Southern, California Research Lodge F&AM

By Lester R. Cyr, Grand Historian

(Condensed from "The Hand of The Workmen" by Robert E. Miller, Grand Historian 1964-66) Published in the March 1999 Montana Masonic News

It was gold which set men on fire. There had been riches in the earlier fur trade but only for a few and only for those who were willing to work and to suffer hardships and loneliness. But gold could be had for the digging. It could be had in the company of others.

Where gold was found there would be company, and gaiety, and the fun and thrill and excitement of spending it. It was gold that was discovered in Bannack, that portion of Idaho which later became
Montana, that brought the first men into our own jurisdiction.

The motives were mixed which brought men to the west, even for gold. While some came to dig for it, there were others who came to steal it from those who dug it. With the discoveries of gold in what later was to become Montana, wagon trains which were headed for Washington or Idaho or Oregon changed their destinations, reversed their course or broke new trails to head for the diggings popularized by the latestrumor.

Among those who came to the new land were Master Masons. There is no argument that the first Mason within the borders of what is now Montana was Meriwether Lewis, the head of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1805-1806.

Lewis was a member of Widow's Son Lodge in Virginia at the time of the expedition, and later became one of the organizers of the first lodge in St. Louis, the first Masonic lodge to be organized within the
boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase. Lewis met an untimely death on the Natchez Trace on his way from St. Lewis to Washington, and his Masonic apron, which he carried at that time, has since been preserved and in 1960 was purchased by the then Grand Master Joseph R. Hopper, and presented to the Montana Grand Lodge Library, where it now reposes.

Captain William Clark became a Mason after his return from the expedition. He was later Governor of Mississippi Territory and Superintendent of Indian Affairs with headquarters in St. Louis. Upon his death his funeral was conducted by St. Louis Lodge No. 20 and upon his tombstone was engraved the Square and Compass.

It was at Bannock that first developed the crisis between the "Innocents" as the outlaws coded themselves, and the forces of law and order. Henry Plummer was the sheriff, He had led a rough life in
California and in Washington. He had killed two or three men in a theater in Walla Walla. He had fled to Lewiston where he had perfected an organization of outlaws. News that gold had been discovered at Bannack led Plummer to decide to seek his fortune there.

Through an infiltration of the toughs with the regular electorate he was named sheriff at Bannack and later also at Virginia City, In this position he could advise the miners how to dispose of their gold and
he could plan with his "Innocents" how to take it away from them.

Transportation began to develop. Stage lines were established to carry people from Salt Lake City to Virginia City and to take them and their gold from Virginia City to Salt Lake City. These stagecoaches were easy prey for the Plummer gang. A respected citizen, William H. Bell of St. Louis, died November 12 1862 of Mountain fever.

He had, in his last moments, expressed the desire for Masonic burial. This, at first, was deemed to be impossible by those of whom the request had been made. No one knew, among the thousands of miners, who was a Mason and who was not. Everyone was a stranger to everyone else and few had known a neighbor for more than a few weeks. Yet a few who were known to each other determined to attempt to comply with the last request of Brother Bell.

A call went out for all Masons to meet at the cabin of C. J. Miller on Yankee Flat on the same evening that Bell had died. To their surprise the responses to the call were so numerous that adjournment had to be taken to a larger cabin and it was past midnight before all had been properly examined and preparations completed for the funeral. Before they separated it was virtually understood that an early application should be made for authority to open a lodge.

In the meantime they agreed to hold frequent meetings. From that time they met together frequently and they soon began to make plans for their better protection from the depredations of the outlaws. Outwardly, they were merely preparing for the organization of what they hoped to be the first Masonic Lodge of the area. Secretly they were organizing for another purpose.

Undoubtedly it was the trial and execution of George Ives, one-of the "Innocents," which was the turning point. Ives, one of the most prominent of the Plummer gang, had murdered in cold blood a German youth named Nicholas Tiebalt. That evening 25 men met at Nevada City and mutually pledged to bring to justice the perpetrator of the deed. Ives was arrested on December 19, 1863.

The Vigilantes lost no time. Most of their work was done in the next 60 days. Before January 10, 1864, Henry Plummer had been executed and Dutch John Wagner was hanged on that day. Four days later in Virginia City Club Foot George Lane, Jack Gallagher, Frank Parish, Boone Heim and Hays Lyons were arrested, tried, and hanged from the beam of an unfinished building.

No Mason was among the list of road agents. Nor was one ever suspected. Neither the activities of the road agents nor those of the Vigilantes deterred the interested Masons of the gold camps from
proceeding with the organization of their lodges.