|MASONRY IN NORTH DAKOTA|
YELLOWSTONE LODGE NO. 88, FORT BUFORD
WHEN CAPTAIN (Brother) Merriwether Lewis surveyed the level plain at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers in northwestern Dakota on that spring day of April 27, 1805, and designated the location as "highly eligible for a trading establishment," little did he visualize the tremendous activity which succeeding generations were to bring to that tiny bit of plain and how it would affect the world, including Masonry.
Situated as it was where two great rivers came together, in the midst of that vast realm recently purchased from France by President Jefferson, and offering a center for the thousands of miles of the Canadian Northwest, just opening up to trade, almost immediately it sprang into prominence. The growth of the fur trading business with the Indians had been so rapid and so great and this location so ideal, that it was destined to become the fur capital of North America during the period from 1820-1870.
In 1829 the imposing Fort Union, chief establishment of the American Fur Company on the upper Missouri, stood upon a grassy plain on the north bank of the Missouri, three miles above the mouth of the Yellowstone. Its predecessor was Fort Floyd, said to have been erected in the vicinity by Kenneth Mc-Kenzie, Joseph Renville, Daniel Lamont and William Laidlaw, who withdrew from the Northwest Fur Company of Montreal in 1821, established themselves nearby, and were instrumental in founding the Columbia Company. In the year 1827, through the purchase of the Columbia interests by the American Fur Company, the establishment known as Fort Floyd seems to have passed away, leaving no trace of its exact location.
Four years of building saw lifted in its place the most formidable fur trading establishment—with the probable exception of Fort Carry—ever erected in the Northwest. From then on, or until the decline of the fur trade, a period of forty years, the American Fur Company held sway on the upper Missouri, directing its affairs from Fort Union. Only a marker, placed by the North Dakota Historical Society, designates its location today.
In 1832 a rival company came from the Teton Basin, in the Rockies, and built Fort William about the same distance below the mouth of the Yellowstone as Fort Union was above it. In the following year, however, Fort William was absorbed by the American Fur Company, which left the latter master of the field once more. Within a year or two a new Fort William was built with the old timbers. It was called Fort Mortimer in the forties and later became the site of Fort Buford.
By 1866 the fur trade was about gone and the United States Government set about establishing a garrisoned fort near Fort Union, which could serve the purpose of protecting the settlers who were coming in and were at the mercy of the bands of marauding Indians who roamed the plains. Chief among them were the Sioux and their allies; the others were much more peaceable. Although the fur trade was disappearing, there was considerable activity in the hunting of buffalo— or bison—as they migrated north into Canada in the spring and returned on their southern trek in the fall. As the buffalo were the lif eblood of the Indian tribes of the area, much unrest was caused as the herds decreased in number and food became more scarce. Also the gold rush to the Virginia City area of Montana in the 1860s and to the Black Hills of Dakota in the 1870s, added to the laying out of the Northern Pacific Railroad, in the same area, at the same time, served to disrupt the government treaties with the Indians, who were driven farther west, precipitating a military "show down" which had become inevitable.
Therefore, Fort Buford came into being and from 1866 to 1898, when it was abandoned, a garrison was kept at the fort. It is interesting to note that Sitting Bull, the old Sioux Chief, was finally brought here with several hundred of his starved followers in July, 1881, and they surrendered in front of the officers' headquarters building, bringing an end to Indian warfare in the Northwest.
The headquarters building and the original powder house still stand and have been restored by the North Dakota Historical Society. An appropriate marker tells their story. The cemetery is nearby, surrounded by a fence, and every grave is carefully registered. But one more memento is left on that grassy plain to tell another story of hope and trust and faith in the future—the story of Masonry at Fort Buford—and to this we gladly turn.
As was the case at many of our military outposts following the Civil War, Masonic lodges were soon organized and Fort Buford did not have long to wait. The first garrison was sent there in 1867 and it was at the 19th Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota in St. Paul, on January 9, 1872, that Grand Master Charles W. Nash reported: "During the year I have granted a dispensation for a new lodge to Asa P. Blunt, as Worshipful Master, and the requisite number of Brethren, to form a lodge at Fort Buford, Dakota Territory, to be named Yellowstone Lodge, U.'. D.'.."
