One cannot discuss the origins of Royal Arch Masonry without first discussing the origins of the Grand Lodge of Colorado.
Colorado has a rich and long history from the earliest known Folsom era inhabitants of 13,000 years ago to a modern technological society of the 21st Century. The earliest European settlements were formed by the Spanish in southern Colorado. The San Luis area was claimed in 1598 by Juan de Oņate and in 1787 Juan Bautista de Anza established the settlement of San Carlos near present-day Pueblo, Colorado, but it quickly failed. In 1803 the United States of America claimed the eastern slope of the Rockies by means of the Louisiana Purchase while ceding the territory south and west of the Arkansas River to Mexico. While various trappers, surveyors, scouts, and other pioneer types traversed the territory between 1802 and 1850 it was not until 1851 that the first permanent settlement was established by Europeans at the town of San Luis.
In 1858 news of gold discoveries by a group led by William Greensberry "Green" Russell in the South Platt river near present day Englewood spread and over 100,000 people immigrated to the territory in the next three years. Among those new settlers were a group of seven Masons who held regular meetings every Saturday night to discuss news and have fellowship. These were not lodge meetings, as they had no charter at that time. It is not known if any of the seven original Masons, Henry Allen, Charles H. Blake, Oscar Lehow, James D. Ramage, Dr. Levi J. Russell, Andrew Sagendorf and William M. Slaughter were Royal Arch Masons but three of them - Charles H. Blake, Andrew Sagendorf and William M. Slaughter later became members of Denver City Royal Arch Chapter with Andrew Sagendorf becoming deputy grand high priest of the Grand Chapter of Colorado.
The first documented "Masonic" celebration held in Colorado was on Dec. 27, 1858 when the original seven Masons who had been meeting for over a month decided to celebrate St. John's Day in a fitting manner. With a borrowed bed sheet serving as a table cloth the group which had grown to twenty-six prepared a feast of pork, beans, biscuits, coffee and wild game. The group continued to meet through the winter and in April 1859 a William N. Byers, who figures in later, came to the settlement and published the first edition of a daily newspaper which was known as the Rocky Mountain News.
Through the first days of May 1859 John Gregory worked and finally found a deposit of Gold in the foothills west of Denver City in what became known as Gregory Diggings. This find was to spark the "Pike's Peak or Bust" gold rush in 1859. Most of the original Masons in Denver City moved up to the Black Hawk/Central City area and continued to hold their weekly meeting. By the end of June 1859 it is said that about 20,000 prospectors, speculators, and miners had moved to the Gregory Gulch area of which many were Masons. The original small group had grown to over one hundred Masons when they obtained a block of ground and began leveling the ground to build what would be the first Masonic Temple. This simple log two-room structure served at first for the simple gathering of Masons in the area then became a site for actual lodge meetings. Up until 1860 the territory of Colorado was actually part of Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas and the local Masons applied to both Kansas and Nebraska for charters to do business. In 1861 the U.S. Congress established the Territory of Colorado and in August of that same year the Grand Lodge of Colorado A.F.& A.M. was established with John M. Chivington as its first Grand Master.
Amid the turmoil of 'gold fever', Indians, the establishment of a new territory and the rapid immigration of people Royal Arch Masonry was first born in the territory. In the spring of 1863 a group of Royal Arch Masons in Central City and others in the Denver area conceived the idea of organizing a chapter in each city. Who the first Royal Arch Masons in Colorado was is unknown, but several of the pioneering Companions are recorded.
In Central City one of the pioneer Royal Arch Masons was Allyn Weston. He was the second Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Colorado A.F.& A.M. He also served as the first High Priest of the Central City Chapter while in the Denver area Paris S. Phouts was the first High Priest, but which Chapter was THE FIRST CHAPTER?
Central City Chapter No. 1
According to the Constitution of the General Grand Chapter R.A.M., any one of the first four officers of the General Grand Chapter had the power and authority to grant dispensations for new Royal Arch Chapters in any territory in which there is not a grand chapter regularly organized. In the early spring of 1863 the Royal Arch Masons of Central City addressed a petition to Ira A.W. Buck, of Illinois, General Grand King of the General Grand Chapter, to grant them a dispensation to open and hold a chapter of Royal Arch Masons at Central City, which dispensation was issued March 23, 1863. The Companions of Denver addressed their petition to John L. Lewis, New York, Deputy General Grand High Priest, who, on April 28, 1863, issued dispensation for a new Chapter at Denver. Thus, only thirty-eight days intervened between the signing of these two dispensations by two men in different states. And considering the uncertainties of transportation of mail in the West at that time, there may easily be some question as to where the idea of a chapter of Royal Arch Masons for Colorado really originated. However, according to the records, the precedence goes to Central City.
