The Whiskey Barrel

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Steven L. Harrison 33˚, FMLR

In today's bustling twenty-first century world, millions of people travel across the country quickly, comfortably, and without giving it a second thought. During the mid 19th century, people's desire to make that crossing was no less enthusiastic, but the trip was anything but pleasant. Such was the experience of three men who had made their way across the treacherous plains to the west coast town of Oregon City.

These men, Joseph Hull, P.G. Stewart, and William P. Dougherty, Freemasons, hoped to establish a Masonic Lodge in the area. On February 5, 1846, they placed an ad in the Oregon City newspaper calling for members of the Masonic fraternity to meet on February 21, "to adopt some measures to obtain a charter for a Lodge."

On that date, seven Brothers met and crafted a request for a charter from the closest Grand Lodge which, at that time, was in St. Louis, Missouri, over 2,000 miles away. They found a Brother, Joel Palmer, who was headed back east, instructing him to deliver it to the closest Masonic Lodge, Platte City 56, in St. Joseph Missouri.  

Brother Palmer made that Journey during the summer of 1846. Platte City Lodge then delivered the request to the Grand Lodge of Missouri, which granted the charter for Multnomah Lodge 84 on October 19.

The Grand Lodge sent the charter back to Platte City Lodge but it became difficult to find a suitable person to deliver it back to Oregon. Finally, they entrusted the precious document to Pierre Barlow Cornwall, who began the westward journey on April 1, 1848, over two years after the Oregon Brothers made the request.

When Cornwall reached Fort Hall, Idaho in August 1848, he heard about the discovery of gold in California and abandoned any thought of going to Oregon. He entrusted the charter to two Masons he had met along the way, Joseph and Orrin Kellog, then headed out in an attempt to make his fortune. The Kelloggs finally delivered the charter on September 11, 1848, two years and seven months after the initial request.

After all that time with little or no news of its whereabouts, we can only imagine the thrill the Oregon Brothers must have felt receiving that document. Joseph Hull, who became the first Master, was so excited he called a meeting on that very day! The Brothers met at noon on the second floor of a building owned by Dougherty.  The improvised wardens podiums consisted of a barrel of flour in the East, a barrel of whiskey in the West and a barrel of salt pork in the South, symbolically representing corn, wine and oil.

During the next several hours, the Brothers consecrated the Lodge, elected officers, held three Entered Apprentice, three Fellowcraft, and two Master Mason degrees, wrapping things up sixteen hours later.

One cannot help but wonder if, at the end of such an epic journey capped by that auspicious day, those Brothers didn't break open that barrel of whiskey at the Senior Warden's station and toast the establishment of the first Masonic Lodge in the untamed American West.


Bro. Steve Harrison, 33°  is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is also a Fellow and Past Master of the Missouri Lodge of Research. Among his other Masonic memberships is the St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite bodies, and Moila Shrine. He is also a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. Brother Steve was Editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine for a decade and is a regular contributor to the Whence Came You podcast. Born in Indiana, he has a Master's Degree from Indiana University and is retired from a 35-year career in information technology. Steve and his wife Carolyn reside in northwest Missouri. He is the author of dozens of magazine articles and three books: Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, Freemasons — Tales From the Craft and Freemasons at Oak Island.

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