August 13, 2018

Freemasonry Among the Five Tribes

By T.S. Akers

Oklahoma is a Choctaw word meaning “red people.” The name was first proposed by Choctaw Principal Chief Allen Wright during treaty negotiations with the federal government in 1866.[i] Wright’s suggestion was employed by the Brethren of Oklahoma Lodge No. 217 when that Lodge was chartered in 1868.[ii] The region that became Oklahoma was originally home to the Caddo, Osage, and Wichita Nations. Cherokees who had voluntarily migrated to Arkansas in 1812, would periodically cross into Osage country, leading to an ongoing feud between the two tribes. This caused Col. Matthew Arbuckle to move elements of the 7th US Infantry Regiment west from Fort Smith in 1824 to establish a post at the confluence of the Grand and Arkansas Rivers, in order to maintain peace on the frontier.[iii] The establishment of Fort Gibson by Arbuckle, a Freemason, ushered in the arrival of Freemasonry in the region.[iv]

Early map of the Arkansas River, illustrating the location of Fort Gibson
(Courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society)

While some Choctaw and Chickasaw hunting parties regularly came to what would become the Indian Territory in pursuit of buffalo, the first full scale emigration of the Five Tribes occurred in 1827 when roughly 700 Creeks led by Chilly McIntosh made their way west in the wake of the Treaty of Indian Springs. Known as the McIntosh Party for their support of Chief William McIntosh in his ceding of Creek lands for land west of the Mississippi, these Creeks settled in the Three Forks area near Fort Gibson.[v] The Western or Old Settler Cherokees were removed from Arkansas the following year.[vi] It is estimated that the Indian Removal Act of 1830 would see over 58,000 members of the Five Tribes either emigrate or be forcibly removed to the Indian Territory.

The Five Tribes were, as they remain today, sovereign nations. This required the United States to enter into treaties with the Five Tribes, which often made travel to Washington, DC, necessary for tribal headmen. For the mixed bloods that dominated tribal politics, this interaction with white culture was not foreign. The Cherokee William P. Ross, the Choctaw Peter Pitchlynn, and the Creek Chilly McIntosh were all of Scottish descent. It was on a diplomatic visit to Washington, DC, that William P. Ross was made a Freemason at Federal Lodge No. 1 in 1848.[vii] Pitchlynn would also become a Freemason in Washington, DC, and both he and Ross became Royal Arch Masons there.[viii]

The 1839 Act of Union brought together the Western Cherokees, formerly of Arkansas, and the recently removed Cherokees as the Cherokee Nation, establishing their capital at Tahlequah.[ix] It was here on November 9, 1848, that Cherokee Lodge No. 21 was chartered by the Grand Lodge of Arkansas. The first Lodge Secretary was William P. Ross. Additional Lodges, with primarily indigenous membership, that were chartered included Choctaw Lodge No. 52, Flint Lodge No. 74, and Muscogee Lodge No. 93.[x] Also among the membership of these Lodges were other important Brethren, Christian Missionaries. The Methodist Thomas Bertholf held membership at Cherokee Lodge.[xi] At Muscogee Lodge was the Baptist H.F. Buckner.[xii] These men became acquainted with another Baptist missionary, and soon to be Brother, named Joseph S. Murrow.

The first meeting hall of Cherokee Lodge No. 21
(Courtesy of the McAlester Scottish Rite)

Some have contended that the men of the Five Tribes found something similar in Freemasonry that they had experienced elsewhere. There is reference to a Choctaw “Horse Masonry” with signs and grips. Edmond H. Doyle, an early Masonic luminary in the Indian Territory, often told a story of meeting a non-English speaking Choctaw in 1876 in the dark of night. Doyle, seeking shelter from a storm, gave a sign which the Choctaw recognized and greeted Doyle with hospitality.[xiii] Others have referenced a fraternity of “Indian Blood Brothers” with a stone altar bearing the Square and Compasses as a familiar sight to Native Americans, bringing them to Freemasonry.[xiv] However, what many men of the Five Tribes saw in Freemasonry was a connection that could help preserve their Tribal existence. Conversions to Christianity were common among the Five Tribes in the 19th century. Chilly McIntosh, of the Creek Nation, was ordained as a Baptist minister by the Rev. H.F. Buckner, a Freemason, in 1848.[xv] Chilly’s half-brother Daniel N. McIntosh, a member of Muscogee Lodge, also became a Baptist minister.[xvi] The men who were either responsible for providing for the needs of the Five Tribes, or who could provide legislative influence, were often Freemasons. For the Five Tribes, it was the Masonic Lodge that could be turned to for schools, churches, relief agencies, and post offices.[xvii]