This dispensation was issued at St. Paul January 26, 1871, by Grand Master Nash, naming Asa P. Blunt as Worshipful Master, Samuel H. Dennison as Senior Warden and Richard Comba as Junior Warden. Brother Blunt was a sergeant in the quartermaster's department, Brother Dennison a clerk and Brother Comba a captain in the 7th Infantry. Brother Robert C. Seip, a clerk, is listed as the first Secretary.
In the same Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota in 1872, the Committee on the Work of Lodges U.'. D.'. reported: "We have examined the records, papers and returns of Lodges U.'. D.'., who have testimony in relation to the work done, etc., and would respectfully recommend that a charter be granted to the following lodges herein named, to-wit: Yellowstone Lodge No. 88, Fort Buford, Dakota Territory. (Signed) Paul D. Fitzgerald, W. E. Cundy, John R. Parshall, Committee."
The charter was granted at St. Paul on January 10, 1872, naming the same officers as the dispensation and a total membership of 29. The returns for 1872 indicate a membership of 35 and those of 1873 show 48. During the period a good lodge hall, about 80 by 100 feet, probably of logs, was built adjoining the fort and near the store. It was two stories high, the second story being used as a lodge hall and the first story was the social and cultural center for the fort. It was here that many of the banquets, parties and balls were held, from 1871 to 1874, and Masonry must have played a large part in the enjoyment of life among the men.
However, this happy state of affairs could not long continue as the main garrison at Fort Buford was moved in 1874 and with it went the three principal officers of the lodge and most of the members, so it was necessary for the lodge to close. We are indebted to the Grand Lodge of Minnesota once more for our information and find the following in the address of Grand Master Charles Griswold, before his Grand Lodge at St. Paul, on January 12, 1875:
"Soon after the close of our last Annual Communication I learned from reliable sources that Yellowstone Lodge No. 88 at Fort Buford, Dakota Territory, was in a sadly crippled condition in consequence of the removal of United States troops from that point. The principal officers of the lodge were connected with the army, and when they were taken away the lodge was left without Worshipful Master, Senior and Junior Wardens, or even a Past Master. Many of the members also had left. In this condition they could not be legally convened without the presence of the Grand Master or his proxy. In view of this state of affairs, I directed R.'. W.'. R. L. Perry, District Deputy for the Eleventh District to visit them, convene their lodge and then take such action as the circumstances seemed to warrant. He faithfully carried out my instructions, and, after a careful investigation, came to the conclusion that the interests of Masonry did not demand the continuance of a lodge at that point. The brethren there, in accordance with his advice, surrendered their charter, which, together with the records, he forwarded to the Grand Secretary. The property of the lodge, which could not well be moved, he sold. The jewels and clothing he left in the hands of Bismarck Lodge, U.'. D.'. taking from them a receipt for the same, and forwarding it to the Grand Secretary. This lodge, if chartered, wishes to retain these jewels, etc., and pay the Grand Lodge their value. I have no doubt of the wisdom of the course pursued by Brother Perry, and trust that it may be approved by the Grand Lodge. For further particulars, I refer you to his report as District Deputy."
At the same Grand Communication R.'. W.'. Brother Perry, District Deputy Grand Master, presented the following report which was approved:
"In reporting the action I have taken with Yellowstone Lodge No. 88 at Fort Buford, I submit the following:
"At Fort Buford, D. T., June 6, A. D. 1874, A. L. 5874, after learning the condition the lodge was in financially and satisfying myself that there were none of the brethren posted in the work and lectures so as to enable them to do the work and but very little interest taken among the brethren, I advised them to surrender their charter which they did, to me. I then sold the building and what stuff would not pay for shipping away from there, for enough to pay my expenses and time, and gave the parties who bought it a title to the property, under my hand and seal, as having authority from the Grand Master.
"The charter, seal, records, and all papers I could find I have this day* sent to E. D. B. Porter, G A, St. Paul; also a photograph of some of the officers and brethren which they wished you to have framed and hung in the Grand Lodge room.
"The jewels, aprons, ballot-box, triangle, letter G, 24-inch gauge and common gavel I turned over to Bismarck Lodge, U.'. D.'. at Bismarck, D. T., taking their receipt therefor, the same to be returned to the Grand Lodge with their dispensation and records; the above articles they will buy when they receive a charter.
