Who is E Clampus Vitus?

The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus (ECV) as it is today is a fraternal organization dedicated to the study and preservation of the heritage of the American West, especially the history of the Mother Lode and gold mining regions of the area. This is mainly accomplished by erecting historical monuments, shepherding museums dedicated to the period and regaling whoever is curious stories from the gold rush. Most Clampers today take the position that ECV is a 20th Cen­tury celebration of a 19th Century tradition.

One of the primary duties of the original ECV was to look after widows and orphans of members who died in the diggins. This tradition is carried on today through ECVs charitable work. ECV regularly holds fundraisers and other special events to provide scholarships to youths in the community and to continually support the families of members who have passed away.

Brief History of The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus

The following is a brief, and possibly accurate overview of the origins of ECV, the intent of which is to acquaint you with our history.

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 (aka the Clampers) in various camps.

However, in 1851, he moved to Mokelumne Hill where he started Chapter No.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. Other lodges in Matuca Chapter Territory would come to include Columbia Gobblers Lodge #107,368, Mariposa Lodge, Sonora Lodge (later the Royal Order of George’s Sons under the leadership of Otis Greenwood), and the Murphys Lodge which owned the ECV Saloon located on Lot 4, Block 11, Murphys.

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, its purpose seems to have been solely to entertain its members by initiation of new members.

Every traveling salesman was forced to join the Clampers 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 be 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 seems to have been 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 ECV in 1931, at the Clift’s Place in San Francisco as Yerba Buena Redivivus No.1.

They discovered a man, then in his 80's, who had been a member of Balaam Lodge No. 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.)

About Matuca Chapter #1849 (Originally Amatuca)

The name Matuca comes from the three counties that make up its territory: Mariposa, Tuolumne, and Calaveras. When originally formed, it also included Amador County, hence its original name Amatuca.

Matuca Chapter #1849 is unique among all the chapters of Clamperdom. It is located in the southern mines region of the Mother Lode where historical names like French Camp, Chili Bar, and Angles Camp proliferate. This is also the area that made John Fremont rich and Mark Twain famous. Today, this area probably has a greater number of Clampers per capita than any other chapter.

But Matuca’s uniqueness is not due just to the area it occupies. There is history, both mundane and spectacular, bubbling from all the regions now encompassed by modern Clamperdom. What makes Matuca so special is that it includes those locations that have been pivotal to E Clampus Vitus, both in the 1800’s and today. It was at Mokelumne Hill that Joe Zumwalt established the first permanent Clamper lodge in the west. And it was on Parrots Ferry Road, just outside of Columbia, that Carl Wheat and G. Ezra Dane decided to revive the Ancient and Honorable Order as an historical society (doing so without forgetting about the fun). Later, Dr. Coke Wood established the Old Timer’s Museum in Murphys. And after the Grand Council of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus was established, it has been in Matuca territory where that body has convened each year but one.

Consequently, more than simply being a chapter in a historically rich part of California, Matuca has an additional responsibility to all of E Clampus Vitus. That additional responsibility is the stewardship of many of the bricks upon which Clamperdom is built. Matuca provides the wing under which the Old Timer’s Museum (with its Wall of Comparative Ovations) and much of the memory of Dr. Coke Wood can find comfort. A plaque honoring G. Ezra Dane rests on the side of a building in Columbia. A monument that pays tribute to Archie Stevenot is located at the Archie D. Stevenot Memorial Bridge, which crosses the Stanislaus River. A plaque recognizing Joe H. Zumwalt is located in Mokelumne Hill at the site of the first permanently established Clamper Lodge. Even the monument marking the site where Carl I. Wheat and G. Ezra Dane decided to revive E Clampus Vitus is located on the road between Columbia and Parrot’s Ferry Bridge.

Matuca (Amatuca) was first established in 1948 with its founding members making up a who’s-who list of the locally prominent. The original charter includes names like Stevenot, Holman, Symons, Trabucco, Segerstrom, Carkeet, Hearst, and Lavagnino.

In those early days, there were no regularly scheduled meetings and no tradition of erecting a set number of historical plaques every year. Amatuca Chapter placed its first plaque in Volcano in 1951. The first plaque erected in Matuca territory by Matuca Chapter was in honor of Senator Jesse Mayo. This plaque was placed at the Calaveras Fair Grounds in 1959 and is still there for anyone to see. Over the years, plaque erection has evolved to where, today, three historical sites are recognized each year, one in each of Matuca’s three counties.

Although Matuca Chapter #1849 has had its ups and downs over the years, it currently enjoys being one of the largest and most active chapters in all the realm of E Clampus Vitus. Its hewgag sounds three times a year, once in each county, with all the historical significance and good-natured tomfoolery which that implies.

To those who successfully complete their initiation: Satisfactory!!! To those who don’t: ha ha sucker, we got your money!