The Civil War would interrupt Freemasonry in the Indian Territory and it was particularly devastating to the region. The War did bring two notable men to the Indian Territory. In March of 1861, Albert Pike was appointed commissioner to the Indian Territory by the Confederacy for the purpose of negotiating an alliance with the Five Tribes.[xviii] Pike had become a Freemason in Western Lodge No. 2 of Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1850. He was elected Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite in 1859.[xix] Pike, having represented the Creek, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Nations in legal claims against the federal government, would personally make the Choctaw Peter Pitchlynn a 33rd Degree Mason in 1860.[xx] By 1862, Pike had been commissioned a Brigadier General, making him the ranking Confederate officer in the Indian Territory.[xxi] His tenure as a combat general would be brief, resigning later in the year. Pike’s resignation was prompted by orders to move his Indian Brigade outside of the Indian Territory, which violated treaty stipulations, and due to the lack of material being provided his command.[xxii] Again, the men of the Five Tribes saw a Freemason who placed their well-being first and several of the signatories of the Confederate treaties that Pike negotiated held Masonic membership.

Also working to see to the needs of the Five Tribes at this time was Joseph S. Murrow. Murrow arrived in the Creek Nation in 1857 to assist the Rev. H.F. Buckner, a member of Muscogee Lodge. As the federal government withdrew from the Indian Territory in 1861, Murrow was appointed as Confederate agent to the Seminoles; he had organized a church in the Seminole Nation in 1859. As the situation grew worse in the Indian Territory during the Civil War, Murrow and his family took refuge in Texas.[xxiii] It was in Texas that he became a Freemason in Andrew Jackson Lodge No. 88 in 1866.[xxiv] Murrow returned to the Indian Territory in 1868, establishing another church at Boggy Depot.[xxv] It was at Boggy Depot that Freemasonry sprang to life again in the Indian Territory with the establishment of Oklahoma Lodge No. 217 that same year. Murrow would go on to be a charter member of the first of numerous Masonic orders in the Indian Territory, including Indian Chapter No. 1 of Royal Arch Masons at McAlester, Oklahoma Council No. 1 of Royal and Select Masters at Atoka, and Muskogee Commandery No. 1 of Knights Templar. Murrow’s continued dedication to the welfare of the Five Tribes culminated in his co-founding of Indian University, now Bacone College, in 1880 and his establishment of the Murrow Indian Orphans Home.[xxvi] The men of the Five Tribes could find no better example to emulate than that of Freemason Joseph S. Murrow.

Joseph S. Murrow
(An oil portrait from the collections of the McAlester Scottish Rite)

