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.”