Clampers cherish history and service
R-C Alpine Bureau
“I believe it because it is absurd,” states the credo of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus. The rough “Dog Latin” translation is “Credo Quia Absurdum.” but no such transcription can be made for the group’s name. They refer to themselves as ECV, Clampers, or Red Shirts. Perhaps you have seen some of these fine fellows, vests covered with patches and pins, building and installing historical plaques at important locations throughout our area. Their chapter events raise money for these projects, for assisting Clamper families, and for helping others in need.
There really is no typical Clamper, but the traits they share in common are a desire to honor our history, help others in any way they can, exhibit generosity and kindness, and have a rollicking good time while doing so. They are generally boisterous, at ease with themselves and have developed a sense of humor about the vagaries of life.
What are the secrets behind this fraternal and historical drinking society? Locally, our own Snowshoe Thompson Chapter, spanning the Nevada/California border from Genoa to Alpine, will only answer some of these questions. The rest are for the initiated. Normally, entrance into the group is by invitation only, and only vague comments are made about the actual process. When asked about details, even the most gregarious Clamper will look sideways and politely change the subject. A public part of the process for the inductee can include being marched through the streets in less-than-flattering attire while singing “Home Means Nevada,” but the process is ever-changing.
Darwin Huckeba, Jr. is the current Clampatriarch, an honor bestowed on the outgoing Humbug. Brandon “Lowdown” Wilding is the Noble Grand Humbug, and responsible for overseeing the group’s activities. Other offices include: Gold Dust Receiver, Jr., Noble Grand Recorder, Grand Imperturbable Hangman, and Roisterous Iscutis.
As you can tell, they do not take themselves too seriously. They have a “Demotion Dinner” every January where new officers are elected, and a “Clamper of the Year” is chosen. They give this award to brothers that have gone above and beyond the call of duty to make the SST a better and stronger chapter. They also acknowledge Red Shirts who have taken the time during the year to visit all the 54 existing plaques to check on their condition. They are known as “The Been Everywhere Society of 1827.”
Local rancher Hubert Bruns was the first Noble Grand Humbug in 1956-57, followed by another well-known local rancher, the now deceased Frederick W. Dressler in 1958.The Snowshoe Thompson Chapter honors Jon “Snowshoe” Thompson, the legendary Norwegian postal carrier who skied over the treacherous Sierra Nevada mountain passes to deliver mail between Genoa, and Placerville, Calif.
The first plaque the group installed was at Thompson’s Diamond Valley homesite in Alpine County. A historical marker has been completed, or is in the works, for every year since the inception of the group. You can find this impressive list of plaques and their locations at sst-ecv.com.
The group also gives a small sign to display and honor their favorite bars. Known as SUDS (Snowshoe’s Usual Drinking Stops), Ryan’s Saloon, Ed’s Doghouse, and the Bar M Bar have taken an interest in the Chapter by hosting events and meetings.
Members claim that the first Clamper was Adam, and that the organization was brought to the United States by Ephraim Bee of Virginia in 1845.
Bee was Captain of the Doddridge County Militia, and active in the Underground Railroad. Bee wanted a group that was more inclusive, and invited any “upstanding” men to join, eschewing older and more formal organizations. ECV made fun of the “stuffed shirts” and ceremonial attire of other fraternities. This was how they all began dressing in red. They added to their look by making badges out of old tin can lids. Today Clampers call this “wearing the tin”.
E Clampus Vitus members have a reputation for being rowdy and somewhat rambunctious. While this may be true, they also exhibit a deep sense of loyalty and benevolence to their brethren, their families, and to the people and communities where they live.
The Snowshoe Chapter will be assisting with the Memorial Fountain honoring Charles Barrett across from the General Store in downtown Markleeville this winter. They installed plaques at the Belmont Nevada Courthouse in 2014, and one for The Longest Ride at Buckland Station, Nevada in 2015, keeping the tradition alive each year. Every ECV plaque has an interesting historical story and location, and are worth taking the time to find.
Look for the plaque acknowledging Markleeville’s namesake Jacob Markley that will be installed this year.