June 2, 2013

Cryptic Masonry in Indian Territory

By T.S. Akers

When one considers the so called “high degrees” of Freemasonry today they often believe these have always existed in all jurisdictions.  Such is not the case though and there is no more perfect an example than that of the degrees of Cryptic Masonry.  This small but significant collection of degrees was quickly adopted as part of the York Rite system, often called the American York Rite of Freemasonry.  No where is this adoption more evident than in Oklahoma where the lessons taught by Cryptic Masonry were readily sought out by those pioneer Brethren who cemented the future for generations to come.

The Cryptic Rite of Freemasonry arrived in America from France, by way of the West Indies, as side degrees of the Scottish Rite.  In 1761 a French Mason named Stephen Morin was created Inspector General for the New World of the Rite of Perfection (Scottish Rite).  While in Kingston, Jamaica, Morin appointed Henry A. Francken a Deputy Inspector General who in turn appointed Moses Michael Hayes of Boston a Deputy as well.  Under the direction of Francken and Hayes the Select Master degree is known to have been conferred in Albany, New York, in 1767 and Charleston, South Carolina, in 1788.[i]

A Council of Royal and Select Masters, the two degrees comprising the Cryptic Rite, was established in Windser, Vermont, in 1817 and a Grand Council was formed two years later in Connecticut.[ii]  As these degrees were viewed as significant to Capitular Masonry, they were often conferred in chapters of Royal Arch Masons.  In 1853 the General Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons abandoned any control over the degrees and the Scottish Rite did so as well in 1870.[iii]  With numerous Grand Councils in existence, a meeting was called to form a General Grand Council with Josiah Drummond of Maine at the helm in 1872.  By 1880 a constitution had been adopted and in 1883 the General Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters was convened in Denver.[iv]

It was at that triennial Convocation in 1883 that a Companion from Indian Territory sought out the General Grand Master in order to request a dispensation to organize a Council of Royal and Select Masters.[v]  Known as the “Father of Freemasonry,” Joseph S. Murrow received the Cryptic degrees in Linden, Texas.[vi]  In his address, General Grand Master Drummond said the following of Murrow:
…I am sufficiently acquainted with the zeal and character of the Companion Royal Arch Masons whom he represents to feel sure that a prosperous Council will be maintained there, if one shall be organized.
While a dispensation to form a Council in Indian Territory was not issued at the Convocation, one was issued by Drummond’s predecessor, Osgoodby, on November 5, 1883.  And thus Oklahoma Council came into existence at Atoka, I.T.  At the next triennial Convocation in 1886, Oklahoma Council was duly chartered on September 26; but for reasons unclear, the charter failed to arrive in Atoka.  This issue was rectified a year later, but Companion Murrow labored on in the document’s absence.[vii]

For several years the Council of Royal and Select Masters at Atoka was in effect a Grand Body of itself, occupying jurisdictional territory over Indian Territory.[viii]  More and more Companion Royal Arch Masons were seeking out the Cryptic degrees and it was becoming clear that more Councils would be needed.  To meet the need, the Companions at Atoka had been traveling across the territory with their charter to receive petitions, ballot thereon, and confer degrees.[ix]  To remedy this demand for the Cryptic Rite, Councils were established at Muskogee with Zachary T. Walrond as Illustrious Master (Muskogee Council No. 2) and McAlester with Edmond H. Doyle as Illustrious Master (Union Council No. 3) in May of 1894.  In a show of respect to the Companions of Atoka, all who had previously been made Royal and Select Masters in Oklahoma Council maintained their membership in the “Mother Council.”[x]

With three Councils now in operation, the time had come to form a Grand Council.  On November 5, 1894, a convention was called to order in McAlester for just this purpose.  Present that evening were the Illustrious Masters, Deputy Masters, Principal Conductors of the Work and Recorders of each of the three Councils, with none represented by proxies.[xi]  There the Companions unanimously adopted the resolution to form a Grand Council and Robert W. Hill was elected the first Illustrious Grand Master.  After considerable fraternal correspondence with the General Grand Council, Murrow acting as deputy for the General Grand Master instituted the Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters of Indian Territory on May 16, 1895, in Muskogee.[xii] 

Robert W. Hill
(Courtesy of the Grand Commandery Knights Templar of Oklahoma)

The year 1889 would see the opening of the Unassigned Lands and the formation of Oklahoma Territory on May 2, 1890.[xiii]  The Companions of Indian Territory took note of this and hoped to expand the Cryptic Rite into Oklahoma under one banner, in the same fashion as with Royal Arch Masonry.  A request was submitted to the General Grand Council to extend the jurisdiction of the Grand Council of Indian Territory but it was denied on constitutional objections, political boundaries long being considered the jurisdictional boundaries of Grand Bodies.[xiv]  From 1889 to 1899 no Councils of Royal and Select Masters were established in Oklahoma by the General Grand Council.  Upon adoption of a resolution to expand its territory by the Companions of Indian Territory, the General Grand Council finally consented to do so in 1900.[xv]  And thus the Cryptic Rite arrived in Oklahoma united as one with Indian Territory, preventing any need for consolidation when Statehood ultimately came in 1907.

While Oklahoma Council No. 1 at Atoka is but a memory, there have been fifty-nine Councils of Cryptic Masons (as they are called today) chartered in Oklahoma since 1883.  Of those fifty-nine, seventeen have withstood the ages and continue to spread Cryptic Light.[xvi]  The noted Oklahoma Masonic historian Charles Creager once penned “the principal foundation of the Cryptic Rite is to amplify” and it does just that.[xvii]  Cryptic Masonry amplifies the lessons taught by Capitular Masonry and as such has cemented itself in the Masonic landscape of not only Oklahoma but the entire United States.

 Grand Council assembled at Ada, c. 1924
(Courtesy of the Grand Council of Cryptic Masons of Oklahoma)

[i]  Frederick G. Speidel, The York Rite of Freemasonry:  A History and Handbook (Mitchell-Fleming Printing Inc., 1978), 44.
[ii]  Charles E. Creager, A History of the Cryptic Rite of Freemasonry in Oklahoma (Muskogee, Oklahoma:  Hoffman-Speed, 1925).
[iii]  Speidel, 46.
[iv]  Creager, A History of the Cryptic Rite of Freemasonry in Oklahoma.
[v]  Charles E. Creager, History of Freemasonry in Oklahoma (Muskogee, Oklahoma:  Muskogee Print Shop, 1935), 115.
[vi]  Creager, A History of the Cryptic Rite of Freemasonry in Oklahoma.
[vii]  Creager, History of Freemasonry in Oklahoma, 115-117.
[viii]  Ibid., 115.
[ix]  Ibid., 119.
[x]  Creager, A History of the Cryptic Rite of Freemasonry in Oklahoma.
[xi]  Creager, History of Freemasonry in Oklahoma, 120-121.
[xii]  Creager, A History of the Cryptic Rite of Freemasonry in Oklahoma.
[xiii]  “Oklahoma Territory,” Oklahoma Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, <http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/O/OK085.html>, Accessed 28 May 2013.
[xiv]  Creager, A History of the Cryptic Rite of Freemasonry in Oklahoma.
[xv]  Creager, History of Freemasonry in Oklahoma, 126-127.
[xvi]  Grand Council of Cryptic Masons of Oklahoma, Proceedings of the 117th Annual Convocation (Oklahoma:  2011).
[xvii]  Creager, A History of the Cryptic Rite of Freemasonry in Oklahoma.

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