________________________
[i]  John D. May, "Wright, Allen (1826–1885)," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, accessed August 8, 2018, http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=WR004.
[ii]  J. Fred Latham, The Story of Oklahoma Masonry (Guthrie, OK: Grand Lodge of Oklahoma, 1978), 14.
[iii]  Brad Agnew, “Fort Gibson,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, accessed August 8, 2018, http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=FO033.
[iv]  William R. Denslow, 10,000 Famous Freemasons (Trenton, MO: Missouri Lodge of Research, 1957).
[v]  Christopher D. Haveman, “With Great Difficulty and Labour: The Emigration of the McIntosh Party of Creek Indians, 1827-1828,” The Chronicles of Oklahoma  85, no. 4 (2007-2008): 474-479. 
[vi]  “Removal of Tribes to Oklahoma,” The Oklahoma Historical Society, accessed August 8, 2018, http://www.okhistory.org/research/airemoval.
[vii]  “History of Federal,” Federal Lodge No. 1: Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C., accessed August 8, 2018, http://www.federallodge.org/about-us/lodge-history/.
[viii]  Charles E. Creager, History of Freemasonry in Oklahoma (Muskogee: Muskogee Print Shop, 1935), 61.
[ix]  Rennard Strickland, “Cherokee,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, accessed August 8, 2018, http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=CH014.
[x]  Creager, History of Freemasonry in Oklahoma, 20-28.
[xi]  Ibid., 21.
[xii]  Ibid., 43.
[xiii]  Charles E. Creager, A History of the Cryptic Rite of Freemasonry in Oklahoma (Muskogee: Hoffman-Speed Printing Co., 1925), 18-19.
[xiv]  Bliss Kelly, “Are Indian ‘Blood Brothers’ Masonic?,” in Oklahoma Lodge of Research Volume 1 (Guthrie: Oklahoma Lodge of Research, 2017), 63.
[xv]  J.M. Gaskin, Trail Blazers of Sooner Baptists (Shawnee: Oklahoma Baptist University Press, 1953), 117-169.
[xvi]  Proceedings of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge AF&AM of the Indian Territory (Caddo: Oklahoma Star, 1875), 24.
[xvii]  Joy Porter, Native American Freemasonry: Associationalism and Performance in America (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011), 212.
[xviii]  LeRoy H. Fischer and Jerry Gill, Confederate Indian Forces Outside of Indian Territory (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1969), 1.
[xix]  James T. Tresner II, Albert Pike: The Man Beyond the Monument (New York: M. Evans and Company, 1995), 236-237.
[xx]  Porter, 217.
[xxi]  Roy A. Clifford, “The Indian Regiments in the Battle of Pea Ridge,” The Chronicles of Oklahoma 25, no. 4 (1947): 315.
[xxii]  Ingrid P. Westmoreland, “Pike, Albert (1809-1891),” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, accessed August 8, 2018, http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=PI006.
[xxiii]  Andrea M. Martin, “Murrow, Joseph Samuel (1835–1929),” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, accessed August 8, 2018, http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=MU016.
[xxiv]  “Joseph Samuel Murrow,” in Grand Masters of Oklahoma (Guthrie: Oklahoma Lodge of Research, 1975), 9.
[xxv]  Martin.
[xxvi]  “Joseph Samuel Murrow,” 9.

May 2, 2018

The Dawn of Templary in Oklahoma

By T.S. Akers, KTCH
Past Grand Captain General
Knights Templar of Oklahoma

 James E. Humphrey, Daniel M. Hailey, Edmond H. Doyle, and James A. Scott
Past Grand Commanders of Indian Territory

It is believed that the birthplace of Masonic teachings in America was at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia in 1731.[i] This was followed by the reprinting of Anderson’s Constitutions of the Free-Masons by Benjamin Franklin in 1734.[ii] As Freemasonry gained speed in the colonies, it was not uncommon for “higher” or side degrees to be conferred in addition to the three degrees of the Symbolic Lodge. The two more prevalent of these additional degrees were that of the Holy Royal Arch and the Order of the Temple. The earliest recorded conferral of the Order of the Temple was within St. Andrews Lodge in Boston on August 28, 1769. It is believed that the ritual for the degree was provided by members of the various military lodges of the British Army then stationed in the area. Templary in America was loosely practiced from then on until the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States was formally organized in 1816.[iii] 

Templary would arrive in what would become the State of Oklahoma in the summer of 1890. The Land Run of 1889 opened up what was known as the Unassigned Lands to settlement and the Oklahoma Territory was established.[iv] The summer of 1890 was a very busy summer indeed; in addition to the creation of the territorial government, a group of twenty Sir Knights in Guthrie petitioned the Grand Encampment to form a Commandery of Knights Templar on July 12, 1890.[v] Guthrie Commandery No. 1 was granted a dispensation to work with Cassius M. Barnes as Eminent Commander; Barnes would go on to serve as the Fourth Territorial Governor of Oklahoma.[vi]

The proceedings for the 1892 Triennial of the Grand Encampment show that Templary was gaining momentum in the sister territories that would become the State of Oklahoma. Both Muskogee Commandery No. 1 in Indian Territory and Oklahoma Commandery No. 2 at Oklahoma City in Oklahoma Territory received dispensations to work during this period.[vii] The next two years saw the creation of three more Commanderies in the region. In Oklahoma Territory, Ascension Commandery No. 3 was established at El Reno in 1893. In Indian Territory, Chickasaw Commandery No. 2 at Purcell and McAlester Commandery No. 3 were established in 1894.[viii] With three Commanderies each now residing in the two territories, the ground work was laid for the creation of Grand Commanderies.

