Established as Fort Crook Lodge #575 on November 1, 1923, we have since absorbed several other California lodges and become Fort Crook Lodge #250. The histories of our lodges, as researched by Eugene T. Asher, Janet Vaughn, and Robert A. Boyce, are as follows, with edits by Troy C. Beglinger. Full manuscripts are available upon request.
As their first order of business, they appointed William H. Hornbeck as chairperson and William T. Cressler as secretary. They then proposed the lodge take its name from the surrounding area, Surprise Valley. Their first Master, who does not appear to have been at the meeting, was James J. Dorris. Frank McClintock and Emory J. Nichols, respectively, became the Senior and Junior Warden. Once done electing officers, the group formed several committees to handle constructing of a Lodge Hall, taking subscriptions for furnishings, and so on.
Thanks to their isolated location, though, work went slowly. After all, Modoc was still a part of Siskiyou County, roads were basically non-existent, and communication was painfully slow. Eventually, they recieved Lassen Lodge's recommendation for a dispensation and its Master certified Dorris’ qualifications to do the work. Grand Master J. S. Titus then granted their dispensation on April 8, 1874, and they held the first meeting on May 23rd. A Grand Lodge charter followed on October 16th of the same year.
The material available on Surprise Valley Lodge is quite limited. However, we know from Sherman and the Grand Lodge Proceedings that their requirements for officers were like those of the Janesville Lodge; i.e., they only had to be qualified for and interested in the position. Dorris led off with two consecutive terms in 1874 and 1875, and John H. Bonner followed him. Bonner then became the first Inspector of that district and served eight terms as Master from 1876 to 1893. The Lodge had only nine different Masters during its first 28 years of existence.
The growth of Surprise Valley’s lodge was considerably different from that of Janesville. From the first return of 15 in 1874, it moved up to 31 by 1900 and from there to 71 by 1940. However, it shrank to 51 by 1950, and its low numbers eventually forced it to merge with Northeast Lodge #266 on July 1, 1962. Together, they formed a new lodge, Modoc Lodge #235.
Neither Sherman, nor any other Masonic source, can shed much light on the private lives of Surprise Valley’s first members. However, the histories of Modoc County show that its first Secretary, William T. Cressler, and its second Master, Bonner, owned the county’s first trading establishment. Now the oldest building in the county, a man named Townsend created the log structure in 1865, only to have Native Americans kill him shortly after its completion. But, because it was on the trail used by emigrants moving from Oregon to the California gold fields, its proprietors did a thriving business.
Another of Bonner’s projects was the building of the road over Bonner Grade, which still carries his name. It was the first road between Cedarville and Alturas, and Bonner maintained it until Siskiyou County took it over in 1871.
On June 1, 2007, Modoc Lodge #235 joined Fort Crook Lodge #250.
On July 18, while the Lodge was still under dispensation, Stone died in an accident. While his was the first Masonic funeral held in Alturas, they left his place in the first returns blank. During the time it took Alturas Lodge to go from receiving its dispensation to receiving its charter, it gained six members by initiation and affiliation and lost four through death and withdrawal.
Alturas Lodge first met in the “old hall” or “printing shop” on the corner of Carlos and Howard Street. But, in 1835, it moved into its own hall at the corner of Main and Carlos. In his history of the Lodge written in 1928, Past Master W.E. Armstrong offers an interesting sidelight on this hall. “Its erection nearly broke the Lodge financially and otherwise, and for years those who carried the Lodge debt required every member of the Lodge to sign the note for and on behalf of the Lodge and as additional security for the mortgage on the hall.” This must have dampened many a newly raised candidate’s enthusiasm as, in signing the Lodge Bylaws, he “let himself in for something.”
For a while, Alturas Lodge cooperated with the local Odd Fellows in maintaining a cemetery, but it eventually turned its share of the establishment over to a cemetery association organized by the Modoc County Supervisors.
Alturas Lodge’s existence always seemed to be ensured by the town of Alturas being in Modoc County’s seat. Yet, the Lodge’s growth was neither fast nor great. In the first 50 years of its existence, the Lodge had no less than 12 plural term Masters. James Todd Laird and J. C. Rachford led the list with five terms each. Those serving three terms apiece were A. J. Mayers, D. W. Jenkins, C. S. Baldwin and R. A. Laird. Each of the others satisfied himself with two.
