|The Ancient and Honorable Order of|
E Clampus Vitus ®
E Clampus Vitus is both a Historical and Fraternal organization.|
Although ancient in origin, it reached its peak during the
tumultuous days of The Great California Gold Rush.
A member of E Clampus Vitus is commonly called a "Clamper."
The latter-day members of this organization attempt to uphold
the traditions of fellowship, good spirits, and fun.
Like their forbearers, the modern Clampers are dedicated
to the care and protection of the Widow* and the Orphan.
* But especially the Widow.
|E CLAMPUS VITUS: Who are we?|
Some Californians are Elks, others are Moose, and some are even Lions.
But the most colorful of them all are the Clampers, members of the
Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus (ECV), a fraternal
organization founded back in the gold rush days. It all began as a
spoof on other lodges and secret societies, and its early history
is a little difficult to reconstruct. The early meetings of
E Clampus Vitus in the California gold fields were devoted so completely
to drinking and carousing that none of the Clampers was ever in any
condition to keep minutes, let alone remember what had happened the next day! |
By tradition, a person could join E Clampus Vitus by invitation only and then was expected to endure an elaborate, humorous and sometimes grueling initiation ceremony. Membership in E Clampus Vitus declined in the late 1800s, but experienced a revival in the 1930s and is still going strong today. Modern-day Clampers typically dress up in garb reminiscent of the gold-rush -- usually a red miner's shirt, and black hat -- and they still hold their unique initiation ceremonies, but now specialize in putting up commemorative plaques of historical and hysterical interest. Along with serious sites that need more reverent commemoration, Clampers have been known to plaque places like saloons, bawdy houses, and other locations that have been "overlooked" by more serious historical societies. Pull to the side of the road in California to read a monument and as often as not, you will discover that Clampers had something to do with its erection.
Lots of folks don't know what to make of the Clampers today, but we think Carl Wheat, one of the three founders of the revived Order back in the thirties, put it well when he described E Clampus Vitus as "The comic strip on the page of California History."
As the new millennium begins, there are thousands of Clampers in forty-two chapters in California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. There are even two new Outposts of our august organization in Oregon and Washington. Since the early nineteen-thirties, well over two thousand historical sites have been "plaqued" with historical markers by ECV.
What does E Clampus Vitus mean? Well, that is a great mystery. Ask a Clamper.
What is the purpose of the society? The objectives of ECV are well known: Members swear to take care of the Widows and Orphans -- especially the Widows.
|E CLAMPUS VITUS: Can I be a Clamper?|
|The prime requisites to becoming a Clamper are a good sense of humor, an interest in Western history, an open mind, and a cast iron stomach. If a man has those qualities, and strikes up a friendship with a Clamper or two, he may find himself taken in to (and by) the Ancient and Honorable Order. But one can't simply walk up and say, "Can I be a Clamper?" It is for the Brethren of ECV to invite prospective members to join. And if a man is asked, he should know that the invitation is only given once. If it is refused, it is never tendered again. But a man of any intelligence and character so invited would hardly be likely to turn down such a signal honor. And remember, as the Brethren of E Clampus Vitus maintain, Clampers are not made, they're born. Like gold, they just have to be discovered.|