Chapter 2 – The Early Days
La Grande Lodge No. 433 did not grow very much for several years after its institution, but in 1901 T. N. Murphy, Charles Goodnough and H. Peare determined to place La Grande Lodge in its proper position in Elkdom. So began a diligent membership campaign. T. N. Murphy was elected Exalted Ruler that year and his efforts to increase our membership were very successful and he was reelected for a second term but he declined. Member count was 140 Brothers.
During 1902 under Exalted Ruler Murphy’s direction, the Lodge rented an upstairs room in the Sherwood Williams Building and created a Lodge room for their meetings and also furnished a recreational room for social activities. These rooms were rented to other groups and organizations to help with our finances. Jake Gulling told of hearing a financial report read on the Lodge floor the night he was initiated. Our Lodge owed $600.00 and the treasurer reported a total in the bank of 63 cents. He asked “What have I got myself joined up with?”
On February 22, 1901 our Lodge held its first Annual Washington’s Birthday Banquet and Ball. This was a grand formal affair with the Brothers in tuxedos and the ladies in their formal dresses. It was the first of its kind in La Grande and became the leading social event in the city. The price of tickets was the unheard of price of $5.00 per couple. The intention was to make it an entirely unique affair and it most certainly was. The banquet was held in our own Lodge room, catered by Abe Sommer who furnished everything in liquid and solid food that your heart could desire. The ball was held in the Stewart Opera House after the delicious banquet. These annual banquets and balls celebrating George Washington’s Birthday always lost money for the Lodge but it was worth it to gain new members and collect back dues.
Brother E. W. Bartlett was Exalted Ruler for two terms, 1898-1899 and 1899-1900. Dr. Nicholas Molitor was elected Exalted Ruler for 1900-1901. He was followed in 1901-1902 by Thomas N. Murphy. In April, 1902, Brother J. H. Peare was elected Exalted Ruler. With the aid of his officers and the enthusiastic membership the Lodge roster climbed to 220 Brothers.
At this time the Kiddies Christmas candy/gift program became the charitable work of our Lodge and the community was impressed.
Brother Charles Goodnough was elected Exalted Ruler for 1903-1904. Jake Gulling was elected for 1904-1905 and our membership continued to increase. F. S. Ivanhoe was elected Exalted Ruler for 1905-1906 and it was apparent that the Lodge facilities were over crowded. E. W. Davis was elected ER in 1906-1907 and during this year a decision was made that the Lodge should own its own home. During the term of W. B. Sargent as Exalted Ruler, 1907-1908, a committee was appointed to find such a site available for our Lodge. On January 30, 1908, the committee recommended that the Lodge buy the lots now occupied by the Spaeth Building. This was voted and approved and the lots were purchased for $1500.00 with the expectation that we build our Temple there in the near future.
C. S. Dunn became Exalted Ruler for 1908-1909. It was during his term of office that an opportunity arose to purchase two lots on the corner of Depot and Washington streets on which stood a building built by the La Grande Commercial Club. The Lodge voted to buy this offering for $9500.00 and use the present building for our Lodge Temple. It later became the home for the Eagles Lodge. In order to handle the purchase and payments in a business like manner, a building committee was appointed. The Lodge had been prospering from liquor sales so some money had been saved. Exalted Ruler Dunn appointed a committee of five who would work with the trustees and elected officers. They would be in charge of getting plans for remodeling the building for Lodge purposes and arranging plans to finance this project and selling the lots we already owned. This committee was ordered to report progress on the project once a month on the floor of the Lodge.
In 1908, after our Lodge had voted to buy the Commercial Club Building and lots, the building committee sold stock to our members to complete the $9500.00 purchase price. The building was remodeled to suit our needs and in October of 1908 a house-warming celebration was held (all kinds of food and drinks). It was a hot time in the old town that night.
Brother H. E. Coolidge followed C. S. Dunn as Exalted Ruler in 1909-1910. Brother Coolidge was a banker and he was instrumental in setting up a bookkeeping system and proposing a budget for the yearly income and expenses.
Dr. G. L. Biggers was elected Exalted Ruler for 1910-1911. It is interesting to note he was appointed by the Grand Exalted Ruler to serve as District Deputy for Eastern Oregon for the years 1911-1912. Brother W. C. Hesse was our first steward (or club manager) and he held that position until his death.
