By T.S. Akers
Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons at Cushing, 1925
(Courtesy of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Oklahoma)
Votaries of Freemasonry are well versed in the Landmarks of the Fraternity. As compiled in 1858 by Albert Mackey, the Landmarks serve as a set of principles that loosely govern the Craft.[i] It is in the Second Landmark that one finds "Pure Ancient Freemasonry consists of but three degrees, viz., that of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch."[ii] As what has become known as Craft Masonry spread throughout the world, so did Royal Arch Masonry. The degree of Holy Royal Arch was conferred in lodges in America as early as 1753 and Chapters of Royal Arch Masons began forming in the 1780s.[iii] As Freemasonry arrived in what is today Oklahoma, Royal Arch Masonry followed closely behind.
The Masonic Fraternity first arrived in Indian Territory in 1848 at Tahlequah.[iv] From there the spirit of Brotherly Love spread across the Territory like a wildfire. The American Civil War would prove to be set back for Masonic activity not only in the region, but the Nation. When hostilities ceased, Masonic activity in the Indian Territory once again resumed. In 1874 the Brethren successfully organized the Grand Lodge of Indian Territory at Caddo and with that same pioneer spirit turned their attentions toward another area of the Fraternity.[v] A number of these early Masons had been exalted to the Degree of Holy Royal Arch prior to the Civil War. Among them were the likes of Chief Peter P. Pitchlyn of the Choctaw Nation and Chief William P. Ross of the Cherokee Nation.[vi] Granville McPherson, first Grand Master, belonged to a Royal Arch Chapter in Little Rock, Arkansas, before coming to the Territory. Joseph S. Murrow, known as the “Father of Freemasonry in Oklahoma,” had received the Royal Arch in Texas.[vii]
In February of 1878, Companions residing at McAlester, I.T., addressed a letter to the Most Excellent Grand High Priest of the General Grand Chapter, John Frizell, requesting a dispensation to form a Chapter of Royal Arch Masons. The letter was accompanied by a Resolution of Bellevue Chapter in Fort Smith, Arkansas, consenting to the organization of a Chapter in her jurisdiction. The request for dispensation was signed by yet more noteworthy Masons such as Murrow and McPherson, but also George W. Stidham, Chief Justice of the Creek Nation, and James J. McAlester, a territorial merchant and namesake of the City of McAlester. Within a week, the Companions at McAlester had received their dispensation to work as Indian Chapter and work they did. They quickly exalted twenty-three new Companions to the degree of Holy Royal Arch, including a 28 year old physician named Daniel M. Hailey.[viii] Hailey would go on to serve as Grand High Priest in addition to holding several other esteemed offices.[ix]
Indian Chapter No. 1 would become a “Mother Chapter” from which Royal Arch Masonry would emanate in the Indian Territory. The Territory was a rough and rugged place and though it was not unusual for a Mason to leave his home and work for three days at a time to attend a Communication of the Lodge, convenience was essential for the survival of not only Craft Masonry but Royal Arch Masonry as well.[x] A year after the formation of Indian Chapter, Joseph S. Murrow submitted a request for dispensation to form a Chapter at Atoka to be known as Ok-la-ho-ma Chapter No. 2. Upon receipt of the dispensation, seven Companions were welcomed into the Holy Royal Arch in March of 1880.[xi] The third Chapter was formed at Burneyville in the Chickasaw Nation but interest soon waned and their dispensation to work was returned to the General Grand Chapter. Savanna Chapter No. 4 was instituted by Joseph S. Murrow in November of 1886. The Companions at Savanna faced immense hardships within a year of their chartering in the form of explosions in the coal mines that were the life blood of the community. This forced the membership of Savanna Chapter to request permission to move their charter to Lehigh, were many of the members now resided. Though Murrow protested this move due to the closeness of Lehigh to Atoka, the General Grand High Priest ultimately consented.[xii] While Chapters of Royal Arch Masons had been established in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, with members residing in the Creek Nation, the Masons of the Cherokee Nation were not unfamiliar with the Royal Craft. Those Companions residing at Tahlequah, for the most part, held membership at Cincinnati, Arkansas. It would not be until 1888 that Tahlequah Chapter No. 5 was organized.[xiii]