"Hoping my action in the matter will meet with your approval, I remain your obedient servant,
At the Grand Communication of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota at St. Paul, January 12, 1876, R.'. W.1. John C. Braden, Deputy Grand Master, offered the following resolution, which was adopted:
"Resolved, that the jewels of the late Yellowstone Lodge No. 88, now in the possession of Bismarck Lodge, U.'. D.'. be presented to said Bismarck Lodge, U.'. D.'."
So far as is known, this was the last recorded reference to the lodge and it was not until fifty years later, in 1928, that an effort was made to secure the original site and to memorialize the lodge. At that time the North Dakota Historical Society purchased some of the land at the old Fort Buford site and set it aside as a State Park. It covered the officers' headquarters building, the powder house and the cemetery, but not the site of Yellowstone Lodge No. 88. The lodge site was located nearby, as the depressions made by the large wooden posts used as foundation supports were plainly visible, ten feet apart on the four sides.
M.'. W.'. Brother Walter L. Stockwell, Grand Secretary, and W.'. Brother Orrin G. Libby, Grand Historian, collaborated in the effort to obtain title to the site and even went so far as to order a bronze tablet and stone for $290.00 from a firm in Minneapolis, to be dedicated in August, 1929, at the same time the Fort Buford State Historical Park was to be dedicated. However, this was not to be, as the Masonic site was owned by a family unfriendly to Masonry and the place was not for sale. Accordingly, the project was abandoned for another thirty years when it was accomplished, as is here recorded.
The family "unfriendly to Masonry", mentioned above, was that of John Mercer who lived in the Fort Buford area and owned the land surrounding the old fort. The story of the Mercer family is an interesting one and we repeat it here as told by the late Congressman Usher L. Burdick of Williston, who knew many of the old characters personally and preserved their history for posterity in his charming book, "Tales From Buffalo Land—the Story of Fort Buford," published in 1940 by Wirth Brothers, Baltimore.
"John Mercer was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1843 and was an Irish Protestant. He came to the United States, landed at Fort Smith, Arkansas, in 1868 and enlisted as a private. In the same year he became secretary to General Hazen, commanding at Fort Smith.
"When John Mercer left Ireland in 1868, he left behind his boyhood sweetheart, Lena Brennan who was an Irish Catholic. This difference in religion made their romance in Ireland somewhat difficult, but his love for his Catholic sweetheart never lagged. His love was returned by this Irish lass and a difference in religion made no difference to them. In 1870 John Mercer sent for his future wife and Miss Lena Brennan arrived at Fort Smith on New Year's Day, January 1, 1870. On the same day she was married to John Mercer.
"He became tired of army life but in 1872 was persuaded by General Hazen to accompany him to Fort Buford, where he had charge of all materials belonging to the government and checked the different quarter-masters as they came in from time to time.
"To John and Lena Mercer were born three children; Sarah, January 1, 1871; Kate, September 12, 1873; and John, Jr., January 22, 1875.
"All three of the survivors of the Mercer family continued to live on the site of the old fort after it was dismantled in 1898, since when they acquired several hundred acres of land, including the site of all three forts, i. e., Fort William, Fort Mortimer and Fort Buford. John Mercer, Sr. purchased the officers' quarters with 28 rooms, for $300.00, including the land on which it was situated. This building was occupied by the Mercer family until it burned down in 1936.
"John Mercer, the father, died at Fort Buford in 1915, and his body was taken to St. Paul for burial. While John Mercer was a Protestant and Grand Master of the Order of Orangemen, and a member of the Masonic Lodge, his married life with Lena Brennan, a Catholic, remained a perfect romance to the end. The children were raised as Catholics, as John Mercer said his highest hopes for his children would be satisfied if they would be only as good as their mother. In his last sickness and of his own accord, he expressed the wish that hereafter he might be with his beloved wife in all things and embraced the Catholic faith for that purpose. No such request, however, came from Lena Brennan, as she often said no man could be better than John Mercer.
"Lena Brennan Mercer, born June 22, 1843 at Belfast, Ireland, died at Fort Buford in 1929 and is buried beside her husband in Calvary Cemetery at St. Paul, Minnesota. At the time of her death she was in her eighty-eighth year but still had the beautiful complexion of her girlhood."
There is no record that John Mercer became a member of Yellowstone Lodge No. 88, though it is probable that he attended lodge there between 1872 and 1874.
The site of the original lodge hall was purchased in 1959 from Homer Selby of Trenton, who, we understand, purchased it from the descendants of John and Lena Mercer. He was present at the dedication of the Masonic Marker on May 15, 1960, where he was introduced and commended for the cooperation of himself and family.
