When I first came in this evening [June 25, 1991] and saw all the red shirts, I thought
that it was a fireman's meeting. However, I realize I am surrounded by friends in
As there are a few Westerners here who are not Clampers, I will give those old sayings
we always say about ECV:
First, what does E Clampus Vitus mean? Well, that is the greatest mystery of
all, because none of us know what it means!
Second, what is the purpose of the society? There is a description of the
society that all of you have heard. It is claimed ECV is a historical drinking society;
others claim it to be a drinking historical society. The debate continues; it has never
Third, the objectives of ECV are well known: Members swear to take care of the
widows and orphans -- especially the widows.
Fourth, the governing authority of the Clampers is equally as explicit: All
members are officers and all officers are of equal indignity.
These precepts give us some idea why some of the things in the history of ECV are
murky. As all Clampers know, no one was in any condition to take minutes, and after a
meeting, no one could be who remembered what had happened.
But getting down to what we think we know, the general tradition is that the society
had its origin in Virginia, in a mountainous section that broke off during the Civil War
and is now West Virginia. The perpetrator was Ephraim Bee, whose origins are as
tangled as those of his organization. He was born in Salem, New Jersey or Harrison County,
Virginia, in 1799 or 1802, depending on whether you consult Hardesty's Encyclopedia
(1885) or Boyd K. Stuller's scholarly paper "Ephraim Bee and E Clampus Vitus"
in the West Virginia Review of August 1931, based in part on an article in the Parkersburg
State Journalin 1896. Which is right?
Bee's ancestors were ministers. They came from a group called Seven Day Baptists; as
the name indicates, Saturday was their Sabbath Day. They left Salem, New Jersey and
settled in Salem, Doddridge County, Virginia, where the Seventh Day Baptists had a
college. Bee lived there for the rest of his life. Ephraim married Catherine Davis on June
19, 1823, and had ten children with her. After her death, he married a younger woman, Mary
Welch, and had seven more children--seventeen in all. So you can see, right from the
beginning he was a real Clamper!
Ephraim Bee started out as a blacksmith and remained one for most of his life. He was
also an inn keeper. His tavern was appropriately called the Bee Hive. The location
was most interesting. George Ezra Dane, one of those who helped revive ECV in 1931, and
who was known for his own sense of humor, placed it at Meat House Fork on Middle Island
Creek, near the present town of West Union, West Virginia. Its isolation did not bar Bee
from participating in public affairs. He had only four months of formal schooling, which
most likely qualified him for the West Virginia State Legislature. He was elected in 1863
and re-elected in 1865 and 1867.
However, Bee is best remembered as the founder of E Clampus Vitus. He was known
throughout the county as a garrulous story teller and practical joker. Legend has it, that
around 1845, shortly after American minister Caleb Cushing returned from negotiating a
treaty with China, Bee revealed that the Emperor of China had entrusted him with certain
sacred rituals from the mysterious East. Bee then,brought forth E Clampus Vitus. As an
indication of the profound impression it made on his family, Bee's son Herman remembered
the name as the "Order of Clampin Vipers." This is a good example of how family
legends become distorted.
From the f irst, all regarded ECV as a burlesque of the widespread secret societies,
fraternal and political. In the 1820's and 1830's, some became suspicious of
Freemasonry and demonstrated against it. In the next decade, the strong tide of
immigration flowing from Germany and Ireland smashed on the rocks of Nativism. In 1844,
the year Cushing returned from China, the Native Sons of America and the Order of the Sons
of America emerged. 1850, for instance, brought forth the Order of the Sons of the Sires
of 1776 and the more important Order of the Star-Spangled Banner. In the mid-1850's, these
societies became a powerful political force: the Know-Nothing Party. Members denied all
knowledge of the secret societies, hence the party name. Their mystery, mumble-jumble, and
elaborate rituals were fertile soil to nourish Bee's spoof.
