Friday, February 4, 2011

Freemasonry In Background History to Blood Meridian

Masonic America

Some historical themes of Blood Meridian are the 19th C. Indian wars, manifest destiny and westward expansion, and Texas history. The child was born in 1833 when Andrew Jackson was president (1829-1837), and left home in 1847 when James Polk was president (1845-1849), and much of the kid's story takes place in 1849, the last year of Polk's presidency.

Andrew Jackson had a prominent role in the Indian Wars. In 1830, he signed into law the Indian Removal Act. As a result, large numbers of Indians died from starvation and disease, culminating in the notorious Cherokee Trail of Tears in 1838. Jackson frequently made referred negatively to the Indians in his annual addresses to Congress. In the 1833 address, Jackson said, "[the Southern tribes] have neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits, nor the desire of improvement which are essential to any favorable change in their condition. Established in the midst of another and a superior race, and without appreciating the causes of their inferiority or seeking to control them, they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear."

James K. Polk was credited with the annexation of Texas, as well as the acquisitions of New Mexico and California. "Manifest destiny" was coined by journalist John O'Sullivan in 1845 (who hinted at it in 1839) in an article about the annexation of Texas.

Both Jackson and Polk, like McCarthy, were transplants to Tennessee, but regarded as Tennesseeans. Like McCarthy, Polk subsequently moved to Texas. Most important here, both Jackson and Polk were Masons. Thus it could be argued that freemasonry greatly influenced the historical background to Blood Meridian.

Masonic Texas

Under the entry of "Freemasonry" in the Handbook of Texas Online:

In December 1837 delegates from these three lodges [Houston, Nacogdoches, San Augustine] convened at Houston to organize the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas. President Sam Houston presided over this meeting.... Between 1838 and 1845 the Texas Grand Lodge issued charters to twenty-one more lodges, and membership increased from seventy-three to 357. In addition, there were probably some 1,100 Masons from other jurisdictions living in Texas at this time. Although constituting only 1.5 percent of the population, Masons filled some 80 percent of the republic's higher offices. All of the presidents, vice presidents, and secretaries of state were Masons. After annexation Masons continued to be equally prominent in the state government, and between 1846 and 1861 five of the six governors were members of the fraternity.

In a footnote under the entry of "Star" in Mackey's Lexicon of Freemasonry:

At a celebration of the Festival of St. John the Baptiste, in 1844, at Portland, Maine, ... a member of the Grand Lodge of Texas ... observed, "Texas is emphatically a masonic country; all our Presidents and Vice-Presidents, and four-fifths of our State officers, were and are Masons: our national emblem, the 'Lone Star' -- was chosen from among the emblems selected by Freemasonry, to illustrate the moral virtues -- it is a five-pointed star, and alludes to the five points of fellowship."
(Albert Gallatin Mackey's Lexicon of Freemasonry was first published 1845, so this quote from 1844 would have been recent to him.)

Masonic Griffin

Fort Griffin was established in 1867 and closed in 1881, but in its mere 14 years of existence it had a great impact on the lore of the West. Fort Griffin was located by the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, mentioned in Blood Meridian, where the man passes through on his way to Griffin. The area around Fort Griffin was known as The Flat, a name not used in Blood Meridian, but was also called Griffin. Coming from the Clear Fork, the man would enter Griffin on Griffin Avenue, the town's main street and a path that would lead to Fort Griffin. He would first cross River Street, then First Street, then stop at the corner of Second Street, the location of the Beehive Saloon. [The "Fort Griffin" links on the "McCarthy Links" page contain street-level maps of Griffin.]

The Flat had a notorious reputation, populated with prostitutes and gamblers, lawmen and outlaws, buffalo hunters and later buffalo bone hunters. Pat Garrett hunted buffalo at Griffin, as did John Poe (years later and elsewhere, Garrett with Poe's help shot Billy the Kid). Lottie Deno (prototype for Miss Kitty on TV's "Gunsmoke", according to the Handbook of Texas) dealt cards at the Beehive. Doc Holliday among others had gambled with Deno. Doc Holliday too dealt cards at the Beehive as well as at Dick Shannessy's Saloon. It was in Griffin that Doc Holliday met his lifelong companion Bignose Kate Elder and befriended Wyatt Earp and family (resulting in the Gunfight at OK Corral with the Clantons years later). Other notables who spent time in Griffin included Bat Masterson and John Wesley Hardin.

Among the hunter-traders, Charles Rath and Frank Conrad relocated to Griffin Avenue their store, which traded mainly in buffalo and then in buffalo bones, which was usable as fertilizer, when the buffalo population was depleted. This must have been shortly after they opened the store, as 1878 was the year the southern herd was exterminated, and, according to the Handbook of Texas, some bone pickers amassed huge piles of bones by working ahead of workers laying railroad tracks. In Blood Meridian, the man reaches Griffin in 1878, and then in the "Epilogue" there are bone seekers and gatherers.

1878 also has another significance for Griffin. From the Beehive further along Griffin Avenue from Second Street to Third Street then Fourth Street, down another block to Conrad & Rath then a turn toward the river at Fourth Street, passing Shannessy's Saloon, stood a structure not mentioned in Blood Meridian: the first and only Masonic Lodge in Griffin, established in 1878. It is one of the last, if not the only remaining, structure still standing today in Griffin, whereas there are only footprint remains of Conrad & Rath, Shannessy's Saloon, and The Beehive Saloon.

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