Saturday, August 9, 2014

Great Freemasons: Nathaniel Pitt Langford (1832–1911)

Judge, then, what must have been our astonishment, as we entered the basin at mid-afternoon of our second day's travel, to see in the clear sunlight, at no great distance, an immense volume of clear, sparkling water projected into the air to the height of one hundred and twenty-five feet. 'Geysers! Geysers!' exclaimed one of our company.” - Nathaniel P. Langford, upon seeing Old Faithful.

Nathaniel Pitt Langford (1832–1911) was an explorer, businessman, bureaucrat, vigilante and historian from Saint Paul, Minnesota who played an important role in the early years of the Montana gold fields, territorial government and the creation of Yellowstone National Park.

“When the company, of which I was one, entered what is now Montana - then Dakota — a single settlement known by the name of Grasshopper (now Bannack) was the only abode of the white man in the southern part of the Territory. Our journey from Minnesota, over 1,400 miles, by a route never before traveled, and with the slow conveyance of ox trains, was of long duration and tedious (It was one of the Fisk expeditions). It was a clear September twilight when we camped on the western side of the range of the Rocky Mountains where they are crossed by the Mullan Road. The labors of the day over, three of our number, a brother named Charlton, another, whose name I have forgotten, and myself, the only three Master Masons in the company, impressed with the grandeur of the mountain scenery and the mild beauty of the evening, ascended the mountain to its summit, and there, in imitation of our ancient brethren, opened and closed an informal lodge of Master Masons. I had listened to the solemn ritual of Masonry a hundred times, but never when it im­pressed so seriously as upon this occasion; such also was the experience of my companions... Never was the fraternal clasp more cordial than when in the glory of that beautiful evening, we opened and closed the first Lodge ever assembled in Montana...” Mullan Pass Historical Site
That meeting in the Rockies has been commemorated for many years by an annual session on the site. It is also pictured in a painting by Olaf Seltzer that is on display in the Masonic Grand Lodge Library.
Masonry’s next step, in what was to be Montana, occurred in November that same year of 1862. William Bell died in the gold camp of Bannack in southwest Montana. Before his death he asked for a Masonic funeral. At first this request was believed to be impossible, but an attempt was made. A notice was sent out for all Masons to gather at the cabin of C.J. Miller. To everyone’s surprise, so many Masons responded that they had to move to a larger cabin. Preparations were made for the funeral, but before they disbanded, someone brought up the notion of forming a lodge. This was received favorably, with the decision to take up the move later. Langford presided at the funeral the next day. Langford, again in his report to the 1867 Grand Lodge, explained what happened next:
“From this moment Masonic History commenced its lofty career in Montana. Other law-loving people, who, though not members of the Order, possessed the first and highest preparations to become so, united with our brethren in organized force to van­quish crime and drive it from our borders.”

(At present I am not sure of his original lodge, but he was Grandmaster of Montana)

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