However, much of interest came to light as a result of the correspondence which Brother Libby, a Professor of History at the University of North Dakota, carried on in the late twenties, with elderly men who had lived in the Fort Buford-Williston area during the "seventies." We print some of it here for what it is worth.
"There is a great deal of evidence that the Fort Buford Garrison was very active and that several social and military clubs and fraternal groups were involved in this activity. This has resulted in confusion with regard to those activities which were Masonic and regular, especially on the part of non-Masons. There is much misinformation mixed with bits of hearsay that will need to be carefully screened before it can be used.
"Evidence points to the existence of a regular Masonic Lodge during the period from 1871 to 1874 that met in its own hall located to the northwest of the Fort Buford area. This is Yellowstone Lodge No. 88, Grand Lodge of Minnesota, Fort Buford, Dakota Territory, and was the only Regular Masonic Lodge ever chartered at the Fort.
"The period from 1874 to 1885 was a dormant one.
"The reactivation of Fort Buford in 1885-1898 with a garrison that had a regiment of Negro Infantry was an active period, but there was no known regular Masonic group of any kind meeting during this period. Evidence is available to show the existence of a regular Odd Fellows Lodge there during this time; there were military clubs and fraternities, and there is some evidence pointing to the existence of a Prince Hall Lodge, which was a clandestine lodge chartered by a clandestine group in Missouri.
An example of the kind of information that is available, but which must be most carefully followed up for evaluation, is a letter written by Mr. T. R. Forbes of Wolf Point, Montana, Clerk of the District Court of Roosevelt County in Montana, to Dr. 0. G. Libby under the date of September 15, 1928:
"Your letter of September 14th, at hand and contents noted. Regarding the Masonic Order or lodge at Fort Buford in 1874, I beg to advise. I did not get to Buford until 1880 and did not hear or know that any lodge existed there at that time. Not being interested, I did not make inquiries, however, about 1885 or 1886 the Port was garrisoned mostly by negro troops. At that time a Captain of the Twentieth Infantry organized a lodge or camp of Sons of Veterans and at his earnest solicitation I joined the same. Shortly after that Dr. Keefer of the U. S. Army came into the lodge and after his initiation, when the presiding officer, who was a negro Sergeant, shook hands and congratulated him as is customary, during the hand shaking I noticed that the doctor and the negro held hands for some seconds, and looked earnestly at each other. Finally the negro said 'go on', to which the doctor replied 'I can't'. Afterwards, the doctor told me that they were talking of Masonry and he remarked that the colored man was 'high up'. It may be that there was a colored lodge of Masons at Port Buford during the time from 1885 to the time the Post was abandoned, I think in 1898. I do know that in the early 80's there was an Odd Fellows Lodge among the soldiers. They met in an underground cellar dug some distance from the Post. "Sorry I cannot give you definite information regarding the Masons.
Note: This letter was copied exactly as it was received from Mr. Forbes. This kind of information is not factual, but it does point the way to other historical researches that could be made." H.S.P.)
INSTALLATION AND DEDICATION
Yellowstone Lodge No. 88
May 15, 1960
It was early in 1957 that W.'. Brother Edwin A. Haak-enson (51), then Senior Grand Steward of the Grand Lodge of North Dakota and living at Williston, 20 miles from the location of Yellowstone Lodge No. 88, at Fort Buford, became interested in a revival of the effort of 1928 to memorialize the site. Through correspondence with the State Historical Society at Bismarck, he was able to secure a fairly authentic military map of the Fort Buford area and a large aerial photograph, both of which assisted him and his friends in locating the site of the lodge hall. These observations were fully corroborated by the discovery of the foundation depressions of the original building. The property was owned by a Homer Selby, who expressed his willingness to sell an irregular piece of ground, containing 1.73 acres, to straighten the outline of his land, for $100.00.
M.'. W.'. Brother John A. Earner, Grand Master, at the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge in June, 1958, directed that steps be taken to secure the property and to prepare a suitable marker for the site. This was approved and Brother Haakenson was placed in charge, under authority of the Grand Lodge Committee on Policy and General Purposes. Arrangements were made with Brothers Walter and Bernard Johnson, monument makers at Williston, to prepare a suitable memorial, and a committee of M.'. W.'. Brother Harold S. Pond (4-21), W.'. Brothers Edwin A. Haakenson (51), Gudmundur Crimson (65, Walter Johnson (91 Minn.) and Mrs. Edwin A. Haakenson was appointed to prepare a suitable inscription for the marker.
