E Clampus Vitus — Preserving Carson Valley’s History One Plaque at a Time
Who are they?
What does the term “E Clampus Vitus” mean? Well actually no member of this non-profit charitable and historical fraternal organization knows. Probably because it really has no known meaning. And by their own admission, they’re not even sure if they are a “historical drinking society or a drinking historical society”. However, they do claim to be the most “ancient of all fraternal orders.”
In the 1880s, what began as a way to “burlesque” established fraternal organizations such as the Freemasons and the International Order of Oddfellows, whose members consisted mostly of wealthy mine owners and investors who shunned working men like the miners of the Comstock, E Clampus Vitus quickly became a fraternal organization that welcomed miners and the like, taking care of them, as well as the families of fallen miners.
This organization, which was formed in the 1840s in the state of Virginia, eventually gained a presence on the Comstock almost from the very beginning of the organization’s inception, but disappeared here in the West as the Comstock declined. Then, in 1930 in San Francisco, the organization was revived with an added mission — historic preservation. Many chapters followed, and in 1956 the first Nevada chapter was formed to serve Douglas and Alpine Counties — The Snowshoe Thompson Chapter #1827 of E Clampus Vitus.
Today, the Snowshoe Thompson chapter continues the tradition of embracing “absurdity,” as well as bringing lost history to light. They are active in local charitable events, fundraising and working with historical organizations, such as the Genoa-based Friends of Snowshoe Thompson organization, helping to fulfill these organizations’ missions. And while they continue to be an all-male membership, there are several annual seasonal events which include members’ families — affectionately referred to as their “widders and orphans”.
Carson Valley History
As you visit various historic sites in and around Carson Valley, you will read many plaques which give a brief and colorful description of the site’s history, placed there by “Clampers” (as they call themselves.) Have you been to Genoa’s Courthouse Museum, the Genoa Bar, and the site of the Genoa Seminary? Well, if you have, then you’ve seen several of the Snowshoe Thompson chapter’s plaques. Just south of Genoa is a plaque at the historic Van Sickle Station ranch telling of the demise of “bad man” Sam Brown. All historical content on these plaques are extensively researched, not just on the internet, but by using all resources available.
Snowshoe Thompson chapter’s Historian, Brandon Wilding is known for reaching out to and working with community members in a never ending quest to find lost information, which can be much more fascinating than what is easily found on “Wikipedia.”
And while today there is not the need to take care of any miners’ “widders and orphans,” the local chapter keeps that spirit alive by being involved in annual fundraisers such as the Spaghetti Feed for the Solace Tree http://sst-ecv.com/site/shop/events/spagfeed/ and helping out in natural disasters, like taking donations for the recent “Camp Fire” that has nearly obliterated the Northern California town of Paradise. Lastly, upkeep of the legendary “Mailman of the Sierra — Snowshoe Thompson’s” grave in the Genoa Cemetery is an honor taken very seriously by the Snowshoe Thompson Clampers. You will also see this chapter at local community events like the annual Gardnerville “Coffin Races” and our state’s Nevada Day Parade.
Their own “widders and orphans” are first and foremost important to each member. The Snowshoe Thompson chapter is a family-oriented organization that holds annual family picnics in Genoa at Mormon Station State Historic Park in May. The families also enjoy a Snowshoe History In Transit excursion annually via an historic route through Northern Nevada. The chapter hosts an annual “Winter Ball” at the Genoa Town Hall each November, which is open to the public.
Here in Carson Valley, we well know that much of our attraction is our “history” and we continue to thank the Snowshoe Thompson Chapter #1827 of E Clampus Vitus for sharing their unique and dedicated love of the history of our West. I say to them, “Satisfactory!” (It’s a Clamper thing ….)
In Other Local History
Finally, the time has come once again to make your reservation for the 17th Annual Eagles and Agricultural event here in Carson Valley set for January 24 – 27 of 2019. Available are organized tours of ranches accompanied by expert birders and historians, the popular owl prowl, a wildlife photography class with professional photographer JT Humphrey and the Falconers Dinner where guests can get close to a variety of raptors. For complete details, tour and class reservations, please visit http://www.carsonvalleynv.org/pages/EAGLESAG/ or call the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce at 775-782-8144.
Stay tuned for more information on the event in next month’s correspondence … but don’t wait until then to make your reservation!
The Holiday Season
This is definitely a busy season here in Carson Valley. To find out the schedule of holiday events for Genoa, visit http://www.genoanevada.org/index.htm . For the Towns of Minden and Gardnerville, no events are scheduled for the month of December on their websites.
And don’t forget to consider visiting the Topaz Lodge for a relaxing night’s stay and dinner on the Lake!
I wish all of you a very happy and prosperous Holiday Season, and we’ll see you back here next year!
Remember, history is made every moment, every hour and every day, by every one of us. Make our history count….keep it ALIVE!
— Kim Harris