Enid Commandery No. 13, c. 1917

It was in Indian Territory that the idea for a Grand Commandery was first proposed. On December 27, 1895, a convention was held at Muskogee for the purpose of forming a Grand Commandery. Muskogee Commandery No. 1, Chickasaw Commandery No. 2, and McAlester Commandery No. 3 assembled and formed the Grand Commandery Knights Templar of Indian Territory. The first Grand Commander was Robert W. Hill of Muskogee.[ix] Indian Territory’s neighbors to the west were taking note and she would soon have a younger sister.

On November 8, 1895, the Grand Master of the Grand Encampment granted a special warrant to those Commanderies in Oklahoma Territory to form a Grand Commandery, in the same fashion as Indian Territory.[x] It is due to this allegiance to a national governing body that sister Grand Commanderies came to be in the twin territories. Though the Sir Knights of Indian Territory were the proverbial “Sooners” in the run to establish a Grand Commandery, a conclave was called at Guthrie on February 10, 1896, for the purpose of establishing such a Grand Body. That day, representatives of Guthrie Commandery No. 1, Oklahoma Commandery No. 2, and Ascension Commandery No. 3 duly formed the Grand Commandery of Oklahoma. The “lateness” of this action was apparently due in part to Ascension No. 3 not being properly instituted, an issue that was rectified shortly after being brought to the Grand Master’s attention.[xi]

In the creation of the Grand Commandery of Oklahoma, Cassius M. Barnes was once again at the helm. Having been the first Commander of Guthrie Commandery No. 1, his fellow Sir Knights of Oklahoma Territory placed their trust in him as their first Grand Commander.[xii] Upon the forming of the Grand Commandery of Oklahoma, Barnes gave a stirring address, which included these remarks:
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.[xiii] 

Oklahoma Commandery No. 3 on Easter Sunday, c. 1922

As the Sir Knights marched through the years that marked the turn of the century, the merging of the two territories into one state was ever present in their minds and this also meant that the time would ultimately come for the two Grand Commanderies to consolidate. Government inaction would delay statehood, though the Sir Knights of the twin territories began discussing merging as early as 1905.[xiv] Grand Commander John Coyle of Indian Territory noted this inaction towards unification by Washington in his 1906 address with the remark “Alas, poor Congress.”[xv] It was in 1907 that statehood became a reality and the twin territories were combined into one. 

In a 1910 letter to Grand Commander Fuller of Oklahoma, the newly elected Grand Master of the Grand Encampment, William B. Melish, stated that it would give him great pleasure to hear of steps being taken towards consolidation and that he hoped to receive news of such steps while traveling in England. While the tone of the letter was certainly pleasant, such correspondence from the supreme authority of Templary in the United States was without question an ultimatum.[xvi]

Templar Parade Marshals at Tulsa, c. 1929

The two Grand Commanderies met on October 6, 1911, at the Skirvin Hotel and formed in procession at nine in the morning. The Sir Knights then marched to the “Baptist White Temple.”[xvii] Once all the remaining business of the Grand Commanderies was settled, Grand Master Melish declared the Grand Commandery of Indian Territory “closed without day forever.”[xviii] Immediately following Indian Territory surrendering her charter was the election of officers for the consolidated Grand Commandery. The first Grand Commander of the consolidated Grand Commandery of Oklahoma was Robert H. Henry of the former Indian Territory. The first Deputy Grand Commander was Guy W. Bohannon of the former Oklahoma Territory. For the first time in the history of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States, two Grand Commanderies joined as one.[xix]
 