The first meeting of a Royal Arch Chapter in the territory of Colorado was the first meeting of Central City Chapter U.D., held April 6, 1863, when the Chapter was opened at 7:30 p.m. with the following officers:
Allyn Weston, High Priest; A.J. VanDern, King; F. Parmelee, Scribe, pro tem; J.H. Gest, Capt. Of the Host; J.W. Nesmith, Principal Sojourner, pro tem; C.W. Wyatt, RAC, pro tem; J.M. VanDeren, M3V, pro tem; W.M. Humfrey, M2V, pro tem; J.M. Fowler, M1V, pro tem.
At this meeting the Chapter voted to meet each Monday evening at 7:30 p.m., and set the fee for the degrees at $60.00. Sixteen petitions were presented at this first meeting, all of which were elected and received the degrees in the Chapter.
At the time of this meeting, Allyn Weston, who was acting as High Priest, was the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Colorado A.F.& A.M., and John M. VanDeren was the Sr. Grand Warden. Archibald J. Van Deren became the Deputy Grand Master in 1862 and Grand Master in 1864. The first petitioner, Henry M. Teller, was at the time, WM of the Lodge at Central City, and in November 1863 was elected MWGM of the Grand Lodge of Colorado. At the time he received the Royal Arch Degree, Nov. 23, 1863, he was the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge. Another petitioner, Ed C. Parmelee, was elected the second Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge in 1866, and served as such until his death May 10, 1901. He was Grand Secretary of the Grand Chapter from its beginning in 1875, and the Grand Recorder of the Grand Commandery from its beginning in 1876 until his death.
The first conferring of each Chapter Degree by Central City Chapter U.D. was Mark Master, April 15, 1863 with three candidates; Past Master, May 20, 1863 with four candidates; MEM, May 25, 1863 with six candidates and the Holy Royal Arch on June 8, 1863 with three exulted. Oliver A. Whittemore, the first Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Colorado, petitioned this Chapter for the degrees on May 4, 1863, and was exulted a Royal Arch Mason on June 23, 1863.
The General Grand Chapter convened in Columbus, Ohio in 1865. A Charter was issued September 9, 1865 to Central City Chapter No. 1, Central City, Colorado with Archibald J. Van Deren as High Priest, Aaron M. Jones as King and James T. White as Scribe. The first meeting under charter was held Oct. 9, 1865, and a letter was read from Ira A.W. Buck, Deputy General Grand High Priest authorizing Henry M. Teller to act as his proxy in constituting Central City Royal Arch Chapter and install its officers whom he proceeded to do.
Denver City Chapter No. 2
As mentioned before, the Royal Arch Masons of Denver, directed their petition to John L. Lewis in New York, who was at the time Deputy General Grand High Priest, for a dispensation to form a Royal Arch Chapter in Denver. The dispensation was signed April 28, 1863 and the first meeting was held under its authority May 13, 1863. It was agreed to meet every alternate Wednesday and the fee for degrees was set at $60.00. Of the first thirteen petitions presented that evening, seven were elected and six rejected, which in itself was a measure of the tenseness of the times in Denver during the Civil War. The first conferring of the Capitular degrees in Denver Chapter was May 18, 1863-Mark Master, May 20, 1863-Past Master, May 29, 1863-Most Excellent Master and June 1, 1863-Royal Arch.
By comparing this picture with that of Central City Chapter it will be seen how closely in point of time these two chapters were working out their beginnings. Less than a month separated their respective first degree conferral and only five weeks for their first convocations.
William N. Byers, founder and publisher of the Rocky Mountain News petitioned for the degrees on June 10, 1863 and was exalted a Royal Arch Mason in Denver Chapter No. 2 on April 18, 1864. He would go on to be the first Grand High Priest when the Grand Chapter of Colorado was organized in 1875.
