History of Cherokee
Normally, Masonic Lodges are numbered in the order of their creation. This is the case in Oklahoma too. Some question how we can be the oldest lodge and be #10. There is a logical reason. On October 3, 1837, the Grand Lodge of Tennessee chartered Washington Lodge #82 at Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Grand Lodge of Louisiana chartered Morning Star No. 42 at Arkansas Post and Western Star Lodge #43 at Little Rock on January 6, 1838. The Grand Master of Alabama issued dispensation to organize Mount Horeb Lodge #3 at Washington, Arkansas. These four bodies met in convention at Little Rock on November 21, 1838 and formed the Grand Lodge of Arkansas. After the formation of that Grand Lodge, Masonry in Arkansas began to spread over the state and farther west into the Indian Territory among the Cherokees and other tribes.
The proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas F. & A. M. show that the Committee on Charters and Dispensations granted a charter to “Cherokee Lodge” at Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation on November 8, 1848. The new lodge was designated as Cherokee Lodge #21. Its first officers were:
Walter S. Adair, Worshipful Master
These officers were duly installed in July 1849, in the Cherokee Supreme
Court Building. This building was constructed in 1844 and was the first public
building in what is now Oklahoma. The installation was presided over by Brother
R. P. Pulliam, representing the Grand Lodge of Arkansas. Records show that
Cherokee Lodge #21 had a membership of fourteen in 1849 and had grown to
thirty-one by the following year.
As the lodge was now firmly established, a permanent meeting place was needed. Most of the lodge membership was Cherokee, including several ones of influence. Chief John Ross was a member of another lodge. William P. Ross, the lodge’s first secretary was also editor of the Cherokee Advocate newspaper and would later serve as Chief. The Cherokee National Council met in session at Tahlequah in 1852. Two lots were given jointly to the Masons and the Sons of Temperance on condition that a building be erected within two years.
A two-story building was constructed the following year with the Sons of Temperance meeting on the first floor and the Masons on the second. School, church, and other community events were also held in the new structure. By 1853, lodge membership had increased to forty-two. That same year, the Grand Lodge of Arkansas granted a charter to Flint Lodge #74 in nearby Stilwell. It was not until November 9, 1855, seven years after Tahlequah was granted a charter, that Muscogee Lodge #93 (now known as Eufaula Lodge #1) was established in the Creek Nation.
Events of the Civil War led to Eufaula securing the number one designation and Tahlequah dropping to number ten. During the first year of the war, the Grand Lodge of Arkansas lost nearly all of its records. At its November communication, held in Little Rock, only 51 of 168 chartered lodges were represented. None from Indian Territory were in attendance. During 1863-1865, the average number of lodges attending Grand Lodge was a mere twenty-three, again none from Indian Territory. In 1865, the Grand Lodge ordered the Grand Secretary to attempt to rebuild the records as much as possible from copies that might be found in the constituent lodges.
None of the Indian Territory lodges had made a report since 1861. The Grand Secretary found, in error, that the lodges, paraphernalia, records, and charters of the Indian Territory lodges had been destroyed in the Civil War. The 1865 communication of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas issued an order that all lodges in default forward their returns to the Grand Secretary by January 1, 1867, or show cause for failure, and that chartered be withdrawn from all lodges that continued in default.
Sometime in 1867, Bro. H. D. Reece, Past Master of Cherokee Lodge #21, wrote that the charter and jewels of the lodge had been saved, and since there were only five members, requested more time to round up more members and pay up back dues. His request was refused. A request for reinstatement was made again on November 21, 1870, but denied by the Grand Master because the lodge had been declared dead and its number reassigned to Jasper, Arkansas. Cherokee Lodge #21 returned its charter and requested dispensation for a new lodge, but the request was denied because of no certificate showing the officers named had exemplified the work and lectures. The decision was most unjust as the officers named were officers of the old lodge. An appeal was made to the committee on charters and dispensations, but no action was taken.
In 1874, there were six lodges: Oklahoma Lodge #217 at Boggy Depot in the Choctaw Nation, chartered November 18; Doaksville Lodge #279 in the Choctaw Nation, chartered November 7, 1871; Alpha Lodge #122, at Fort Gibson in the Cherokee Nation; Caddo Lodge #311, in the Choctaw Nation; Flint Lodge #74, having been reinstated and moved to Wilsonville, Arkansas was removed to Flint Court House in the Cherokee Nation; and, Muskogee Lodge 393 in the Creek Nation at Eufaula. Alpha Lodge was chartered by the Grand Lodge of Kansas, the remainder by the Grand Lodge of Arkansas. Three of these lodges: Caddo #311; Doaksville #279; and, Eufaula #90, called a meeting at Caddo and established the Grand Lodge of Indian Territory on October 6, 1874. Cherokee Lodge was not invited. It may be observed that Eufaula was given the number one designation before the Grand Lodge of Arkansas re-chartered it on October 15, 1874.
Nothing more was heard from Cherokee Lodge until Bro. H. D. Reece made application to, and was granted dispensation on April 24, 1877, by Most Worshipful J. S. Murrow, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Indian Territory, for a Lodge at Tahlequah to be called “Cherokee Lodge.” The Committee on Charters and Dispensations reported the work of Cherokee Lodge to be good and recommended that a charter be granted. The charter, dated September 5, 1877 was then issued, and lodge became Cherokee Lodge #10 - and is the oldest Lodge in Oklahoma.
June 24, 1878, being St. John’s Day, the newly elected officer, members, and visiting brothers (36) formed procession at 11:00 a.m. and marched in regular order to the capital Square where a public installation of officers was held. The first officers of the reconstituted lodge were:
H. D. Reece, Worshipful Master
Other Charter Members were: P. T. Johnson, Jackson R. Gourd, Thomas T. Trainer, William Eubanks, W. P. McCoy, James Shelton, E. P. Harris, W. T. Adair, Leonidas Dobson, J. B. Mays, Joseph F. Thompson, George Keys, Levi Keys, John A. Foreman, John Cookson, T.K.B. McSpadden, and I. D. Leoser.
The lodge grew and was soon feeling the need for a new building. A building committee was appointed and by 1889 a contract was let to erect a new temple at the corner of Muskogee and Choctaw streets. It was to be jointly owned by Cherokee Lodge #10 and Royal Arch Chapter #5. The old building sold for $500 and $300 was needed to buy the new site. To finance construction, twenty-two members signed notes bearing 10% interest to cover the $4,123.50 cost. An opera area occupied the first level. Its twenty foot ceiling provided an excellent venue for traveling theatrical companies. It even saw use as a Federal and State Court House. This was accomplished by a lodge with only 50 - 60 members. Even with rental income, the expense of the new lodge proved to be quite a burden on the membership for many years.
Our current temple was dedicated April 7, 1955. That piece of land
purchased in 1899 for $300 was sold for $10,250. Bro. Sam Willis owned an
adjacent tract of land on generously donated it to the lodge. The cost of the
new building was $24,323.35. Eight years later, a dining hall was added at a
cost of $8,200 and became essentially the lodge as we know it today.