[i]  Henry W. Coil, “Introduction of Freemasonry into America,” Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia (Richmond:  Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., 1961), 31-33.
[ii]  “Pennsylvania Masonic History,” The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania, <http://www.pagrandlodge.org/programs/masedu/qa/41-50.html>, Accessed 25 March 2012.
[iii]  Frederick G. Speidel, The York Rite of Freemasonry:  A History and Handbook (Mitchell-Fleming Printing Inc., 1978), 53.
[iv]  “Oklahoma Territory,” Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, <http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/O/OK085.html>, Accessed 5 April 2012.
[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]  John Bartlett Meserve, “The Governors of Oklahoma Territory,” The Chronicles of Oklahoma 3 (September 1942):  222.
[vii]  Grand Encampment, Proceedings of the 25th Triennial Conclave, 42-44. 
[viii]  Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Proceedings of the 17th Annual Conclave (Oklahoma:  1912).
[ix]  Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Indian Territory, Proceedings of the 1st Annual Conclave (Indian Territory:  1895). 
[x]  Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Proceedings of the 1st Annual Conclave (Oklahoma Territory:  1896).  
[xi]  Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Proceedings of the 1st Annual Conclave.
[xii]  Ibid.
[xiii]  Ibid.
[xiv]  Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Indian Territory, Proceedings of the 11th Annual Conclave (Indian Territory:  1905).
[xv]  Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Indian Territory, Proceedings of the 12th Annual Conclave (Indian Territory:  1906).
[xvi]  Charles E. Creager, History of Freemasonry in Oklahoma (Muskogee, Oklahoma:  Muskogee Print Shop, 1935), 182-183.
[xvii]  Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Special Conclave for the Purpose of Consolidation (Oklahoma:  1911).
[xviii]  Creager, 185.
[xix]  Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Oklahoma, Special Conclave for the Purpose of Consolidation.

May 1, 2018

Muskogee Lodge No. 28: Protecting Masonic Servicemen in the Great War

By T.S. Akers

In 1917 the US Army established sixteen training camps across the country to train and integrate National Guard units for service overseas. One of those camps, Camp Doniphan, was established adjacent to Fort Sill on a 2,000 acre plot. The camp grew to have a capacity of 46,183 troops and consisted of 1,267 buildings, most of which were tents.[i] A young Harry S. Truman passed through Camp Doniphan with the 129th Field Artillery.[ii]

The Great War saw an increased interest in fraternalism as so many men came together. In December of 1917, over two-hundred soldiers from Camp Doniphan were given passes to journey to Guthrie for a special Scottish Rite Reunion; it was the first time Oklahoma Consistory No. 1 conferred all twenty-nine degrees. Due to the number of soldiers interested in being made 32° Masons, the number of passes that could be issued at any one time was limited. With this restriction on the number of troops that could leave camp, the Guthrie Scottish Rite Bodies erected a Masonic "club house" at Camp Doniphan for the purpose of communicating the degrees to soldiers.[iii]

Guthrie Scottish Rite "Victory Class" of 1917

The Scottish Rite was not the only branch of Freemasonry that responded to the needs of men in pursuit of Masonic light. In 1918, the Grand Lodge of the State of Oklahoma appointed a Special Deputy for Camp Doniphan. Lawton Lodge No. 183 had received more than three hundred requests for the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry. While soldiers were passing through Camp Doniphan, Lawton Lodge No. 183 would confer 143 Entered Apprentice degrees, 214 Fellowcraft degrees, and 207 Master Mason degrees.[iv] Other Lodges across Oklahoma, seeing an increase in petitions for the Degrees of Freemasonry, were granted dispensation for one day degree conferrals for those men who would be entering the service.

It was at a one day degree conferral held in Muskogee Lodge No. 28 on March 1, 1918, that William Patton Fite would become a Freemason.[v]

Dr. William P. Fite, identified as no. 7
(Courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society)

William P. Fite was the son of Dr. Francis B. Fite, who served as mayor of Muskogee in 1905 and 1919. Francis B. Fite was also a Freemason and a member of Muskogee Commandery No. 2 Knights Templar.[vi] The younger Fite was born August 31, 1890, and graduated from the University of Virginia with a medical degree in 1916.[vii]