ECV spread from (West) Virginia to other states. There is documentation of lodges in
Bedford Pennsylvania, (1847); Metropolis, Illinois (1849) ; and Bowling Green, Missouri
(1849). Ken Castro of Murphys found evidence in the Stockton San Joaquin Republican
of March 7, 1853, of a chapter in Dahlonega, a gold mining community about 65 miles north
of Atlanta, Georgia. Miners from that region arrived in California in 1849, and, like the
Sonorans from Mexico, helped teach the Argonauts how to mine. The majority of the 49ers
knew nothing about gold mining. They thought they could walk up the hill and pick up big
chunks of gold.
How did ECV come to California? All accounts agree that a person by the name of Joe
Zumwalt was the Apostle. On his way to California in 1849, Zumwalt wandered into a
printing office in Bowling Green, Pike County, Missouri, saw the ritual of the Clampers,
and brought it along. In 1850, he attempted to establish a lodge in Hangtown (Placerville)
. It did not succeed because the miners were still moving fast and were not settled down.
However, the next year, Zumwalt went to Mokelumne Hill, re-established the Clampers, and,
to use an expression found in all the articles, "It spread like wild fire."
As befitting the tangled Clamper history, a question arises as to which Joe Zumwalt.
One member of the family, not too many years ago, said that Joseph Zumwalt, a
native of Kentucky born in 1800, was the one. Joe left Illinois for California in 1849,
dying in the Golden State in 1892. Eve Zumwalt, another member of the Zumwalt family
states in a new book, The Romance of Mokelumne Hill(1990) that the true founder was
Joel Henry Zumwalt. J.H. was born in 1831 in Frankford, Pike County, Missouri, not too far
from Bowling Green. The late Judge J.A. Smith of San Andreas, a noted local historian, was
also of the opinion that J.H. was the founder. He quoted theMarysville Democrat of
February 1896, and theCalaveras Prospect of May 30,1896, to support his claim. In
1851, J.H. Zumwalt settled in Mokelumne Hill, the birthplace of the first successful
Clamper chapter. It was Zumwalt's home until his death in 1906.
To continue the convoluted history of ECV, there is some question as to which
organization spread. Was it "Clampus," "Clampsus," or
"Clampsis?" In 1931, Carl Wheat selected "Clampus," which is the
present spelling. In Illinois in 1847, they spelled "Clampus" that way with the
"us." However, in Nineteenth Century California, it was always "sus."
Did the printer in Bowling Green, Missouri, drop in an extra "s?" Only the
Pennsylvanians seem to have adopted the "sis." What is the correct spelling of
ECV was popular because it afforded the young men at the mines with a perfect excuse
for horseplay. Furthermore, as in the East, it ridiculed the stuffy secret fraternal,
benevolent, and political societies, such as the Masons, Odd Fellows, and in the
mid-1850s, Know-Nothings, which were so important in theGold Rushdays. Not only
were there chapters in such well-known towns as Yreka, Nevada City, Auburn, Placerville,
Sonora, and Mariposa, but in mining camps, some long gone. There are records of lodges in
Morristown, Rabbit Creek (La Porte) , Howland Flat, Sawpit Flat, St. Louis, Portwine,
Comanche Camp, Yankee Jim's, Freeze Out, and the one I like the best, Hell's Delight. Also
the Clampers were in the bigger cities, such as Sacramento, Marysville, Stockton,
Petaluma, and Benicia. In San Francisco, it was here as early as 1852.
There were also chapters outside the state. In 1858, during the great Fraser River gold
rush, Clampers went up to British Columbia. That is probably natural, because there were
over 20,000 miners from California that went to that fiasco. A book written in 1963,
called Ghost Towns, of British Columbia, mentioned the establishment of the
Clampers in Fort Douglas. I wrote to the author, Bruce Ramsey, and got a letter back that
was rather amusing. I had written my letter on stationery of E Clampus Vitus. He
said that he came in from lunch, saw the envelope, and thought he was seeing a ghost.
In 1858, a meeting was called in Honolulu, and Clampers were active in Carson City and
Virginia City, Nevada, during the Comstock Lode years. However, when the last century came
to an end, gold mining and the Gold Rush towns faded. E Clampus Vitus also waned.