When the Grand Lodge of Indian Territory convened in 1889, a conference was held by those Companions of the Royal Arch in attendance to discuss the formation of a Grand Chapter. All were in favor of such and a petition was drawn up to be sent to Most Excellent Grand High Priest Noble D. Larner. It was just a few short years earlier that Murrow himself had protested a decision by Larner concerning Savanna Chapter and with this likely on his mind, Larner rejected the petition.[xiv] Murrow would ultimately be assigned the task of journeying to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1889 to state the case for a Grand Chapter and “… see the thing through.”[xv] Upon arrival in Atlanta, Murrow was denied an audience with the Committee on Charters and Dispensations. He then took his case to the convention floor and argued for Indian Territory with an unbridled passion. Murrow finished his plea to the deafening roar of applause and once the crowd had calmed, John H. Brown of Kansas arose and moved that the recommendation of the Charters and Dispensations Committee be disregarded. When the vote was called, the only nay came from the Chairman of said Committee. The Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Indian Territory would be officially instituted on February 15, 1890, with Joseph S. Murrow serving as the first Grand High Priest.[xvi]
Past Grand High Priests of Royal Arch Masons of Oklahoma
L to R: Joseph Murrow, Napoleon Maxey, Edmond Doyle, William Essex, Leo Bennett, James Scott, Zachary Walrond
(Courtesy of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Oklahoma)
In its first year of existence, the newly formed Grand Chapter of Indian Territory would charter three new Chapters: Muskogee No. 3 (which took the number vacated by Burneyville), Guthrie No. 6, and Cyrus No. 7 at Oklahoma City. The following year Sequoyah No. 8 was chartered at Muldrow.[xvii] The first decade of the Grand Chapter would see a total of twenty-one constituent Chapters chartered with the Grand Chapter of Indian Territory holding jurisdiction over both Indian and Oklahoma Territories.[xviii] Though the number of active Chapters has never matched the “charter numbers” of those Chapters in existence, there have been a total of 103 Chapters chartered in what is today Oklahoma.[xix]
Royal Arch Masonry is again thriving in Oklahoma with renewed interest in many corners of the State. A number of chapters have been re-invigorated, others have been re-instituted altogether, and a new charter was issued within the last three years.[xx] Today many Masons are again following the Second Landmark and capping the Master Mason Degree with the Degree of Holy Royal Arch.
[i] “Landmarks of Freemasonry,” Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, <http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/grandlodge/landmarks.html>, Accessed 28 January 2013.
[ii] “The Holy Royal Arch,” Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of California, <http://www.yorkriteofcalifornia.org/royalarch/whatisra.html>, Accessed 28 January 2013.
[iii] Frederick G. Speidel, The York Rite of Freemasonry: A History and Handbook (Mitchell-Fleming Printing Inc., 1978), 31.
[iv] Charles E. Creager, History of Freemasonry in Oklahoma (Muskogee, Oklahoma: Muskogee Print Shop, 1935), 20.
[v] “A Historical Snapshot,” The Grand Lodge of the State of Oklahoma, <http://www.gloklahoma.com/GrandLodge/history.html>, Accessed 28 January 2013.
[vi] Norman E. Angel, Kenneth S. Adams, and William A. Hensley, History of the Grand Chapter of the Royal Arch Masons of Oklahoma (Oklahoma: 1964), 2.
[vii] Creager, 61.
[viii] Ibid., 62-63.
[ix] Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Oklahoma, Proceedings of the 122nd Annual Convocation (Oklahoma: 2011).
[x] Creager, 64.
[xi] Ibid., 65
[xii] Angel, 6-7.
[xiii] Creager, 69.
[xiv] Angel, 8-9.
[xv] Creager, 72.
[xvi] Ibid., 72-75
[xvii] Ibid., 76-77
[xviii] Angel, 23.
[xix] Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Oklahoma.