During the remainder of 1958 and throughout 1959 the work progressed. The land was purchased and merchantable title secured in the name of the Grand Lodge A.'. F.'. & A.'. M.'. of North Dakota; a native granite boulder, 4 feet high, 6!/£ feet long, and 31/2 feet thick, at the base, was found; and on it the following inscription was cut by Brothers Walter and Bernard Johnson, father and son:
The marker was set in concrete, at the center of the former building space, and at the four corners, were placed granite stones of about 200 pounds, each engraved with square and compasses. The marker was enclosed in a strong steel post and cable fence and a similar fence encircled the entire site. The entire expenditure had not exceeded $500.00 and everything was in readiness for the cornerstone laying and dedication of the marker on May 15, 1960, by M.'. W.'. Brother Bernhard G. Gustafson, Grand Master.
Great credit is due the past masters, officers and members of Mt. Moriah Lodge No. 51, at Williston and many others not members of the lodge, for their generous and untiring assistance in the accomplishment of this grand and glorious task.
Following is the program of the marker dedication ceremony at the site of Yellowstone Lodge No. 88, Buford, D. T., 1871-1874, held on Sunday, May 15, 1960, at 2:00 o'clock; also, the minutes of the special communication of the Grand Lodge of North Dakota held at that time; as well as the dedicatory address of M.'. W.'. Brother John A. Earner, Past Grand Master of North Dakota; and the very appropriate words of M.'. W.'. Brother Clyde E. Hegman, Past Grand Master of Minnesota.
A special communication of the Grand Lodge A.'. F.'. & A.'. M.'. of North Dakota was called on the site of Yellow-stone Lodge No. 88, near Fort Buford, Dakota Territory, situated at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, 20 miles southwest of Williston, on Sunday afternoon, May 15, 1960, at 2:00 o'clock.
The purpose of the communication was to lay a cornerstone and dedicate a monument, commemorating the existence of Yellowstone Lodge No. 88, instituted on the above site January 26, 1871, by1 the Grand Lodge of Minnesota and continuing until June 6, 1874.
After a bountiful lunch at the Masonic Temple of Mt. Moriah Lodge No. 51, in Williston, served by the ladies of the Eastern Star, 200 Masons and their families from North Dakota, Montana and Saskatchewan gathered at the site for the dedication ceremony.
The officers of the Grand Lodge took charge as follows:
As guests in line:
Grand Master Gustafson declared the special communication of the Grand Lodge opened and proceeded to lay a cornerstone in the northeast corner of the site of the original lodge hall, assisted by his Grand Officers.
He then dedicated the native granite marker in the center of the enclosure bearing the following inscription:
"Site of Yellowstone Lodge No. 88, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, at Fort Buford, Dakota Territory, Under Dispensation and Charter from the Grand Lodge of Minnesota. The lodge was active from January 26, 1871 to June 6, 1874 and occupied the first Masonic Hall in the area, which is now North Dakota".
A splendid dedicatory address was given by M.'. W.'. Brother John A. Earner, who as Grand Master in 1958 issued an edict setting the ground apart as a Masonic shrine and authorizing the erection of the monument in commemoration thereof.
A beautiful ceremony followed in which M.'. W.'. Brother Clyde E. Hegman, immediate Past Grand Master of Minnesota, presented six small Norway pines—two in the East, two in the West and two in the South—and personally planted the last one, after which he spoke convincing words of the bonds of fraternal love which had united these two great Grand Lodges during the years that have passed, and would continue during all the years to come.
After appropriate remarks from Grand Master Frank Van Demark and Senior Grand Warden J. R. P. Reinemer of Montana, also Past Grand Master James H. Cuddington of Saskatchewan, the special communication was declared closed by Grand Master Ben G. Gustafson of North Dakota.
Following is the splendid and thought provoking address of M.'. W.'. Brother John A. Earner of Fairmount, Past Grand Master of Masons in North Dakota:
Most Worshipful Grand Master of North Dakota, distinguished guests. my brothers in the work of Him who died to set men free—our ladies and guests:
Someone's love to work was responsible for the building of this temple, a labor of love, not of bread. The life of excuses is an empty one.