However there was some activity in Downieville, and Sierra City (1890s), Nevada City
(1908), Marysville (1911-1916), Colusa and Willows (1913), and in Quincy (1917-1918). The
Quincy Plumas National Bulletin of April 5, 1917, used half of the front page
describing a Clamper parade. The other half of the page was devoted to the U.S. Senate's
voting for war against Germany! Most likely World War I was a factor in the fading of ECV.
By the end of the 1920s, the order was just a memory.
Carl Wheat has written that in 1930, on the "road from Columbia to
Parrott's Ferry" he said to his companion, fellow attorney George Ezra Dane,
"Let's revive the Clampers. I do not believe this sensational revelation is entirely
true. During his last disabling illness, Carl gave me some Clamper materials. In it, I
found where he had put aside notes from books and different little articles that he had
found about the Clampers. He had been thinking about the Clampers for a long time. Anyway,
in 1931, at a luncheon at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco, Wheat, Dane, Leon Whitsell and
their friends. decided to revive ECV. Frederick C. Clift [of hotel fame] was one of
the Charter Members, incidently.
Dane, Whitsell, and especially Wheat were the most important of those Charter Members.
Dane was a San Francisco attorney, who, like Wheat, attended Pomona College and received
his law degree from Harvard. In fact, they were in the same law office for a while. Ezra
wrote extensively about California. His last book was Ghost Town (1941), the story
of Columbia, Tuolumne County, which is now a state park. (His two daughters hope to
republish it in 1992.) Dane's tragic death at age 37 occurred in October 1941. I was
present in Columbia in September 1947 for the unveiling of a plague in his honor.
Leon 0. Whitsell, the third "founder" was a high official in the
Masonic order. He also wroteOne Hundred Years of Freemasonry in California(1950)and
other historical monographs about California. He was well beloved in Clamperdom.
Carl Irving Wheat, the "revivifier" of E Clampus Vitus, was the
most remarkable man I have ever met. Carl was raised in Los Angeles and in 1915 received
his Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, from Ponoma College. He served in the U.S. Army
Air Service in World War I, and after the war he earned his law degree at Harvard. In the
1920s, he was the Chief Counsel of the Railroad Commission of California. He carried on
legal work in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and from the mid-1930s, in Washington, D.C.
From 1936 to 1938, he was a telephone rate attorney with the Federal Communications
Commission, and was in the Federal Government during World War II.
Carl was one of the first members of the Zamorano Club of Los Angeles and a founder of
the Roxburghe Club of San Francisco. His enthusiasm for fine printing resulted in his own
hand press, the "Wheat Stalk," and his serving as President of the Book Club
of California. He was also a director of the California Historical Society and
editor of the CHS Ouarterly,and as well as being editor of the Ouarterly of the
Historical Society of Southern California. Wheat served as President of the Friends of
the Bancroft Library and was a member of the National Parks Advisory Board. Of the many
books he wrote, his monumental five-volume cartographic study, Mapping the
Transmississippi West (1957-63), stands as his most prodigious work.
He was an amazing, amazing man, who could tell many stories. I had the pleasure of
taking some trips with him, and I was always amazed at Wheat's knowledge of everything.
One trip I remember was going to Downieville to dedicate a plaque to Clamper Adam Lee
Moore. In the front seat with Wheat was Dr. John Lawrence, head of the Donner
Laboratory in California, and brother of Ernest Livermore, of today's Livermore
Laboratory. They discussed nuclear medicine.
Another thing Wheat did is one that I never did when I was driving. I would drive to
the place. Carl Wheat had to go off on every dirt road between Camptonville and
Downieville to show us some building or mine. He knew the area completely!
Carl became ill at the Bohemian Club's Grove and died at the age of
seventy-four. I was one of the speakers at the services for him on June 17, 1966. Two
years earlier, on May 30, 1964, the Grand Council had unveiled a plague in his
honor on the Wall of Comparative Ovations in the old gold town of Murphys.