Fite was no stranger to military life, having entered the Shattuck Military School at age fourteen. He joined the US Army Medical Corps at Fort Sill on June 1, 1917 as a first lieutenant. During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, Fite was assigned to the hospital at Camp Bowie. He would go overseas with the 36th Infantry Division in July of 1918 as a captain and serve on the front lines for eighteen days in October during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. While at the front, Fite would oversee treatment for gas attacks suffered by the 36th Infantry Division.[viii]

Before his departure for France, the Brethren of Muskogee Lodge No. 28 presented Fite with a pocket sized Masonic patent which he carried throughout the Great War. The document, which was composed in English, French, and German, vouched for Fite as a Brother and read in part:
…commends him for brotherly care and lawful aid to any Mason who may find him in distress or need – incident to his service as an American soldier…
The patent is a stunning example of how Masonic charity and relief can transcend borders.


(From the collections of the McAlester Scottish Rite)

A total of 4,743,826 Americans served during the Great War. Around 84,000 Oklahomans comprised the American Expeditionary Force, of whom 1,317 never returned. Fite survived the trenches and was discharged from service on July 22, 1919. Coming back to Muskogee, he became Vice President of the Physicians and Surgeons Hospital, as well as surgeon for the MKT and Frisco Railroads.[ix] Fite would live until March 5, 1978.[x]


[i]  “Camp Doniphan,” US Army Center of Military History, accessed April 30, 2018, https://history.army.mil/html/bookshelves/resmat/wwi/pt02/ch10/pt02-ch10-sec06.html.
[ii]  “World War I,” Fort Sill History, accessed April 30, 2018, http://sill-www.army.mil/History/_wars/ww1.htm.
[iii]  The Oklahoma Consistory (January 1918), Vol. 3, No. 1.
[iv]  Proceedings of the M.: W.: Grand Lodge A.F & A.M. of the State of Oklahoma: Tenth Annual Communication (Oklahoma, 1918), 47-48.
[v]  “Fite, William Patton” (member profile, Grand Lodge of the State of Oklahoma).
[vi]  Liz McMahan, “Fite Family’s Legacy Remains Alive Here Today,” Muskogee Phoenix (Muskogee, OK), June 5, 2007.
[vii]  John D. Benedict, Muskogee and Northeastern Oklahoma (Oklahoma: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922), 389.
[viii]  Benedict, 390.
[ix]  Ibid., 390.
[x]  “Fite, William Patton.”

April 24, 2018

Mystery at the McAlester Scottish Rite Museum: The Trowel and the Doctor

By T.S. Akers

Housed within the collections of the McAlester Scottish Rite Valley are a variety of objects, most of which serve some practical purpose as paraphernalia of Freemasonry and some of which have further stories to tell. One particular item is a ceremonial trowel inscribed:

Grand Council
of
Royal and Select Masters
of Oklahoma
Austin R. Stough
Grand Master
1956

Altar Trowel of Austin R. Stough
(From the collections of the McAlester Scottish Rite)

A trowel is an instrument made use of by operative masons to spread the cement which unites a building into one common mass. This particular ceremonial trowel served as part of the altar set of Companion Stough during his tenure as Illustrious Grand Master of Royal and Select Masters of Oklahoma. This trowel, along with the Square and Compasses and a small sword would have been placed upon the Holy Bible during tyled Masonic meetings.

The story of Austin R. Stough does not simply end there though. The piece elicits further questions. Who was Austin R. Stough and why does this trowel now reside in McAlester?

Austin R. Stough
Illustrious Grand Master of Royal and Select Masters of Oklahoma
1956-1957

Austin R. Stough was born in Geary, Oklahoma, on July 21, 1910. He went on to graduate from the University of Oklahoma in 1932 and then attended the University of Tennessee Medical School. He came to settle in McAlester and began a private practice in 1939.[i]

Stough took the degrees of Freemasonry in South McAlester Lodge No. 96, being initiated an Entered Apprentice on December 9, 1945, and raised to the degree of Master Mason in February of 1946. He joined the York Rite soon thereafter, holding membership in Indian Chapter No. 1 Royal Arch Masons, Union Council No. 3 Royal and Select Masters, and McAlester Commandery No. 6 Knights Templar. Stough also joined the McAlester Valley of the Scottish Rite in 1946.[ii]

