On January 11, 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt was made an honorary member of the Improved Order of Red Men.
Never heard of the Improved Order of Red Men? Chances are good that your grandparents knew of the IORM. Perhaps your grandfather himself was a Red Man or your grandmother a member of the Degree of Pocahontas, the IORM women’s auxiliary.
The IORM was a fraternal lodge at a time in American history when fraternal lodges were a pervasive social force, when social networking was undigitized and eye-to-eye, when people met in clubrooms, not chatrooms. One scholar estimated that “every fifth man belonged to at least one of the nation’s seventy thousand fraternal lodges.”
In 1890 the Fort Worth Gazette estimated that Fort Worth had four thousand fraternal lodge members. The population of Fort Worth in 1890 was twenty-four thousand, so by that estimate, one man in six belonged to a lodge.
In 1899 the Fort Worth Register regularly published a lodge directory. Some lodges that did not have their own hall met in a hotel or school, the courthouse, or the hall of another lodge such as Knights of Pythias. Woodmen of the World met in the Red Men hall at Main and 10th streets.
This lodge directory from the March 6, 1904 Telegram refers to lodges as “secret societies.”
We know, of course, of the Masons and Shriners, of the Odd Fellows and Woodmen of the World. But a century ago knighthood was in flower: There were Knights of Pythias, Knights of Honor, Knights of Columbus, Knights of the Maccabees, Catholic Knights of America, Knights of Dixie.
Many male lodges had female counterparts: Odd Fellows had Daughters of Rebekah; Red Men had Daughters of Pocahontas; Knights of the Maccabees had Ladies of the Maccabees.
In that segregated era, African Americans had their own lodges in the African-American business community. Two were the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows at 415 East 6th Street and the Key West Lodge No. 5, Knights of Pythias, at 900 East 2nd Street.
Many men belonged to more than one lodge. B. B. Paddock, for example, was an Odd Fellow, Mason, Knight of Pythias, and Knight of Honor. Dr. William A. Duringer was a Knight Templar, Shriner, Elk, Eagle, and Knight of Pythias.
There was also the Tribe of Ben Hur, an order based on the 1880 novel by Lew Wallace. In 1904 the local tribe held a ball at the interurban’s Lake Erie trolley park. Clip is from the April 21 Telegram.
Clan McDonald lodge had officers with titles such a “henchman.” Secretary of the local lodge was stone mason Andrew Gilchrist.
And there was a veritable Ark of animals: Bovinians and Owls, Elks and Eagles, Beavers and Moose and Otters, oh my.
Construction contractor and mayor William Bryce was a Bovinian. Also an Elk, Mason, and Knight of Pythias.
But back to the Red Men. In 1901 the Red Men claimed six thousand members in Texas, a half million nationally by 1935. Fort Worth’s first Red Men lodge had formed by 1897.
Among the order’s tenets were promotion of patriotism, performance of public service, and perpetuation of the traditions of a “once-vanishing race.” Indeed, the order traced its origins to 1765 and the Sons of Liberty, a colonial secret order whose members dressed as Native Americans when they took part in the Boston Tea Party in 1773. The Sons and other orders merged into the Society of Red Men in 1813. In 1834 that order changed its name to “Improved Order of Red Men.”
This membership certificate of 1889 (from Wikipedia) is decorated with Native American scenes. The Red Men wore Native American regalia in their induction rituals. Their lodge lingo also was Native American. For example, a lodge was a “tribe,” a lodge’s city was its “hunting ground,” a lodge hall was the “wigwam,” leadership titles included “incohonee,” “sachem,” and “sagamore,” ranks were “hunter,” “warrior,” and “chief.” Time was reckoned in “moons” and “suns.” Meetings were “powwows” and “council fires.” Visitors were “palefaces.”
In addition to performing public service, like most fraternal orders, the Improved Order of Red Men provided members with social and business networking in the days before LinkedIn. But also, more than most fraternal groups, surely the Red Men appealed to every man’s inner boy.
This 1902 Mail-Telegram article lists William M. Rea as prophet of the Quanah Parker tribe of Red Men.
Rea served several terms as chief of police and county sheriff. He had been in law enforcement in Fort Worth since the late 1870s, first serving as a patrolman under City Marshal Timothy Isaiah “Longhaired Jim” Courtright.
Rea is buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Notice that he was also a Mason (also an Elk, Woodman of the World, Odd Fellow, and Knight of Pythias).
In 1907 some “real Indians” of the Wichita and Kiowa tribes asked to join the Red Men lodge. I could find no newspaper followup on the fate of that application. Clip is from the May 5 Telegram.
Over the last century membership in the IORM—like membership in many fraternal orders—declined. But according to IORM’s national website, Fort Worth still has three tribes. The national headquarters—and museum—is in Waco. The national charity project is Alzheimer’s research.