Henry Ritter became Exalted Ruler in 1911-1912 and our membership continued to grow. T. Scroggins was elected to the position 0f Exalted Ruler in 1912-1913. It was becoming apparent that our membership was beginning to crowd 0ur quarters again, as our members in good standing were almost 300.
La Grande Elks Lodge No. 433 was successful in their efforts to obtain a small herd of elk from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in February, 1911. They came through La Grande in cattle cars on their way to Enterprise where they were loaded into wagons and hauled to a release at Billy Meadows.
In 1910, our Lodge received a letter from the Grand Exalted Ruler referring to the deep snow in Wyoming and that many elk were dying because of the extreme, difficult conditions of this particular winter. Dr. G. L. Biggers was Exalted Ruler and he appointed a committee to take up this matter with our Representative in Congress, Brother N. K. Sinnott. We wanted permission to bring some of these noble animals to Oregon. The committee members were: J. H. Peare, T. J. Scroggins, H. E. Coolidge and Nate Zweifel. Negotiations went along smoothly and in the late winter of 1911 our Lodge got permission to transplant 14 cows and one bull in Eastern Oregon. The game commission worked with our Lodge in determining where to release these elk. They had been running an experiment at Billy Meadows in Wallowa County and had fenced off a 600 acre tract of land to determine the effect of cattle grazing on the range. It was agreed to turn them loose inside this enclosure. If it would keep cattle out, it surely would keep the elk in (or so they thought!). The elk came through La Grande in cattle cars. At that time there was a Union Pacific stockyard here. The elk were parked by the stockyard where there was a ramp that people could walk up along the cattle car to see what an elk looked like. There had been lots of publicity about this project in the papers and in the schools. Hundreds of Union County people came. The schools dismissed at noon so the children could come and view the elk. At this time of year the bull had shed his antlers so they all looked the same. Our Brothers named the bull “Taft”. The cattle cars were taken to Joseph on the Oregon Navigation Railroad Line (called ONRL at that time). When they reached Joseph they were loaded into wagons with tops on them and pulled by 4 horse teams, made their way to Billy Meadows. Several of our Brothers made the trip to Billy Meadows with the elk.
La Grande Lodge No. 433 passed a resolution as follows:
“As the United States government has entrusted to us 11 head of elk for the purpose of propagation; Resolved: We deem it our duty to protect these elk in the State of Oregon. A reward of $650.00 will be offered for the conviction of anyone caught poaching these elk.”
You can see how the Brothers felt about these noble animals. The beautiful bull elk of the herd, “Taft” was the undisputed leader until 1932 when one of his sons named Tarazan, then ten years younger, challenged the leader of the herd. In the ensuing fight to the death, Tarazan was killed by Taft. This battle occurred at the head of Wallowa Lake. Taft became so mean and dangerous that he had to be killed a year later. The mounted head of Taft is displayed above the station of the Esteemed Leading Knight in La Grande’s Lodge room. Tarazan, the son of Taft, is displayed above the station of the Esteemed Lecturing Knight. Teddy, a Roosevelt elk, was one of a small herd of native Canadian prairie Pacific Northwest elk that migrated into Eastern Oregon around 1900. PER Dr. G. L. Biggers bagged this elk in the upper Grande Ronde area in 1911. He had it mounted and presented it to our Lodge. His head is displayed above the station of the Esteemed Loyal Knight. La Grande Lodge No. 433 can be extremely proud of its part in the history of these beautiful elk and were fortunate to acquire these trophy heads for display in our Lodge room.
Under the leadership of Henry Ritter (1911-1912) as Exalted Ruler a drive was started to attend the Grand Lodge sessions in Portland in the summer of 1912. In August, 1911, a committee was appointed to make arrangements for our attendance at these sessions. The report of the committee was that the cost per person to attend the session would be $40.00. Ten dollars of that would be for a uniform. A list was begun and members had to put up $10.00 over their signature that they would go or forfeit their $10.00.
A motion was made to take along a 24 piece band at a cost of $100.00. There were 100 members on the train when it left for Portland. A baggage car was rented and put in line as the refreshment center with all the ingredients of pre-prohibition days to make the trip enjoyable. The Brothers had a marvelous time and returned home without anybody being lost or injured.
This was an enthusiastic, growing Lodge in 1912.