The Charter for Denver Chapter No. 2 was granted by the General Grand Chapter at its convention in Columbus, Ohio September 9, 1865, and the chapter held its first meeting under the charter on Oct. 4, 1865. The official constitution and installation took place on Oct. 17, 1865. The Rocky Mountain News reported it thus:
"The constitution and dedication of the chapter and installation of the officers of Denver City R.A. Chapter No. 2, will take place at the Methodist Episcopal Church on Tuesday evening at 7 o'clock p.m. Members of the chapter will assemble at their hall at 6― o'clock p.m., and proceed to the church in procession. The several lodges of Master Masons are invited to assemble at their respective Halls, at the above hour and join in the procession. Masters are requested to notify their Lodges of this invitation. Citizens generally are invited to attend the ceremonies at the church."
Deputy Grand High Priest W.L. Hoag assisted by Deputy Grand King J.H. Gest and Deputy Grand Scribe John Evans constituted, dedicated and installed the officers. Following the church ceremony the Chapter then returned to its Hall and resumed labor then closed.
The minutes of May 9, 1866 recorded that "On motion it was ordered that a notice be served on the owner of this Hall to repair the Roof of the same so as to be tight and if he fails to comply with this notice that the Chapter withhold the rent and claim damages."
William N. Byers of Denver City Chapter No. 2 attended the session of the General Grand Chapter held Nov. 24, 1874 at Nashville, TN, carrying with him the proxy of the officers of Denver City Chapter No. 2, and also of the officers of Pueblo Chapter No. 3 and was accompanied by Clarence J. Clarke, who carried the proxy of the officers of Central City No. 1. They were denied seats in the General Grand Chapter on the ground that warranted chapters could be represented only by regular officers. Much was made of the situation at the session and it resulted in an amendment to the laws of the General Grand Chapter whereby chapter officers could be represented by proxy. They were then regularly seated.
Pueblo Chapter No. 3
On May 26, 1871, James M Austin, General Grand High Priest, issued dispensation to ten petitioners for the formation of a Royal Arch Chapter in Pueblo, CO, and in it he named Samuel H. Bowman to be the first High Priest, Charles H. Blake to be the first King, and Robert C. Carlton to be the first Scribe. Their first meeting was held Monday, June 12, 1871 at the Masonic Hall located at 3rd and Santa Fe where the officer line was then appointed. The officers at that first meeting were:
High Priest - Samuel H. Bowman; King - Julius L. Bartells; Scribe - P.B. Sherman; CoH - Wm. R. Dickensen; PS - John D. Miller; RAC - George S. Adams; M3V - Charles H. Blake; M2V - A. Clough; M1V - R. W. Winburn and Sec. - R. C. Carlton.
Of the organizing members four were members of Denver City Chapter No. 2 and had received their degrees there. The first degree work was performed on July 21, 1871 with two candidates advanced to the Mark Master Degree. The first Past Master Degree was conferred Aug. 4, 1871 on D. B. Berry. The first Most Excellent Master Degree was conferred Aug. 18, 1871 on D. B. Berry and Geo. W. Morgan. The first Royal Arch Degree was conferred Sept. 1, 1871 on D. B. Berry, Geo. W. Morgan and C. J. Hart. This was the last convocation held under dispensation.
The General Grand Chapter met in Baltimore, MD in Sept. 1871 and one of the items of business was to grant a charter to Pueblo Royal Arch Chapter #3 of Pueblo, CO, which charter was dated Sept. 20, 1871. On Nov. 28, 1871, William N. Byers, acting as proxy for the General Grand High Priest, assembled Pueblo Chapter for the constitution and dedication of the chapter and the installation of the officers.
Pueblo was the first city in Colorado to have two chapters. Strictly speaking, there were two separate towns lying on either side of the Arkansas River - Pueblo, on the north side and South Pueblo on the south side. Travel between the two towns at night was difficult due to many undesirables who resided in the river flats. Eventually, the two towns were consolidated In 1882 the Grand Chapter of Colorado chartered South Pueblo Chapter #12 in South Pueblo. The two chapters remained prosperous and are still meeting. However, there was a time in 1894, when Pueblo Chapter #3 actually voted on the question of surrendering its charter, By a vote of 8 to 6 it was decided to keep the organization going; since which time, seven Grand High Priests have come from this chapter.
