Ask any Latin scholar to translate E Clampus Vitus. The response is either a puzzled look or a hearty laugh.

E Clampus Vitus is a non-profit fraternal organization dedicated to the preservation of history and good times of the American West. Clampers commemorate Western and mining history sites, incidents and people that might otherwise be overlooked by placing more than a thousand plaques and monuments in California and a handful scattered in Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

Plaque dedication at 1851 site of Humbug, Siskiyou County, California, August 1988

Plaque dedication at 1851 site of Humbug, Siskiyou County, California, August 1988

Like its name, members are fun-loving, practical jokers although California chapters were formed during the Gold Rush to offer comfort and aid to widows and orphans (mostly to widows).

Gold mining Clampers spoofed members of the more serious Masons, Elks and Oddfellows by wearing tin can lids cut into unusual shapes and sizes on their vests worn over red long johns.

The motto of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus is Credo Quia Absurdum (I believe because it is absurd).

Their constitution provides that all members are officers of equal indignity, including the Clamphotographer, Clamplaquero, Clamparchivist and top officials Clampatriarch and Sublime Noble Grand Humbug.

There are no records of early meetings because members drank so much that no one was ever in condition to keep minutes or able to recall the next day what happened. Their partying at plaque dedication “doin’s” earned them the reputation of a drinking historical society or a historical drinking society.

In 1973, Clampers heaved overboard the Big Meadows plaque into Lake Almanor before anyone wrote down the wording. No one remembers what it said.

A plaque marking the 1851 site of Humboldt City is submerged in Humboldt Bay about thirty feet offshore from Point Buhne.

To commemorate Chinese navigator Hee Li, who discovered California about 450 A.D., a plaque was jettisoned into the Pacific Ocean thirty miles west from Monterey May 11,1994.

Clampers parade at Sausalito, California, March 27, 1999

Clampers parade at Sausalito, California, March 27, 1999


Anno Dumbellicus
(In the Year of the Dumbell)


About Lynne Schaefer

Lynne Schaefer has written two newspaper columns ("The Schussboomer" about skiing in California, and "Notes from Lynne's Journal" about Oregon wildlife); travel and garden articles for regional magazines copy for DVD tours of the High Desert Museum and the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, both in Bend, Oregon. She has published three non-fiction books, A Traveler's Guide to Historic California, Christmas Trivia Quiz, and His Daughter's Remembrance.
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4 Responses to E CLAMPUS VITUS

  1. Heather H. says:

    This is so cool, Lynne! We first heard of E Clampus Vitus when we were driving near Susanville, CA and we came upon an odd historical marker on the remains of a chimney. The marker said that it was the spot of an old service station that was turned into a bar and restaurant, was the site of a murder, burned down . . . all very intriguing, but not as intriguing as this strange organization’s name! We looked it up on Wikipedia, but some of that information seems tongue in cheek. So thanks for this background on a really eccentric part of California history.


  2. Pingback: Francis Drake and the Plate of Brass | Lynne's Notebook

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