Carl's great love was for the Clampers. He was the first Noble Grand Humbug of the San
Francisco Chapter and of the Los Angeles Chapter. In 1954, he was given the title of
"His Benign Austerity," and he always called himself the "Perpetual N.G.H.
[Noble Grand Humbug] of Skunk's Misery," referring to the name of a mining camp he
found on a map while writing his own beautiful, scholarlyMaps of the California Gold
Regions (1942). As X.S.N.G.H. (Ex-Sublime N.G.H.] Sid Platford said, "There is
only one Wheat; the rest of us are chaff."
Carl Wheat "discovered" a Clamper of the old order, who aided the revival
immensely.Adam Lee Moorewas the last N.G.H. of Balaam Lodge in Sierra City. Adam
always referred to it as "Sigh-era." He was the link, in Wheat's words,
in the "Apostolic succession from the Clampatriarchs of old." Moore had an
excellent memory and recalled the words of the old initiation ritual.
Moore had been a red-shirted miner and stage coach driver among other things, lived to
be 99, and was quite a person. I had the pleasure of driving with Adam Moore, his wife,
and Lee Stopple from San Francisco to Downieville on May 31, 1941. We were delivering a
new charter for a meeting of the Chapter and initiation to be held that night. I was a lot
younger then and more easily shocked, and I know I was shocked when the PBCs [Poor Blind
Candidates] came down the main street of the town, with people lining the sidewalks,
holding torches and chanting a dirge: "Poor sons of bitches, E Clampus Vitus, poor
sons of bitches." Tired after the drive and initiation, I said to Adam, "I'm
going to bed." I'll never forget his answer, and he had just turned 94 at the time,
"Ain't yah going to dance?" And he went!
In May 1932, the "Chapter Redivivus" made its first pilgrimage to the gold
country, first to Camptonville, then on to Downieville and Sierra City. Carl Wheat became
the first Noble Grand Humbug. This trip to the "Diggins" was aided by a Clamper
of the old order, William Bull Meek. (A chapter bears his name in the Nevada City
area.) Meek, a native Californian born in 1857, drove freight wagons over the Henness Pass
in his youth and served many years as Wells, Fargo & Co's agent in
Camptonville. He was a Clamper in Marysville in the 1890's and was 79 when he died in
I have a letter Meek wrote to Wheat regarding that f irst enclampment. He was a Justice
of the Peace, and this letter was written on the stationery of the Justice Court of
Camptonville township: "I am glad to learn that E Clampus Vitus is going to be
revived and hope that the new life of the Order will be as complete as the original. Mr.
Labadie passed away this winter, but Mrs. Labadie still conducts the Hotel. I have spoken
to her regards your coming and she says if a crowd comes. . . . she quotes a rate of one
dollar per person per bed and f ifty cents a meal. She has enough rooms to accommodate
about 34 people." As you can see, the Clampers that went up there were all af fluent.
How prices have changed on Clamper treks!
After that trek, Clamperdom proceeded to enlarge. PBCs were supposed to have an
interest in California history, and by 1936, the Clampers could boast of many of the era's
most respected historians, bibliographers, historical society presidents, journal editors,
printers, and collectors from throughout California. Clampers included: Herbert E.
Bolton, Lindley Bynum, Robert E. Cowan, Charles P. Cutten, Francis P. Farquhar, Ed
Grabhorn, Phil Townsend Hanna, Edgar B. Jessup, Lawton Kennedy, J. Gregg Layne,, George D.
Lyman, Thomas W. Norris, Terry E. Stephenson, Douglas S. Watson, Henry R. Wagner, Jerry
Wickland, and Ernest A. Wiltsee.