While many of the Lodge’s first members surely played important roles in the building of their community and county governments, we know little about them. One interesting “old timer” by the name of Baldwin, however, stands out. He was born in Augusta, Wisconsin, September 16, 1874, and spent his youth in his home state and Minnesota. In 1901, he moved “out West,” settling awhile in Wheeler County, Oregon. Two years later, he went to Oakland, California, where he married Katherine Kelsey French.
While living in the Bay Area, Baldwin studied law at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. Upon being admitted to the bar in 1905, he moved to Alturas, where he lived and practiced.
Baldwin then became a Mason in Fossil Lodge of Fossil, Oregon, in 1903, before affiliating with Alturas Lodge 248 in 1906. There, he served as its Master in 1908, 1909, and 1917. He was also Inspector of his District, serving continuously from January 1915 to January 1945.
On September 22, 2000, Alturas Lodge #248 joined Modoc Lodge #235.
15 brothers who received dispensations from Grand Master Randolph V. Whiting April 24, 1935 organized the lodge. Earl Fleming Ager, Raymond DeWitt Abel and Ralph Andrew Ganger were its first Master, Senior and Junior Wardens, respectively. At the time it received its charter the following October, it filed returns on 22 Master Masons and then grew to 113 members.
Canby Cross Lodge #679 joined Alturas Lodge #248 on August 1, 1998. Until then, it remained the last lodge in California to be formed using out-of-state rituals since the California Gold Rush (1848-1855).
After satisfying themselves that there was need of a lodge closer to home, they appointed a committee to discuss the matter with Adin Lodge, in whose jurisdiction they were. They also instructed their secretary to write to Inspector Charles S. Baldwin of Alturas, to arrange a meeting with him. Though Fall River Mills is in Shasta County and Baldwin was in Modoc County, it was still his jurisdiction. They devoted the rest of the meeting to getting a meeting place and demits from home lodges.
The second preliminary meeting took place in Fall River Mills on May 14th. It was better attended than the first. Twenty-three brothers received the report of the committee that had met with Adin Lodge. They questioned whether they could organize a lodge at Fall River Mills without injury to Adin, which was then paying for a newly erected hall. By the end of the meeting, however, the Master and Secretary of Adin Lodge arrived to announce that they had given further consideration to the matter. They agreed to forming a new lodge, as it would cause no harm to Adin’s lodge, and “it would benefit Masonry, generally.”
The brethren of Fall River Mills were appreciative, and it was the consensus of the meeting that they could organize a lodge in Fall River Mills while taking no members from Adin. However, two of the Adin members insisted on demitting. As a result, the Secretary prepared a petition for a dispensation, which was signed by twelve brethren, including the two from Adin.
A third meeting, held on May 18th, brought a still larger attendance. The brethren then chose the name “Fort Crook” for their Lodge, assessed dues of ten dollars each, and made plans to raise further funds for organizing. They also elected their first officers and received donations of certain paraphernalia. The officers elected were Otho Stewart, formerly of Arbuckle, as Master, Robert Grover Brown, formerly of Adin Lodge, as Senior Warden, and Walter Ernest Richardson, formerly of Eureka Lodge, as Junior Warden.
Grand Master William A. Sherman issued them a dispensation on July 28, and Fort Crook Lodge formed a week later, on August 4th. The following October 11th, it received its charter and was ready to take its permanent place on the Roster of Lodges. Grand Master Arthur S. Crites presided at its constitution on November 1.
Since 1923, when it held just 25 Master Masons, Fort Crook Lodge grew into a flourishing organization of 140 members. As most of them were employees of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, they became known as a “power” lodge or “hydro-electric” lodge.
The Lodge’s close connection with hydro-electric power, and the company that produces it, proved to be of great use in 1931. That year, Fort Crook Lodge lost the Odd Fellows Hall where they originally met because of a fire. So, the Grand Master issued a dispensation permitting the brethren to meet in the Pacific Gas and Electric Company office until they built their new hall.
Fort Crook Lodge #575 became well known for having excellent Lodge spirit, partly based on its close family ties. In fact, three of its Past Masters, G. C. Green, Simon Franklin Smith, and Otho Stewart, raised their sons to the sublime degree of Master Mason in it. Two Senior Wardens, A. M. McDaniel and C. M. Foster, also acted as Masters when raising family members in lodges from other communities. And, two of the better examples of lodge spirit in California’s Masonic history are Fort Crook members Grover Cleveland Green and Otho Stewart.
