostly drummers, and we made agreements for quite a long time while between the business houses, that drummers had to "belong to the lodge" if they wanted to get orders.  Almost every week we would have an initiation and every member knew when a "sucker" was had for a initiation that evening, when the "hewgag" sounded, which sounded like a fog horn and could be well heard over town.  A minister of a certain church heard about the lodge's "doings" and took exceptions to their practices and complained that most of these initiations were on Sunday evenings, so on one Sunday evening, he gave a sermon on the absence of men at church and exclaimed, "Where, oh where are our young men tonight" and just at that moment the hewgag was heard with its weird and mournful sound, and many in the congregation were unable to refrain from laughing, as that sound of the hewgag was sufficient answer as to "Where, oh where are our young men tonight?"

The first lodge was practically "put out of business" on account of the publicity in many newspapers of the State because of an initiation of an English Lord; this was on January 25, 1896.  This was Lord Sholto Douglass, a younger son of the Marquis of Queensbury, who was greatly interested in prize fighting in England and who first drew up the rules of the game which were and still are known as the "Marquis of Queensbury rules."  It seems that young Lord Sholto Douglass had married a London dance hall girl, which got him into disfavor with his father.  In consequence, and on the strength of him title, he and his wife started a vaudeville show to make a living and came to America on tour.  They came to Marysville and gave a show one evening in the old Marysville Theater; it wasn't a very good show and as they had been having very slim attendances in California when they gave their show in Marysville, they were about "broke."  As the show here had a very slim attendance also, they "were up against it" financially.

A few of us thought we saw an opportunity for some amusement, so a committee from the Clamper's Lodge called on the young Lord and told him that he would give another show the following night, that we would guarantee the theater rental and some other expenses and would go out and sell tickets and perhaps make him some money, BUT, he would have to join the Clamper's Lodge that evening.  He consented and "he go what was coming to him and a damn sight more before he was through," the same as I had in Downieville; the lodge hall was packed, we had tickets printed and sold them to those present, appointed committees to go out and sell more tickets and the following evening, the theater was packed full and he and his show left town rejoicing.  All the newspapers in the State had accounts of his initiation and it gave him a lot of free advertising and he made a successful tour to New York.  After his initiation in the Lodge room, he was called on for a speech and he said; -- "Brother Clampers; I say, you are a rum of chappies, I can't say that I really enjoyed this very extraordinary initiation you have just inflicted upon me, but you tell me that this is the usual thing in California and as I have always heard that California was wild and woolly, I know now that it is so and I will always remember you and this Lodge and I want to tell you that I really appreciate what you are going to do for me tomorrow by helping me out of a blasted financial hole and I thank you, by Jove I do."  He was a "good sport," but he put our Lodge "out of business" as we could get no more "suckers" to join after that because of the newspaper publicity over the State.  In after years, Clampers' lodges were started at various, but without much success as candidates were too few and far between.

This author purchased this rare and wonderful book specifically because it contained the chapter about E Clampus Vitus.  For several week in September and October of 1997, the local newspapers had been full of stories about the City of Dublin, California and the controversy involving the Clampers' 99 year lease obtained through the Dublin Historical Preservation Association.  The newspaper headlines screamed "Conflict of Interest", "Drinking Society", and "Back Door Deals" (Click).  When I discovered author Ellis' book, it was ample proof that while the world might continue to evolve and change, E Clampus Vitus remains the same.

Virginia McCullough © 2000
[email protected]



As I pass through this life, may I always be humble, may I never take myself serious-"a stuffed shirt", may I always appreciate a little bit of the "rediculous"; may I always be a two-fisted Clamper when the bottle pass's my way, and if I imbibe and can't hold it like a man, then may I always be able to "Pass it on to the next Brother", may I never forget the stout-hearted men who settled a great Western wilderness, and the heritage we have today; may I never fail to appreciate a bit of Western lore.

The Gold Creek historical plaque reads:

Gold Creek
The Great Gold Discovery of 1871
On Feb. 8, 1871, two men, the names of Neal F. Taylor and Timothy Cox, who were looking for coal in the area found more than they were looking for. On this creek which comes down through the then Dougherty Ranch the two men found a gold nugget. They prospected the area finding more nuggets and gold dust. Soon others heard of this and there was a grand rush to gold creek. There were 20 claims staked and some 30 men working the creek for gold, which never produced much and was deserted by April 1871. There is no longer gold in the creek but it is yet another chapter of gold mining in Alameda County.
Dedicated to the hardy miners of the 1800's this April 2, 1988 by
Joaquin Murrieta Chapter 13
E Clampus Vitus

 

Virginia McCullough © 6/18/00