As the Oklahoma representative to the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Ireland, Stough was given the distinction of Honorary Past Grand High Priest of Ireland. He was also a member of Joseph of Arimathea Tabernacle of the Holy Royal Arch Knights Templar Priests. Stough had the distinction of being the first Illustrious Grand Master of Royal and Select Masters of Oklahoma to be born in Oklahoma.[iii]

By all accounts, Stough was an active and upstanding Freemason in McAlester; but his Masonic career only tells half the story of who Austin R. Stough was. By 1939, he was serving as physician on a part-time basis at the State Penitentiary. It was there that Stough embarked upon a new business venture with several pharmaceutical companies to conduct voluntary drug tests on inmates. While the inmates who participated in the studies were compensated a dollar a day, the payoff for Stough proved much larger. He soon expanded into other state prisons, ultimately conducting 25 to 50 percent of initial drug trials in the United States up to 1964. Stough would ultimately move into plasma collection in the prisons of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Alabama.[iv]

Stough was able grow his plasma collection business outside of the state prison of Oklahoma by bringing prison physicians in Arkansas and Alabama onto his payroll. Operating under at least nine separate entities, Stough was grossing $1 million a year providing roughly a fourth of the nation’s plasma supply.[v]

The conditions under which Stough’s plasma collection operated quickly came under scrutiny. He began plasma collection at the state prison in McAlester in March of 1962. On September 19 of the same year, a technician working for Stough drew blood from an Oklahoma inmate whose blood type was O-positive. Once the plasma was drawn off, the technician re-injected the inmate with another man’s cells. Unfortunately, that blood was A-negative and the inmate suffered organ damage.[vi]

Cutter Laboratories, a consumer of Stough’s plasma, once noted that gross contamination was apparent in Stough’s operation, with the collection rooms being sloppy. This did not stop Cutter Laboratories from doing business with Stough though, as he had contacts with well-placed officials that could continue to provide access to a plasma donor pool. When Oklahoma legislators began to investigate if Stough was operating within the law, he retained the services of McAlester attorney, and State Senator, Gene Stipe for $1,000 a month. A law protecting Stough’s plasma collection was soon pushed through the Legislature.[vii]

In 1964, the conditions in which Stough operated his plasma collection venture came into serious question. At the Kilby prison in Alabama, one tenth of the population contracted viral hepatitis as a result of giving plasma. At least four inmates in Alabama died of hepatitis, one in Arkansas, and one in Oklahoma. Ultimately, the three states in which Stough operated closed their prison doors to him, but continued to collect plasma from inmates.[viii]

Stough faced no real repercussions for the disease his operation spread or the deaths he caused. He opened a private plasma collection center in Birmingham, Alabama, and a second in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1968. Stough moved the headquarters of Stough Enterprises to Cincinnati that year, though he would die shortly thereafter in 1972. In 1994, Stough Enterprises acquired the Hanke Building in Cincinnati, with renovation plans to include a bar called the Cell Block.[ix] Perhaps this was a nod to the company’s prison beginnings.

Freemasonry teaches a system of ethics and morality designed to help men become good role models to their family, their community, and their friends. Stough sought to provide a much needed service to the country with his plasma collection. In this way, he attempted to be a good role model. In Freemasonry, to Guard the West Gate means to be diligent in who is allowed into the Craft. But as a Freemason, one should also work to Guard the West Gate of their own bodily temple. In this way, Stough sacrificed much in the pursuit of fortune.


[i]  Proceedings of the Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters of Oklahoma: 63rd Annual Assembly (Oklahoma: Masonic Home Boys, 1957).
[ii]  Proceedings of the Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters of Oklahoma: 63rd Annual Assembly.
[iii]  Ibid.
[iv]  Walter Rugaber, “Prison Drug and Plasma Projects Leave Fatal Trail,” The New York Times (New York City, NY), July 29, 1969.
[v]  Rugaber.
[vi]  Ibid.
[vii]  Ibid.
[viii]  Ibid.
[ix]  Dan Monk, “Infusion of real estate adds to Stough’s growth; Stough Enterprises Inc,” Cincinnati Business Courier (Cincinnati, OH), April 10, 1998.