Georgetown Chapter #4
In July 1870 an attempt was made to form a chapter at Georgetown, but for some unknown reason the movement failed. Georgetown was one of the important mining centers not far from Central City, but in a different county. A petition dated July 22, 1872 was addressed to Central City Chapter for its recommendation for the formation of a chapter at Georgetown. The petition was approved and a formal petition was forwarded to Josiah H. Drummond, General Grand High Priest, for a regular dispensation for that purpose. Seventeen names were on the petition, all but one were members of Central City Chapter #1. The dispensation was signed Aug. 12, 1872 and named the following officers:
HP - Edward C. Parmelee; K - Almon C. Fellows; S - Wm. S. Downing; CoH - Charles A. Hoyt; PS - James A Burdick; RAC - David T. Rigsby; M3V - George L. Sites; M2V - David Lees; M1V - Daniel W. Glaze; Tres. - Joseph A. Love; Sec. - Wm. N. Hutchinson and Sent. - Michael Howard.
Petitions for the degrees were received from six Brothers. The first degree work was on Oct. 2, 1872 with the Mark Master conferred on John R. Hambel who later served as a Grand High Priest. The first Past Master Degree was conferred on Oct. 10, 1872 on three brothers. The first Most Excellent Master conferral was Nov. 8, 1872 on three brothers with the first Royal Arch Degree conferred on Nov. 16, 1872 with three brothers exulted.
At the Convocation of the General Grand Chapter, held in Buffalo, NY in Nov. 1874, a charter was granted under the date of Nov. 25, 1874 to Georgetown Chapter #4, Georgetown, CO naming Ed. C. Parmelee as High Priest, Almon C. Fellows King and William S. Downing as scribe. January 27, 1875 was the date set for the consecration and dedication of the chapter and installation of the officers. William N. Byers, by virtue of his appointment as proxy for the General Grand High Priest proceeded to consecrate and dedicate the chapter and installed the officers.
At the meeting held April 17, 1875, the subject of renting a hall jointly with the Odd Fellows was under discussion, when a resolution was adapted to the effect:
'That it is the sense of this Chapter that the Masons ought and should have a hall to be used by Masons only and that it is inexpedient for Masons to occupy any hall with any other organization.'
Golden Chapter #5
On October 15,1873 a group of twelve Royal Arch Masons, resident in Golden, CO holding membership in eight different jurisdictions, addressed a petition to Josiah H. Drummond, General Grand High Priest for a dispensation to form a chapter at Golden. The petition was granted and the dispensation was signed a Portland, Maine on December 8, 1873 naming Mariner Cook as High Priest, James Kelly as King and William C. Rogers as Scribe.
By authority of this dispensation, Golden Chapter assembled and organized at Golden on December 18, 1873. The following were appointed to assist the three principal officers in the conduct of the chapter:
James W. Kinney, COH; W. H. Irwin, PS; Jarvis Dennis, RAC; R. W. Chinn, M3V; L. J. Smith, M2V; W. A. H. Loveland, M1V; L. J. Smith, Tres.; H. J. Jones, Sec.; and H. H. Stebbins, Sent.
The following evening By-laws were adopted setting the fees for the degrees at $50.00 and then provided:
'On motion, the work now in possession of the Excellent High Priest was adopted for the guidance of the Chapter.'
High Priest Cook was from Calais, Maine. At the meeting held January 2, 1874, "about an hour was passed in endeavoring to harmonize the work with but partial success."
The first petitions for the degrees were presented by three Brothers on January 7, 1874. On February 14, 1874 the first degree work, the conferral of the Mark Master Degree on three candidates was performed. March 5, 1874 saw three candidates installed into the Oriental Chair as Past Masters and the Most Excellent Master degree was first conferred on March 26, 1874. On April 9, 1874 a big celebration was held, when the first Royal Arch Degree was conferred on M.C. Kirby, C.C. Welch, and Wm. D. Arnott. Denver City Chapter #2 had been invited to attend and assist in the ceremony. Many came and all the stations were filled by the visitors, who proceeded to confer the Royal Arch Degree.