The Clampers went to the Indian Reservation outside of Tuolumne City on the Memorial
weekend of 1937. Chief William Fuller was a Clamper. I remember it well because I was a
PBC. I was invited to become a Clamper by a schoolmate of mine in grammar and high school,
Edgar Kahn. "Cable Car" Kahn, as we called him, was the author of Cable Car
Days in San Francisco (1940). Anyway, Edgar was rather serious in some ways, and he
said to me, "Al, don't bring any liquor because it's an Indian reservation. It's
illegal. Also, Clampers are hardy, bring a sleeping bag." I did. At first we had an
Indian dinner. I'll never forget it because I didn't eat it. It was fried grasshoppers and
acorn bread. Try it some time. Anyway, I put my sleeping bag on the cold hard ground and
prepared to sleep. Every Clamper, who had sense, left and went down to the hotel and the
nearest bar. Hardly had I put down the sleeping bag, when the Indians who had performed
the dances and served the horrible food, started eating hot dogs. They had hired a
Filipino jazz band to play, brought out whiskey from every place, and got as drunk as
In 1939, E Clampus Vitus adopted a "Clampconstitution," but when
efforts were made to incorporate the order, they found that the Marysville group had done
so in 1915. Lee Stopple, the N.G.H. of Yerba Buena in San Francisco, scheduled a meeting
in Marysville with the surviving directors. On May 18, 1940, he arranged a merger, and
became President of the Board of Directors. From then on, the Clampers have had their
After World War II, Carl Wheat returned home from Washington, D.C., and again there was
activity. He put in new Directors and in 1950, I became one. Later Carl wrote new by-laws,
which called for the formation of the Grand Council of Venerable Clampatriarchs. At
Mariposa, on May 8, 1954, the council came into being; all present and past Noble Grand
Humbugs were members. In 1957, when the council met at Murphys, Ed Jessup became the first
Sublime Noble Grand Humbug of the Grand Council. Since then, the Grand Council has met in
Murphys, first every two years, then yearly.
Since 1957, E Clampus Vitus has grown in an amazing manner. It has over 40 chapters
now. While ECV has spread, serious orders such as the Odd Fellows, once so popular and
influential, have faded. Ephraim Bee would be astonished!
However, the growth of the Clampers is not that surprising considering the amazing
service it has done for the nation. one example will suffice. In 1937, when I was a PBC,
Sir Francis Drake's "plate of brass" claiming California for England had
appeared just the year before. Tests in recent years have virtually destroyed its
credibility on metallurgical analysis, but in 1937, the Clampers were concerned about
California being claimed by the English King.
Drake had claimed that the Miwok Indians had "freely resigne(d) their right and
title in the whole land." William Fuller, who was hereditary chief of the Mi-Wuks,
knew he had the authority to nullify the Englishman's claim. Before the assembled
Brethren, he made this clamplamation:
Bee it knowne unto all men by their presence: Whereas, in the year of Grace of 1579,
the Great Hi-oh, of the Mee-Wuks was seduced by that buccaneer, Francis Drake to deliver
this land of Nova Albion to Elizabeth ye Queene,and Her successors forever. Now,
therefore I the present Chief Hi-oh, of the Mee-Wuk Nation, do now revoke said grant on
grounds of deceit, fraud, and failure to occupy the said domain. William Fuller, G.H. Done
in the presence of E Clampus Vitus, May 29,1937.
A copy of this revocation reached the desk of the President of the United States. I
have it on absolute authority, from a person of prominence. I can not mention his name,
but he was in Washington, D.C., at that time. He said that it was the first time that he
had seen President Franklin D. Roosevelt smile in a long time. Roosevelt knew that our
glorious State would remain part of the Union. Thanks to ECV, you and your children are
still under this flag, this glorious Star Spangled Banner!
However, you will not find this proclamation in the text books of your children. You
will not find it in the standard histories. Do the Clampers resent that? No! Why not?
Because they are a meek group; a group that would never blow its own horn. They give aid
to the widows, but do they expect to be thanked? No! Do they expect them to say "Satisfactory?"
No! E Clampus Vitus is a self-effacing group with a mysterious past!!
Presented by Dr. Albert Shumate, M.D., ECV author of numerous books on San
Francisco history, and a Humbug of Sublime, Noble, and Grand proportions, to the San
Francisco Corral of Westerners on June 25, 1991. It won the Westerners International
Phillip A. Danielson Awardfor best presentation to a Corral by a Westerner in 1991.