The Four Georgians were a group of gold prospectors that have been traditionally credited for discovering the Last Chance placer gold strike of Helena, Montana. They were Reginald (Robert) Stanley, John Cowan, D. J. Miller, and John Crab (pictured below, in that order, from left to right).
Of the four, the only actual Georgian was Cowan, who hailed from Acworth, Georgia. The other three came from Alabama (Miller), Iowa (Crab) and England (Stanley). It has been speculated that they were named "Georgians" not because of where they were from, but because they practiced the "Georgian method" of placer mining.
A Georgian genealogist named Suzanne suggests instead that the "Four Georgians" were: John Cowan, his nephew Frank Cowan, Henry Rusk, and Bill Palmer. She claims that these four are indeed all Georgians, knew each other well, and mined gold in Montana. She refers to a news article in an Acworth, Georgia newspaper from 1975 but does not refer to a specific date. No other sources have substantiated this story, but still, the origins of the Four Georgians are at least partially shrouded in mystery.
In 1864, they left the Alder Gulch area of Virginia City, in what was then, still the Montana Territory, heading north toward the Kootenai River country to pursue rumored prospects there. En route, they heard that the Kootenai prospects had played out, and instead decided to prospect the nearby Little Blackfoot River. They crossed the Continental Divide to the Prickly Pear Creek drainage, still finding only minimal signs of gold at best. Noting a small creek in the Prickly Pear Valley with the best prospects so far, they again moved north to explore the Marias River. Still finding little gold after six weeks of hard work, they returned south to the place they referred to as Last Chance Gulch, since it would be their final opportunity on a long, arduous prospecting trip. With little remaining hope, they were prepared to give up on the whole area and return home.
On July 14, 1864, they dug two prospect pits on Last Chance Gulch upstream from their earlier efforts. Both pits revealed flat gold nuggets and gold dust. All their efforts had finally paid off. Eventually, Crab and Cowan were sent back to Virginia City for more supplies, other prospectors began appearing, and the Last Chance Gulch bonanza began.
In 1867, the Four Georgians finally sold out their claims and took $40,000 of gold dust by wagon to Fort Benton, MT to board a steam boat down the Missouri River and eventually all the way to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia where they cashed in three years of hard labor in the Montana gold fields. Reginald Stanley's accounts of his discovery of gold in Last Chance Gulch can be found in the archives of the Montana Historical Society in Helena, MT as Small Collection 781, Reginald Stanley papers.
ECV as an organization in California was established by a man named Joseph Zumwalt. Joseph was born on the 15th of July, 1800, in Boone County, Kentucky. At about the age of 49, he, his wife Mary, and 8 of their 11 surviving children decided to leave their farm in Illinois and head for California in search of gold prospects. The wagon train went by way of Bowling Green, Missouri, where Zumwalt and a partner, C.W. Wright, stopped at the local newspaper office to inquire about the road to California. In that office, they picked up copies of the ritual of an amusing organization called "E Clampus Vitus", written by Ephraim Bee. Zumwalt and Wright each bought a copy and put it in their trunks.
Now we must go even further back in time to the original author, Ephiram Bee. Not much is known about the personal motivations of Ephiram Bee, or the reason why he created E CLAMPUS VITUS. Bee was an ecclectic man, married twice with 17 surviving children, and between his birth in 1802 and death in 1888, he had many personal and professional pursuits, including Innkeeper, Blacksmith, Virginia state Legislator (the first year after it became a state), postmaster, land speculator (surveyor), and apparently, creative prankster and author. His reasons for the Creation of E Clampus Vitus will be forever shrouded in mystery.