We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have prepared for this event. To single out any individual would be unfair to many others who have assisted in various ways.
Briefly, may we pay tribute to R.'. W.'. Brother Haakenson and his wife, our M.'. W.'. Grand Master Ben Gustafson and his wife, Brothers Walter and Bernard Johnson, father and son—members of Mt. Moriah Lodge—who did the actual work on the marker and to the men who worked unselfishly to place it here. Also to the mother lodge whose help in research was impressive in the events of this day.
DEDICATION SPEECH—FORT BUFORD
May 15, 1960
These words of John Greenleaf Whittier seem most appropriate today as we stand on this historic spot.
Altogether, four forts were built in this general area, the purpose being to protect and enhance the flourishing fur and hide business:
Fort Buford was built from much of the material from old Fort Union, in 1866. It was only at Fort Buford that we have records of the building of a Masonic Temple and an attempt at permanent settlements. The end of the bonanza fur trade had really been in 1860, but there was considerable activity in the hunting of buffalo. The buffalo would migrate north into Canada in the spring and return on their southern trek in the fall, but as they moved north in the spring of 1882 there was no return in any large numbers. As they were the life blood of the Indian tribes of the area, this naturally caused much unrest and the military was necessary for the protection of the settlers.
Sitting Bull arrived a few miles north of the fort with several hundred of his starved followers on July 19, 1881. After a wait of several days while their surrender was being prepared for at the fort, they were brought in to the fort and the end of Indian warfare in this area came to be a fact.
Several months Later they were loaded on a wood burning steamer and taken to Fort Yates.
Agriculture was tried in several instances—Bob Mathews had broken 200 acres of prairie sod and seeded it to oats in 1880. It was a favorable season and a yield of 90 bushels per acre was sold to the fort as stock feed at 75 cents per bushel.
In 1886 John Heffernan seeded 350 acres of wheat for Jordan, Leighton and Heiderrich, near where the Burdick Ranch now stands. It was a dry year and the crop was a failure. Some time elapsed before cropping was again tried in the area.
Bob Mathews had irrigated in 1883 and raised a good crop, but the dams were washed out in the spring of '84 and ended the irrigation effort.
The State of North Dakota, through the Historical Society and other agencies, is now making some effort to bring the history of this country to the attention of the people of the state and nation. It is not far to the south of here that Theodore Roosevelt spent some years of his young life as a rancher and much has been done there in the way of a national park.
We come to the Masonic history following 1866. The name of Asa Blunt as Worshipful Master of a Lodge U.'. D.'. from the Grand Lodge of Minnesota appears and quite possibly it was he, assisted by others of like mind, who erected this Masonic Temple of the pretentious proportions of 80 by 100 feet and two stories high.
The dispensation issued at St. Paul on January 26, 1871 also includes the name of Samuel H. Dennison as Senior Warden and Richard Comba as Junior Warden. Copies of the dispensation, the charter and returns of the Lodge for 1871-72-73 are now in the archives of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota.
The returns of 1872 show 35 members and for 1873, 48 members. Following this, the garrison at the fort was reduced and soon it became impossible to carry on, as the military officers of the lodge were transferred elsewhere.
In the Proceedings of the Minnesota Grand Lodge of 1876 appears a notation that the charter and all the records of the lodge had been sent to St. Paul, and its property had been transferred to Bismarck Lodge, also U.'. D.'., and the latter was lost in 1898 by fire. However, from records available and authentic military records, we at last have reliable information to locate the building site and at this date dedicate this marker for all future generations to know and see where the first Masonic Temple stood on North Dakota soil.
It is fitting that these military forces should be the first to bring Masonic Light to this area.
Masonry has ever been in the forefront of freedom forces. As we look back to the formation of this nation, we find the Declaration of Independence practically a Masonic document, signed by many Masons. The leader in our military effort, at that time, to be a free people, was our beloved Mason, George Washington, and it is well that we have built to his memory probably the finest memorial ever erected to an individual on this continent, at Alexandria, Va.
Our freedom of worship, our ownership of property, and of our free public schools as well as the right to carve out our life's work and destiny as we please are our God given rights, but we must ever remember that these must not interfere with the rights of others to do the same. These are our heritages of the past.
We are the heirs of that past. Unfortunately, the present brings us many unsolved problems, with which we must struggle to the best of our Masonic knowledge and teachings. The continuation of our democratic way of life should be the earnest desire of every one of us and a special project of all Masons. Politics as a partisan issue is forbidden in our lodges, but this does not mean that we can shirk our duty as American citizens.
