E Clampus Vitus plaque fetes Cottonwood founders

CEREMONY DRAWS CROWD -- Initiates interested in joining E Clampus Vitus sit cross-legged on the street while overseers make sure they listen without speaking during the dedication speeches of an historic plaque honoring the founders of Cottonwood. Members of the public, including several dozen descendents of brothers Jacob and Johannis Forster, the town's founding fathers, attended the brief noontime ceremony Saturday, April 28.

Photo by George L. Winship, Editor

CEREMONY DRAWS CROWD -- Initiates interested in joining E Clampus Vitus sit cross-legged on the street while overseers make sure they listen without speaking during the dedication speeches of an historic plaque honoring the founders of Cottonwood. Members of the public, including several dozen descendents of brothers Jacob and Johannis Forster, the town's founding fathers, attended the brief noontime ceremony Saturday, April 28.

PLAQUE DEDICATION -- John Eshom, Noble Grand Humbug of the Lassen Loomis Chapter 1914 of E Clampus Vitus, explains the significance of the historical plaque and its accuracy to club initiates and members of the public during a noon unveiling in the oldest section of Cottonwood Saturday, April 28.

Photo by George L. Winship, Editor

PLAQUE DEDICATION -- John Eshom, Noble Grand Humbug of the Lassen Loomis Chapter 1914 of E Clampus Vitus, explains the significance of the historical plaque and its accuracy to club initiates and members of the public during a noon unveiling in the oldest section of Cottonwood Saturday, April 28.

The historic center of Cottonwood in southern Shasta County was marked Saturday, April 28, by the unveiling of an engraved plaque and red brick monument erected to honor Jacob Forster as the community’s founder. It was dedicated in a brief noontime ceremony by members of the Lassen Loomis Chapter 1914 of E Clampus Vitus.

The fraternal organization adheres to the study and preservation of Western heritage, noted the chapter’s Noble Grand Humbug, John Eshom.

“We are celebrating the placement of this plaque here today because that is our job. We are the oldest and largest historical society in the United States,” said Eshom, who said the Clampers' organization boasts more than 120,000 active members nationally and can trace its somewhat dubious lineage to 1845 when a West Virginia tavern and stable owner, Ephraim Bee, claimed to have been commissioned by the Emperor of China to “extend the work and influence of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus.”

Often seen as a burlesque spoof of Freemasonry and other secret societies such as the Elks, Masons and Odd Fellows, E Clampus Vitus chapters do provide a service in commemorating various historical monuments, Eshom explained afterwards.

Established in May 1999 as a fledgling outpost of the Trinitarianus Chapter 62, the Lassen Loomis chapter has already dedicated 13 historical plaques in Tehama and eastern Shasta County, Eshom said.

Demonstrating their chapter motto, written in dubious Latin: “Sieta errare dubitare nuquam” that Eshom loosely translated as “Often in error but never in doubt,” Eshom discounted as inaccurate an engraved stone plaque that had originally been intended for the memorial marker and instead unveiled a painted wooden mockup of the reworded marker that will be installed later.

Sitting absolutely silent and cross-legged in the paved roadway adjacent to the incomplete historical monument were 19 initiates awaiting induction into the Lassen Loomis chapter. Another 30 or more members of the organization, each wearing a red T-shirt or vest emblazoned with the chapter’s name, were sprinkled throughout the nearly 100 spectators that included several dozen descendents of Jacob Forster and his brother Johannis as well as members of the Cottonwood Improvement Society and Cottonwood’s Chamber of Commerce.

Forster — the family name was later respelled Foster — arrived in the region in 1861 and homesteaded 40 acres on the north side of what is now Cottonwood Creek until he could purchase another 160 acres, said family historian Paul “Ernie” Foster, 61, of Sedona, Ariz.

Jacob Forster convinced the railroad company to build a depot next to his hotel in exchange for granting the railroad a right-of-way across the creek on his property.

Forster built the Foster Hotel in 1863 and began selling small portions of his 160 acres as construction lots for the town. His brother Johannis Forster ran the hotel for many years and helped to establish it as a grand institution in the South County, Paul Foster said.

Recognized by many historians as the Father of Cottonwood, Jacob Forster sold his hotel in 1883 to Peter Reifenrath and left the state.

The hotel burned to the ground in 1885 and was never rebuilt. The memorial marker stands on a vacant lot where the hotel once stood, Paul Foster said.

“It’s a wonderful family recognition. It’s an honor that we are able to be here today. Cottonwood is a wonderful Western cow town with its 90 feet wide streets, high sidewalks and wooden storefronts,” Paul Foster said as he addressed the crowd during the plaque dedication ceremony.

Helping the Lassen Loomis chapter historian with the task of accurately reflecting the Cottonwood area’s history was Herk Shriner, long-time historian of the Trinitarianus Chapter.

“I’ve written more than 50 plaques in the past 32 years as historian. I really love doing this work,” said Shriner, who arrived from Weaverville after the short dedication program was completed.

“Cottonwood is fertile ground for historical plaque dedications. In our search to get the history correct, the wording on the plaque needed to get redone because it was so inaccurate. It was important that we get this one right or we would never be invited back to do another one,” Shriner explained.

UPDATED to add photo gallery

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