Knowing Nevada: The Clampers, a historically absurd historical society

A group of untimely fellows. Photo by: Asa Gilmore

When you walk around northern Nevada, you may not realize that you pass by some important pieces of Nevada's heritage. Actually - western heritage, as a matter of fact. Not many realize one group that has been around for more than a century, prides themselves on preserving almost-forgotten history...with an odd sense of humor. This humor can be classified as absurd, or odd, in many different ways; that entirely depends on your worldview. These men of historical gate-keeping call themselves: the Clampers.

If you fancy diving into some history books, you will find that the Clampers have been around since the early 1800's. The group started in West Virginia and came on out to prospect the great gold rush of the west. So, originally they all were miners and prospectors just trying to strike it big in the mine shafts. The main purpose of the camaraderie focused on providing for widows and family of miners who perished from either disease or accidents in the mine claims.

Their 'other' purpose, from their members' standpoint, focuses on burlesquing more modest secret societies such as the Free Masons or the Odd Fellows. Secret societies in the Americas were prominent during the post-civil war era, and still today. Yet, identifying a Clamper is no secret. You may recognize these men in their tall hats, red undershirts, leather attire and, usually, well curated facial hair.

"To be honest, miners would be at gatherings or saloons after a long days work and see these well dressed men with pins on their vests," says Asa Gilmore, a member of the Snowshoe Thompson Chapter of the Clampers. "Members found humor in putting on stitched patches and even, sometimes, the ends of beer cans on their work vests. They would prance around and act holier than thou'."

That is where we can acquaint this band of brothers with absurdity. With many secret societies using Latin phrases, the group developed a few of their own such as, Credo Quia Absurdum, which means, “I believe because it is absurd.” This inspired the collective to develop a state-wide marking that can be seen etched at the bottom of their historical markers or plaques. That marking is known as E. Clampus Vitus. News Four even asked a few of the members behind the meaning and they responded that their is 'absolutely, positively, rest-assuredly...zero meaning.

The Clampers have over forty-nine chapters in the western states, that includes Nevada. Each chapter is named after a historical figures that was, or still is, prominent in that region. Such as the Julia C. Bulette chapter, located in the Virginia City foothills; or Snowshoe Thompson chapter, in Alpine and Douglas counties.

History has played a major role in the Clampers involvement in their communities. Specifically, if you have seen concrete plaques or historic markers around Nevada, a majority of those were ratified by this group.

"The reason we do this is to make sure those bits of history are never forgotten," says Brandon Wilding, historian for the Snowshoe Thompson chapter. "The larger relics of Nevada are preserved very well but sometimes those small areas have some of the best pieces that define our heritage."

If you happen to find yourself travelling in Nevada or in the western United States, you can thank a Clamper for saving the pieces of history that may have gone unnoticed.




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