Zumwalt and his family reached the "diggins" on September 5, 1849. By this time, the fate of C.W. Wright has been lost in history. However, after a period of time in Sacramento and then in the diggins, it appears that Zumwalt remembered the rituals from the book and observed that the men in the mines were in need of a humorous outlet. During his wanderings in the diggins around Hangtown ( Placerville ) in 1850 and early 1851, he apparently tried, with no great success, to start chapters of what became known as E CLAMPUS VITUS in various camps. However, in 1851, he moved to Mokelumne Hill where he started his first successful Chapter, #1001 of E CLAMPUS VITUS. The first official chartering was held in the local community jail, which was conveniently unoccupied at the moment. From then on in the diggins, the idea of E CLAMPUS VITUS spread like wildfire. Lodges of E Clampus Vitus were active in many towns in the mining country of California throughout the mid 1850's and onward.
The concept of E CLAMPUS VITUS had several facets that were appealing to the miners of the day. It was a benevolent organization that gave aid to fellow miners, their widows and children (widders and orphans), as the many newspaper articles of the period record. However, ECV was also the greatest practical joke ever conceived and put over by all the thousands of miners (and jokers) who made light of their hardships and miseries in the diggins. The organization was, by nature, a spoof on the more dignified, straight-laced, exclusive, and deeply ritualistic fraternal orders of the day such as the Masons and the Oddfellows. In this vein, it's purpose seems to have been solely to entertain its members by initiation of new members, which served to further spur the organizations exponential growth.
Once, in Marysville California, the renowned Lord Sholto Douglas opened a theatrical engagement, but the first performance failed to pay the rent. When he determined that he needed to become a Clamper to draw a crowd, he immediately applied for membership, and on the night of his initiation he played to a $1,500 house. Additionally, Every traveling salesman had to join E CLAMPUS VITUS before he could obtain an order. Such was the pervasiveness and strength of E CLAMPUS VITUS during those times. The roisterous spirit of the new lodges were expressed by the slogan "Credo Quia Absurdum" (I believe because it is absurd), and by the Constitution of the Order which states that "all members are officers, and all officers are of equal indignity", and it had a tremendous appeal to the miners, who thought that hoaxing a tenderfoot was the grandest of entertainment. Therefore, when the hewgag would bray, signifying that a Poor Blind Candidate (PBC) had appeared in camp and was ready to have the veil of ignorance lifted from his eyes by having revealed to him the great truths and secrets of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E CLAMPUS VITUS, the brethren hurriedly gathered from far and near for the merriment.
With the decline of mining and the depopulation of the camps in the diggins, ECV membership also declined, so that by 1915, there was only one lodge left. E CLAMPUS VITUS redivivus, the revival of Clamperhood as it exists today, started about 1930 as the observance of an historical curiosity. The men responsible for this re-awakening were lovers of California history Carl Wheat, George Ezra Dane, Leon Whitsell and several of their friends. They had gathered in San Francisco to talk about this colorful group that they had read about called E CLAMPUS VITUS. They continued to meet periodically after that and enjoyed speculating about its amusing aspects. Then, they met a man, well into his 80's at that time, who had been a member of Balaam Lodge #107402 ECV in Sierra City during the decline of the mining days. This man, Adam Lee Moore, was able to recall the ritual of initiation and the signs of ECV almost in its entirety (although, it is said that during the early Clamper meetings that none of the Brothers was in any condition to keep the minutes and afterwards nobody could remember what had taken place).
E CLAMPUS VITUS was formally revived in 1931 at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco as Yerba Buena Redivivus #1 by these brave historians, the fathers of modern day Clamperdom. There are 62+ chapters of E CLAMPUS VITUS as of this writing, with many more "Outposts" (wannabe chapters) to join the organization in the future. The Four Georgians 4681 is one of those "wannabe's", but will be a full fledged chapter this very year at her charter Do-Ins!
The order of E Clampus Vitus is one of the fastest growing Fraternal Brotherhoods in America. With over 50,000 members nationwide currently in 62 different chapters, the history of E Clampus Vitus is being written as we speak. New traditions are being established, new rituals are taking place, and new members are having the veil of ignorance lifted from their eyes every day. Click here to learn more about how we help our communities, preserve Gold Rush mining history, and strengthen the bonds of Brotherhood and community.