The last meeting held under dispensation was October 15, 1874, at which time an election was held to nominate to the General Grand Chapter the chapter's choice of Officer to be named in the charter which was sought. The election resulted in the choice of Francis E. Everett as High Priest, G.G. Whyte as King and M.C. Kirby as Scribe. Companion Cook, who had been acting as High Priest, by virtue of his appointment as such in the dispensation, appealed to the General Grand Chapter to set aside the chapter election as irregular, and to substitute therefore in the charter, the names of the officers appointed in the dispensation. His appeal was denied and those recommended by the chapter were named in the charter.
The charter for Golden Royal Arch Chapter #5 was granted by the General Grand Chapter on November 25, 1874 at the session held in Buffalo, NY.
The first meeting under charter was February 19, 1875, when William N. Byers, of Denver City Chapter #2, acting under a dispensation as proxy for the General Grand High Priest, proceeded to constitute and dedicate Golden Chapter #5 and installed the following officers:
Francis E. Everett, HP; Mariner Cook, King; M.C. Kirby, Scribe; W.A.H. Loveland, COH; G.G. Whyte, PS; H.H. Stebbins, RAC; C.C. Welch, M3V; C.C. Coleman, M2V; W.D. Arnott, M1V; L..J. Smith, Treas.; H.J. Jones, Sec.; and A. Rooney, Sent.
Formation of the Colorado Grand Chapter
During the spring of 1872, letters were passed between the three chapters then working in Colorado - Central City #1, Denver City #2, Pueblo Chapter #3 - relative to the formation of a Grand Chapter of Colorado, but Central City #1 declined to participate. The suggestion was then made that the two Colorado chapters, who were favorable, join with the chapter at Cheyenne, WY to form a Grand Chapter for Colorado and Wyoming, but the idea was dropped when General Grand High Priest Josiah H. Drummond ruled that "under our Constitution there was no authority for the chapters in two states or territories to unite and form a Grand Chapter."
In 1875 there were five chapters at work in the Colorado Territory, each holding a charter from the General Grand Chapter, and with a total membership of 283 Royal Arch Masons, the lodges in the Territory having a membership of approximately 1300 Masons. Early in the year these five chapters made known to the General Grand High Priest their desire to establish a Grand Chapter for the Territory of Colorado, and permission to do so was granted by General Grand High Priest Elbert H. English on April 22, 1875.
Due notice of the proposed action having been sent to the five chapters, representatives from each chapter assembled in the Masonic Hall, on the top floor of the Fink Block (15th and Holladay - now Market Sts.) in Denver at eleven o'clock on the morning of May 11, 1875, for the purpose of organizing the Grand Chapter of Colorado. John W. Webster, of Denver City Chapter was elected President of the convention and John W. Ratliff, of Central City Chapter was elected secretary. Credentials of the representatives of the five chapters were examined and approved; a Constitution for the new Grand Chapter was adopted and the following officers were elected:
William N. Byers, Denver City Chapter #2, Grand High Priest; Irving W. Stanton, Pueblo Chapter #3, Deputy Grand High Priest; Benjamin W. Wisebart, Central City Chapter #1, Grand King; Francis E. Everett, Golden Chapter #5, Grand Scribe; Richard C. Lake, Central City Chapter #1, Grand Treasurer; Ed. C. Parmelee, Georgetown Chapter #4, Grand Secretary; George Q. Richmond, Pueblo Chapter #3, Grand Captain of the Host.
The object for which the Convention had been called having been accomplished, the convention adjourned sine die (without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing. To adjourn an assembly sine die is to adjourn it for an indefinite period). The Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Colorado was then immediately opened and its officers installed.
William N. Byers, as proxy for General Grand High Priest, E.H. English, with George M. Howe, acting as Grand Marshal, then constituted the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Colorado in due form, and proclamation was made that the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Colorado was duly organized, and the officers installed.
The Grand Chapter of Colorado was thus launched upon a career which, for over one hundred and thirty-five years, has been unmarred by any serious unpleasantness or lack of harmony. On the contrary, it has been especially characterized by the peace and good-will, and the pleasant associations that should be the distinguishing features of all Masonic organizations.
General Grand Chapter Royal Arch International archives.
Denver Public Library History and Genealogy Research section.
Archives of Grand Chapter Royal Arch Masons of Colorado.
Archives of Central City Chapter #1, Denver Chapter #2, Pueblo Chapter #3, Georgetown Chapter #4 and Golden Chapter #5.
Gerald F. Baker, KYCH
PM of Research Lodge of ColoradoM