Democracy's ceremonial, its feast, its great function, is the election, and yet we have a sad story as to our participation in it. Our best effort was a 62 per cent participation in 1952, when that percentage of eligible voters availed themselves of the opportunity to vote. In all other years it has been less than that. This compares unfavorably with 93 per cent participation in the Scandinavian countries and 78 per cent or more in Britain. Let us take our freedoms more seriously.
Someone has said:
A two-party system is necessary to good government; the majority to rule and implement our affairs, while the minority has the obligation to ventilate the issues and bring these results to the attention of the electorate.
Several large corporations are now alert to our passiveness in this respect and are encouraging employees to take an active part in politics, both as candidates and in imparting the best and most unbiased information upon which their people may make up their minds. We can do no less.
Let us be alert to the fact that at this moment in our history we have three menaces—the Red—the Yellow—and the Black. Each of them could be the subject for a talk much longer than I can take time for today. Let us by all means remember that as we were heirs of yesterday, we are the custodians of today.
We of the present are what we are by the work and loyalty of those who have gone before. We of the present will to a large extent be responsible for the coming generations. What we do and leave as a heritage will to a large degree govern those who come after. It is up to us to be firm and steadfast in our ideas of freedom and right and not give in to the whims of the times. The world in which we now live is half free, half slave. Be firm to make it free.
If we will but consider the idea of sowing, that others may reap the harvest; of working for those who will live after we are gone; of being an inspiration in the lives of men yet unborn; of endeavoring to bless with the glorious gifts of truth, light and liberty those who will never know the giver, we will come close to realizing and practicing the true principles of a fraternity that prompted some of our brothers to have built a shrine on this spot.
May I quote from "The Bridge Builder" by William Allen Dromgoole:
Thus we dedicate this marker as a memorial to those who have gone before—as a beacon light to those who come after. We are the ancestors of tomorrow.
JOHN A. EARNER, P.G.M.
Following are the kind words of love and enduring friendship, spoken by M.'. WV. Brother Clyde E. Hegman of Edina, Past Grand Master of Masons in Minnesota:
at the dedication of the Masonic Monument at Fort Buford Near Williston, North Dakota, Sunday, May 15, 1960
Most Worshipful Grand Master Gustafson, Distinguished Guests, Officers of the Grand Lodge, Brother Masons of North Dakota, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is indeed a pleasure to be invited to attend this significant ceremony and occasion in the history of the Grand Lodge of North Dakota. I am happy to bring you greetings from approximately seventy thousand Brother Master Masons in the Grand Jurisdiction of Minnesota.
We want you to know that Minnesota Masons are proud to have had a part in the chartering of Yellowstone Lodge No. 88, the first Masonic Lodge chartered in the north half of Dakota Territory, that lodge which stood on this historic site. We applaud and commend you for the action you have taken, the achievement you have accomplished, in acquiring the land and erecting this monument to commemorate for posterity the fact that on this ground did indeed stand a Masonic Temple, a house dedicated in the name of God. This is proper.
What is more important, however, than pride in this accomplishment, and what is more enduring than even this granite monument, is the Masonic work that was wrought in the temple that stood here. The influence for good which that work had in the lives of men of that day, and upon their children's children, upon men Who followed in their footsteps, in Dakota Territory and in this state, is the truly enduring monument.
As a token and symbol of our neighborly and brotherly affection which we Masons in Minnesota have for you, our North Dakota brethren, we have today presented to you and have planted here these pine trees, evergreen trees. These trees are alive; living by the hand of Him who gave us, his children, the breath of life, and sustains us day by day. These little evergreen trees have a tap root which will seek its way down to drink the waters underneath the earth. But root and water alone will not cause them to flourish. They stretch their main stem upward into the blue sky and sunshine to reach for and grasp the sustenance given by the sun, yes, by our Creator. They will do this all of their days in this land.
In like manner, my brothers and friends, may it be our continual practice, our aim, our purpose, as we derive our earthly subsistence from the products of the land, to also draw deeply from life-giving waters. Let us also continually, day by day, reach high our hand, higher and higher, in a purposeful life, until we reach God's hand and feel the warmth of His life-giving power, strength and wisdom. Only in this manner, by this way of life, will we build our temples in the hearts of men.