Green, an engineer for PG&E, was Master of Fort Crook Lodge #575 in 1927. Just before they installed him in that office, his company transferred him to Jackson, in Amador County, over 287 miles away by automobile travel. Despite that, he never gave up his office. Instead, he drove 575 miles round trip to attend every stated meeting during his term. He even attended the third degree meetings and Public Schools Week programs.
Stewart, also a PG&E Company employee, became Secretary of the Lodge in 1927. In 1939, when he retired from the company, he moved to Redding, 70 miles away. However, he made it to every Stated, 3rd Degree, and miscellaneous meeting that required his attendance.
On September 1, 1988, Fort Crook #575 joined Adin #250 and became Fort Crook Lodge #250.
What we have found is that Adin Lodge received its dispensation from Grand Master John Browne on July 11, 1878, and its charter on October 10th. Their first Master was Leonidas Hamlin Hopkins, their Senior Warden was Henderson (one of the Alturas demitters), and their Junior Warden was Elisha Parker Grubbs. The two other Alturas demitters, Blaske and Beecher, were Treasurer and Secretary respectively.
Adin McDowell was a Kentuckian who settled in Big Valley in 1869. The town that carries his name was hardly a speck on the map back then, but it had potential. The Lodge’s first returns revealed an enrollment of fourteen Master Masons. By 1890, it had thirty-nine. And, forty-four years later, its membership hit an all-time high of eighty-four. Usually, though, it had between twenty-eight and seventy-two.
Beyond this, the story of Adin Lodge #250 is short. The unostentatious men composing it always went about their humble daily pursuits in their own, quiet matter-of-fact way with little thought of applause or glory. Save in the Roster of Lodges, their names are unknown beyond Adin and its neighboring communities. No biographical sketches of them have come down through the years. Yet, by taking their Masonry seriously and living up to its teachings, they contributed substantially to the Craft in their own little corner of the world.
On September 1, 1988, Adin Lodge #250 joined with Fort Crook #575 to become Fort Crook Lodge #250.
On July 24, 1948, a fire destroyed the hall and its records. It also forced the lodge to meet at the Temple of Surprise Valley Lodge in Cedarville. So, its history depends mostly on oral histories and data from Sherman and the Grand Lodge’s proceedings.
Northeast received its dispensation from Grand Master Clay W. Taylor on April 1, 1882 and its charter on October 12th. Its first meeting place was the Odd Fellows Hall, which it subsequently came into possession of and used until the fire of 1948. Their first Master was George Martin Kober, a physician stationed at the fort. Alfred M. Hamlin was Senior Warden, and James B. Smith was Junior Warden.
According to a letter written by Kober to the Alturas Plain Dealer over half a century later, Northeast had 12 petitioners for dispensation; his was the 12th. Apparently, he had joined Surprise Valley Lodge (twenty-five miles away), in order to help organize a new one closer to home. The Surprise Valley brethren living near Fort Bidwell persuaded him to do so, as they believed they needed twelve members to open a lodge.
The membership of the Northeast Lodge was also uniquely resolute. In fact, up to May 1949, a mere 165 members were on its rolls from the day they established it. This can mean only one thing; when a man joined the Lodge, he was usually in it for life. There was just something about it that held the loyalty of its members despite the re-stationing of soldiers at the fort and the odd suspension for non-payment of dues.
Despite its isolated locale, it was an enterprising lodge. In fact, Kober posits that the first St. John’s Day celebration took place in Surprise Valley. The gathering on June 22, 1883, was very popular with the brothers from Modoc County, California and Lake County, Oregon. It also became a hot news feature for the Lake County Examiner. “At 11 o’clock sharp,” the paper wrote, “the procession, headed by the Alturas Brass Band, marched from the Masonic Hall up Main Street, countermarched to the garrison, around the same, and countermarched to the Town Hall, where the exercises were held”. They then described the program at length, including all the music, prayers, songs, and speeches used. They even detailed the banners carried in the parade, which were made by the ladies of the town. Plus, they printed a lengthy poem penned by Past Master Kober, in full.
However, we have almost no biographical data on the first members of this interesting Lodge. For example, its most notable member is its first Master, George M. Kober. We only really know him for three things: being the first Master, being a lifelong member, and bequeathing $10,000 to Northeast Lodge #266 "to be invested and reinvested by said Lodge and the income only therefrom to be used for the upkeep of said Lodge, the Peoples Church and Cemetery". We know little else of who he was aside from the fact that he appears to have lived to a ripe old age, having died in Washington, D.C. on April 24, 1931.
