By T.S. Akers
(Courtesy of T.S. Akers)
When Freemasonry arrived in the Indian Territory, the present day area consisting of Tahlequah, Fort Gibson, and Muskogee quickly became the center of Masonic activity. This was only natural as for many years Fort Gibson was the “end of the Earth” and the consolidation of the Indian Agents of the Five Civilized Tribes into the singular Union Agency in Muskogee in 1874 made that city the economic center of the Territory.[i] In time Muskogee would grow in size along with other cities in the Indian Territory and a second hub of fraternal activity would rise in McAlester. For many years Muskogee would serve as the home of the Grand York Rite Bodies of Oklahoma and today still houses many great Masonic treasures.
The first Masonic Lodge to be established at what is present day Muskogee, Oklahoma, was Muscogee Lodge No. 93 in 1855 which met at the Creek Agency.[ii] That particular lodge still exists today though now as Eufaula Lodge No. 1.[iii] It was in 1888 that the second lodge to call Muskogee home came into existence. On November 6 of that year Muskogee Lodge No. 28 was chartered under the Grand Lodge of Indian Territory.[iv] A few short years later a Commandery of Knights Templar was formed at Muskogee in 1892.[v] Along with Muskogee Chapter No. 3 of Royal Arch Masons, the York Rite of Freemasonry was strongly rooted in Muskogee.[vi]
In June of 1874 the office of the Creek Indian Agent was merged with that of the other agents of the Five Civilized Tribes into the Union Agency. The agent and his clerks moved into a two-story structure atop what would be known as Agency Hill three miles west of Muskogee in 1876. Local merchants found the isolated location of the agency to be a nuisance, forcing the agent to rent offices in a downtown hardware store for numerous years. This was done until 1899 when fire consumed downtown Muskogee, destroying all the records of the Union Agency.[vii] Unfortunately the Freemasons of Muskogee were also unable to escape the flames on that fateful night of February 23. The brick structure they occupied was believed to be fireproof but as the sun rose the next morning it was clear that was not true. The loss was estimated at $6,000 and while furnishings could be replaced, all of the records of the Grand Commandery of the Indian Territory housed inside could not.[viii]
It would take several years for the City of Muskogee to fully recovery from the fire. In 1919 the Freemasons of the city were looking to rebuild and formed a “Masonic Building Association” to undertake a monumental construction project.[ix] Construction of their new temple began in 1925, during the height of Masonic construction, at the corner of Sixth and Boston for a cost of $280,000.[x] The building was constructed to be the social center of the area with an eleven hundred seat auditorium, dressing rooms, three large lodge rooms, one small lodge room, a dining hall, and an expansive library.[xi]
Owing to the amount of Masonic activity in the Temple, there was also a full compliment of regalia on hand for the performance of the various degrees and orders of Freemasonry. At the turn of the century it was common practice for Sir Knights to store their personal uniforms in their respective Commanderies and Muskogee was no exception. This was often done so that items could be loaned as needed and Charles Creager notes this in his seminal work on Freemasonry in Oklahoma, saying the following in regards to a cornerstone ceremony:
…there were only fourteen complete uniforms in Muskogee at the time but it was very important that the Commandery make an “excellent showing” so it was decided to divide the uniforms and equipment among as many as possible on the theory that the more men there were in line, the more good it would do the Commandery. As a result, when the lines were formed for the parade, some of the “valiant heroes” had ten-gallon Stetsons and some had chapeaux… But it was a “complete” success and the opinion prevailed that the “high Masons looked grand.”[xii]
To house the uniforms were a series of beautiful wood lockers located in the basement of the Temple and while no longer in service, the lockers remain today. The majority of the names stenciled upon the lockers have been lost to time, but some stand out among others. One of those names of note is Zachary Taylor Walrond who served as Grand Commander of Knights Templar of Indian Territory from 1901 to 1902.[xiii]
Uniform Lockers inside the Masonic Temple
(Courtesy of T.S. Akers)
Locker Door of Zachary T. Walrond
(Courtesy of T.S. Akers)
Walrond, who was also elected Grand High Priest of Royal Arch Masons in 1895, was born in Kentucky on April 3, 1847. From there he journeyed to Kansas where he practiced the law and served in the State Legislature. Walrond would eventually settle in Muskogee and was appointed United States Attorney by President Benjamin Harrison in 1889. He would also serve as Illustrious Grand Master of the Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters in 1897 and Grand Patron of the Eastern Star.[xiv] Upon his death on November 6, 1914, Walrond was laid to rest in Greenhill Cemetery by a Knights Templar honor guard with the entire membership of the Muskogee Masonic Bodies present.[xv]
The Masonic Temple in Muskogee is one of those grand old structures that showcases the golden age of American fraternalism. The building stands today as a monument to the many Masons who have gone before and visitors get a true sense of the pride of those men who were responsible for the building’s construction.
[i] “Union Agency,” Oklahoma Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, <http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/U/UN003.html>, Accessed 24 November 2012.
[ii] Charles E. Creager, History of Freemasonry in Oklahoma (Muskogee, Oklahoma: Muskogee Print Shop, 1935), 28.
[iii] “Eufaula Masonic Lodge #1: Sesquicentennial Anniversary,” The Indian Journal, Spring Expo 2005, p. 19.
[iv] Liz McMahan, “Masonic Lodge Members Hope Open House Boosts Membership,” The Muskogee Phoenix, 6 June 2007.
[v] 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.
[vi] “History of Masonry in Muskogee, Oklahoma,” Oklahoma Genealogy, <http://www.oklahomagenealogy.com/muskogee/masonry-muskogee.htm>, Accessed 24 November 2012.
[vii] “Union Agency.”
[viii] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Indian Territory, Proceedings of the 5th Annual Conclave (Indian Territory: 1899).
[ix] “The Masonic Building Association: Muskogee, Oklahoma,” Manta, <http://www.manta.com/c/mmjbf0x/masonic-lodge>, Accessed 24 November 2012.
[xi] Harvey Johnson, Recorder, Muskogee Commandery No. 2, Interview, 23 November 2012.
[xii] Creager, 175.
[xiii] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Proceedings of the 117th Annual Conclave (Oklahoma: 2012).
[xiv] Norman E. Angel, Kenneth S. Adams, and William A. Hensley, History of the Grand Chapter of the Royal Arch Masons of Oklahoma (Oklahoma: 1964), 88-89.
[xv] John Knox Mitchell, Obituary of Zachary T. Walrond, Osborne County (Kans.) Farmer, 19 November 1914.