Who Are the Clampers?

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Posted by LeRoy on February 04, 2004 at 14:41:36:

WHO ARE THE CLAMPERS? The Clampers, members of E Clampus Vitus, are noted for their commitment to preserving early California history. Throughout the state, they erect brass plaques along roadsides commemorating historical events and places. However, there is a lighter side to this organization.
The history of this quasi-fraternal organization originated in the California gold camps of the 1850s. There were few records kept of the Clampers’ early festivities. In Robert W. Ritchie’s book, The Hell-Roarin’ Forty-niners he gives a brief history of the organization: “The spirit of horseplay and the zest for comedy which ran a strong current through all the riotous life of the California gold camps has never been duplicated in any time or community since.... From this simple psychological reaction was born the ancient and honorable Society of E Clampus Vitus.... E Clampus Vitus was the noblest wheeze ever launched under the guise of a fraternal brotherhood. When California outgrew the knee pants of its riotous youth and came to the self-consciousness of chambers of commerce and culture clubs, E Clampus Vitus passed....”
On May 6, 1932, the Sacramento Bee ran a story proclaiming the resurrection of E Clampus Vitus. The article said: “The happy fraternity will be reborn.... Its members will consist of students of California history.” The article went on to say: “However, we do know the chief aim of the order was to procure liquid refreshments from its luckless initiates.” It explained the Clampers’ compensation fund, “which provided insurance for members who were injured while intoxicated. Of course nothing was paid a man who was injured while sober, because no righteous member of E Clampus Vitus should be caught sober.”
Their motto is Credo quia absurdum: “I believe because it is absurd.” Or more loosely translated: “Faith rests upon absurdity.” One Clamper wrote me that his brethren “enjoyed a good ‘spoof’ along with ... serious history.”
After Jerry Freeman found the trunk, the Clampers’ newsletter—titled “NUGGET, An Offal Publication” ran an article on the trunk. In their Vol. XXII, No. I, January, 6004 [1999], newsletter, Tim Spenser, who’s nom de plum is Seth Slopes, wrote an article about the trunk. He concluded the story thusly: “Late breaking story. I heard on the news that the chest had to be a hoax. Some professor from San Diego State? claimed it to be fake. It seems the manifest made reference to a ‘grubstake.’ Well the old proof said the term did not come into use till the end of the goldrush.
“Hopefully by next month I will have more definitive information on whether this is a hoax or not. But I can say this. While researching the subject of the chest in the 83 unpublished volumes of St. Vitus I came upon a description of the shawl [that was in the trunk]. According to St. Vitus the shawl was monogrammed with the letters ECV.”
I tracked down “Seth Slopes” and he claimed he was “just stirring up the shit” by adding the bit about the shawl being mono-grammed with the Clampers’ initials. He also told me, “I love a good hoax and this is a good one.”
Hoaxes are designed and carried out in secret. Many are designed to ensnare innocent people with reckless disregard for the feelings of the victims. Hoaxters often carry their secret to the grave, and those who assisted with or knew about the prank rarely come forward with the truth.
Jerry Freeman died thinking the trunk was an authentic artifact that William Robinson cached in a cave. Many Death Valley historians and trail buffs believe Jerry was the hoaxter. I wish the hoaxter would come forward so Jerry’s name can be cleared.


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