On July 1, 1962, Northeast joined Surprise Valley to become Modoc Lodge #235.
A dispensation from the then Grand Master, James Thomas Fraser, made the degree possible. Roscoe L. Clark, Master of Provident Lodge, conferred the degree. He also acted as the moving spirit in this project, having made and perfected all arrangements with the help of the officers and members of Canby Cross Lodge #679 in Tulelake, California.
The tiler’s register from that night shows that 743 Master Masons from 28 states and the Philippine Islands were in attendance. After the meeting opened, Ralph Ganger, Master of Canby Cross Lodge, introduced the following distinguished visitors: Leon O. Whitsell, Deputy Grand Master and acting Grand Master; Lloyd Wilson, assistant Grand Lecturer and now Past Grand Master and Grand Secretary; Gilbert C. DeForest, assistant Grand Lecturer and now Past Grand Master; Elwood H. Beemer, Grand Master of the State of Nevada; C. A. Carlson, Jr., Senior Grand Warden and now Past Grand Master of Nevada; Leslie M. Stanford, Grand Steward of Nevada; Robert H. Parker, Past Grand Master of Nevada; Augustus F. Aymar, Past Grand Master of Nevada; W. C. Watson, Grand Marshal and afterwards Past Grand Master of Nevada; E. H. Van Patten, Past Grand Master of Washington and Alaska (Van Patten had been a Mason for 67 years and was at the time ninety years of age); E. B. Beaty and R. W. McNeal, Deputy Grand Masters of Oregon (Beaty subsequently became Grand Master).
The Masons present seated themselves on the ground among the sagebrush, some having wisely brought cushions or blankets. Hardly had the brethren seated themselves when they heard pistol shots a half mile to the east of the improvised Lodge room, followed by blood-curdling yells and the beating of horses’ hoofs. Shortly after, a white man closely followed by what appeared to be five topless Native American men decorated with war paint charged into the Lodge room. Further, it seemed the Native men had taken the scalp of the white man.
This created some commotion, many of the brethren not sensing the real significance of this rude intrusion. After they revealed it to be a hoax, the actors got dressed, saluted the Master, and made their introductions. They then invited the visitors to picnic on the lava beds the next day. The scalped man was by C. Alex Clements, President of the Tulelake Chamber of Commerce, and the Native men were played by Ray Laird, Dick Smith, Fred Fisher, F. E. McMurphy and L. J. Horton, of Tulelake, California.
One highlight of the evening’s entertainment took place between the sections of the degree. Lucille Ehorn, a soprano from Sacramento, sang the “Indian Love Call” from Rose Marie while dressed in the white buckskins of a Native American maiden. Metropolitan Opera singer, Ransome Gifford of Sacramento, provided the male responses.
The setting for this unusual presentation was against a cliff of lava, some 250 yards from the Masonic group. At a quiet point, the assembly heard the faint beat of a tom-tom from the dark recesses of the cliff east of the assembly, before they flooded the cliff with brilliant blue rays from a battery of spotlights.
On Sunday morning, those desiring to do so went on a tour of the historic Modoc Lava Beds and stopped at Indian Wells for a picnic luncheon.
While the Grand Lodge inquiry could find no information about a Fall River Lodge, we know from the research of Eugene T. Asher that it continued until June 1895. And, though it carried on for 11 years, Fall River Lodge #270 seems to be a lodge that began a slow death in the third year of its existence. During that short period, it saw the town in which it was located lose its identity twice, first changing from Burgettville to Swasey, and then from Swasey to Glenburn.
The lodge originally received its dispensation from Grand Master Clay W. Taylor on July 30, 1883 and its charter on October 11 of the same year. That same day, the lodge filed returns showing 12 Master Masons on the roll. Albert B. Chase, Samuel T. Rock and John E. Moors were, respectively: Master, Senior and Junior Warden. It was apparently also in good financial condition, for the Grand Lodge Committee on Charters noted that it “owned its own hall and furniture and has over $600 in its treasury.” It had even already conferred two degrees and received 13 petitions for degrees.
However, in 1885, the lodge reached its peak membership of 31 Master Masons. Most of them were also so scattered that Grand Master Henry S. Orme recommended revocation of their charter in October 1894 because of their not having held a meeting for a year. But, the Committee on Charters allowed them to continue until June 1895, at which time the Fall River brethren promised the lodge would be “in good working order.”
In the end, it was no use, as Fall River Lodge still could not hold a single meeting. So, on October 10, 1895, Grand Lodge finally revoked its charter.