By T.S. Akers
The Grand Commandery of Oklahoma assembled at Guthrie in 1902
(Courtesy of Oklahoma Commandery No. 3)
For many, it was just another Indian summer Friday as autumn was settling across Oklahoma. As the days progressed the beautiful colors that marked the season in Eastern Oklahoma would deepen before the winter set in. Farmers were bringing in the fall wheat harvest in Western Oklahoma. To the greater populace of Oklahoma City, October 6, 1911, would come and go as any other day. For a special group of Freemasons, the day would hold a momentous occasion. On that fateful morning, two uniformed lines of Knights Templar would become one.
In 1890 a group of Sir Knights, as members of the Masonic Knights Templar are called, requested a dispensation to work from the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States and formed a Commandery at Guthrie, Oklahoma.[i] Shortly thereafter, Sir Knights in the Indian Territory formed their own Commandery at Muskogee.[ii] By 1894 Commanderies existed at both Purcell and McAlester in the Indian Territory. Oklahoma Territory also boasted three Commanderies with Sir Knights stationed at Oklahoma City and El Reno.[iii] It was clear that Templary in the region of what would be Oklahoma was gaining ground and as such the Grand Lodge of Indian Territory recognized the Grand Encampment as the legal occupant of their jurisdiction.[iv]
With the necessary number of Commanderies established, the Sir Knights of the twin territories set out to create their own Grand Commanderies. Representatives of Muskogee Commandery No. 1 at Muskogee, Chickasaw Commandery No. 2 at Purcell, and McAlester Commandery No. 3 at McAlester assembled on December 27, 1895, under a special warrant from Most Excellent Grand Master Warren LaRue Thomas of the Grand Encampment, for the purpose of forming a Grand Commandery. With Sir Knight Robert W. Hill of Muskogee as the first Grand Commander, the Sir Knights of Indian Territory returned to their homes and so the Grand Commandery of Indian Territory became the forty-first Grand Commandery of the Grand Encampment.[v]
Taking note of the actions of their counterparts, the Sir Knights of Guthrie Commandery No. 1 at Guthrie, Oklahoma Commandery No. 2 at Oklahoma City, and Ascension Commandery No. 3 at El Reno set out to form the Grand Commandery of Oklahoma; obtaining a warrant to do so on November 8, 1895.[vi] Due to an issue that arose with Ascension Commandery No. 3 not being properly instituted, it was not until February 10, 1896, that Cassius M. Barnes, acting as proxy for the Grand Master of the Grand Encampment, convened the three Commanderies of Oklahoma Territory to establish their own Grand Commandery.[vii] Barnes would serve as the first Grand Commander and in a show of union, the Deputy Grand Commander, Grand Generalissimo, and Grand Captain General were each elected from Oklahoma, Ascension, and Guthrie Commanderies respectively. Barnes, a leading citizen in the territory, made these remarks concerning the work that was completed:
We seek to join together in bonds that are more sacred and binding if possible than any other can be, those who have proven themselves by terms of pilgrimage and warfare through the degrees of the ancient craft; who have wrought in the quarries and brought forth good specimens of their skill in the Masonic art, and who have by successfully traveling rough and rugged roads arrived at high eminence in the Royal Arch, and by their patience and perseverance, their constancy, courage, and fortitude have demonstrated their capacity and fitness to be clothed as princes of the royal household.
With the forty-third Grand Commandery now established, Templary in the twin territories was quickly becoming an Order of prominence.[viii]
For a number of years the two Grand Commanderies promoted the spread of Templary in their respective jurisdictions. When statehood came about in 1907, it became clear that the two would find themselves united. Of this Grand Commander Henry K. Ricker of Oklahoma remarked:
We are now a State with two Grand Bodies within our borders, and in my judgment that ought not to prevail and one that should be met with an earnest purpose to promote the welfare of our beloved Order in this new State.[ix]
Consolidation of the two Grand Commanderies had been discussed as early as 1905.[x] In 1908 discussions genuinely became serious and the Sir Knights of Indian Territory held a special conclave to vote on consolidation, with Grand Master Henry H. Rugg of the Grand Encampment present. Unfortunately it was all for not as the vote for consolidation was thirty-six for and twenty-two against. With such a strong minority, Grand Master Rugg chose not to continue with consolidation for the time being.[xi]
On April 21, 1911, while in conclave at Chickasha, sixty-five members of Indian Territory assembled and voted in favor of consolidation.[xii] And thus it was at nine in the morning on October 6, 1911, that two long lines of plumed knights stood at attention in front of the Skirvin Hotel in Oklahoma City. When orders barked forth from the division commanders, the lines stiffened and swords flashed in the brilliant rays of the morning sun. The procession was led by future Grand Commander Orin Ashton mounted upon a white steed with the Knights Templar band immediately behind him. From there the columns marched to the “Baptist White Temple” located at 400 North Broadway.[xiii]
Once the Sir Knights arrived at the Temple, the remaining business of the Grand Commandery of Indian Territory was settled and Grand Master William B. Melish declared it “closed without day forever.”[xiv] Immediately following Indian Territory surrendering her charter was the election of officers for the consolidated Grand Commandery. The Grand Commander was to be elected from what comprised Indian Territory, the Deputy Grand Commander from Oklahoma, and so on down the line. For the first time in the history of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States, two Grand Commanderies joined as one. Outgoing Grand Commander John R. Hamill made the following remarks concerning the merger in his address:
…Sir Knights of both jurisdictions we have, heretofore, marched along the highway in parallel columns, now let us march along in a single column and we will continue to grow in Templar Masonry until we of time set a votive stone that the memory of consolidation may remain with us vivid as it is this moment, so that when like our sires, we are gone, our sons will sing our praises in memory of this deed redeemed.[xv]
While the activities of the day were a minor footnote in the happenings of Oklahoma City, the eyes of some nineteen hundred Sir Knights were fixed upon the events that occurred along that brief stretch of Broadway Avenue.[xvi]
The Grand Commandery assembled at the "Baptist White Temple" of Oklahoma City in 1914
(Courtesy of the Grand Commandery of Oklahoma)
[i] Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States, Proceedings of the 25th Triennial Conclave (Richmond: Wm. Ellis Jones, Book and Job Printer, 1892), 42-44.
[iii] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Proceedings of the 17th Annual Conclave (Oklahoma: 1912).
[iv] Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accept Masons of Indian Territory, Proceedings of the 16th Annual Communication (Muskogee, I.T.: The Phoenix Steam Printing Co., 1890).
[v] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of South Carolina, Officer’s Manual (South Carolina: 1999), 6.
[vi] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Proceedings of the 1st Annual Conclave (Oklahoma Territory: 1896).
[viii] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of South Carolina.
[ix] Charles E. Creager, History of Freemasonry in Oklahoma (Muskogee, Oklahoma: Muskogee Print Shop, 1935), 181-182.
[x] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Indian Territory, Proceedings of the 11th Annual Conclave (Indian Territory: 1905).
[xi] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Indian Territory, Proceedings of the 14th Annual Conclave (Oklahoma: 1908).
[xii] Creager, 185.
[xiii] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Special Conclave for the Purpose of Consolidation (Oklahoma: 1911).
[xiv] Creager, 185.
[xv] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Special Conclave for the Purpose of Consolidation.