The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus (ECV) is a fraternal organization dedicated to the study and preservation of Western heritage, especially the history of the Mother Lode and gold mining regions of the area. The west wall of the museum building is the E. Clampus Vitus Wall of Comparative Ovations. Fondly called “the Clampers,” the organization has been one of the museum’s largest supporters over the years.
The history of the Clampers is steeped in mythology. It is said that the organization was brought to the United States in 1845 in Lewisport, Virginia when inn and stable owner Ephraim Bee was given a commission from the Emperor of China to “extend the work and influence of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus.” Bee claimed to have received his commission from Caleb Cushing, the American Commissioner to China.
Clamper meetings were held in the Hall of Comparative Ovations, generally the back room of a saloon. Some chapters even built their own Halls of Comparative Ovations, as the one that still stands in Murphys. The Clamper flag was a hoop skirt embroidered with the words “This is the flag we fight under.” Meetings were held “at any time before or after a full moon.” Prospective members were called “Poor Blind Candidates.” They were required to present a poke of gold dust, although the value of the poke was left to the discretion of the brotherhood and was frequently waived entirely if the candidate could not afford it.
Despite their reputation for rowdiness, Clamper members took their brotherhood seriously. When a member became sick or injured, the group would collect food or money to help him. They frequently trekked through the vastness of the Sierra Nevada to reach lonely miners who otherwise would have had no Christmas celebration. The society was also known to assist the widows and orphans of fallen members such as those that perished in mining accidents.