Albert Pike: Dawn to Sunset

LeRoy V. Brant, 32°
K.C.C.H., San Jose, Calif.

The past and present geography of the life of Albert Pike is to be set forth in this article. It will trace the place where Pike was born, the places where he spent his boyhood, the long trail he followed to the West as a young man, his adventures in the Mexican and Civil Wars, his activities in the State of Arkansas, and his final days in Washington, D. C., as the Grand Commander of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. It will speak of the landmarks still left from the days of this Masonic hero.

In this article Pike will be neither deified nor glorified. Masonry needs no trappings with which to surround her leaders. Those who gain ascendancy and hold it do so only by virtue of the greatness of their ideas and ideals, and not by telling of improbable stories of supernatural things. I shall write of Albert Pike as I could piece his story together in more than 10,000 miles of direct travel over the trails that his feet trod in the bygone days.

I had read Pike's Morals and Dogma for more than thirty years. I had followed his magnificent settings of the Degrees of the Scottish Rite for that length of time, and, inasmuch as it has been my lot to sit on the organ bench throughout the conferring of the Degrees from the 4th to the 32d for those long years, I have become, perhaps, highly conversant with the language and, I hope, with the meanings of the Degrees. Through those years an increasing respect for the mind of Albert Pike has grown upon me, a reverence for the greatness of intellect which could clothe the basic Masonic truths in such magnificent verbal habiliments, and within my breast was born long ago the desire to learn what I could firsthand of this man of Masonry and of God.

The summer of 1949 saw the fruition of long planning, saw my wife and I setting forth, one early July morning, on the odyssey which more than a century ago had been that of the greatest Mason of all ages, Albert Pike. The geography of my own trip was not coincident with that of the life of Pike since I began my travels in California, while he opened his eyes to this world in Boston. For the sake of chronological clarity I shall write of my trip as if the two trails were coincident.

Albert Pike was born in Boston, Massachusetts, December 29, 1809. No trace of his early residence in that city remains, so far as I was able to determine.

This is hardly surprising, for the city itself has changed radically since 1809. To mention only one instance of those great changes, the site of the Boston Tea Party is now almost a quarter of a mile from water, for the harbour where certain Masonic Brethren dumped the hated tea long years ago has been filled in until now one finds block upon block of warehouses standing where the salty tea water- once astonished the fishes.

Nevertheless, there are landmarks which Pike must have seen, at which he must have wondered and pondered in his childhood. There stands Faneuil Hall, as it stood in the days of the Revolution, Old South Church, Old North Church in the tower of which hung the lanterns — "One if by land, and two if by sea" — which lighted the path of Paul Revere so long ago, and which he carried spiritually to light the path of the whole world. In passing, it is worthy of comment that Paul Revere was a Mason, and that his old home is a mecca for tourists in the city of Boston. Pike must have seen it many times. I photographed these hallowed relics in colour, as I did the entire Pike journey, so far as I could find objects worthy of the camera.

North of Boston lies the country where Pike spent his boyhood. The family moved to Newburyport and young Albert grew up there and in Byfield where relatives lived. Again, no certain traces of the family remain, but I photographed a few of the old houses in Newburyport, standing there since long before the Pike calendar began, an old inn in Byfield where the adult Pikes and their friends must often have gathered to talk over the matters of the day — perhaps the progress of the War of 1812, the new song written by a man named Francis Scott Key, beginning "O say, can you see by the, dawn's early light." Young Albert must often have played about this old inn when he accompanied his grandfather about the town of Byfield. The ancient village is today not much larger, and is still as sleepy as it w as a hundred years ago.

What with his schooling at Newburyport and at Byfield Albert Pike attained a certificate to teach in the public schools of Massachusetts, and did so teach for some seven years, having attended Harvard for one session. He desired to attend Harvard further, but could not meet the tuition fees. All records of schools where he taught seem to have vanished. In those early days, more than a hundred years ago, people were less careful of school records than they now are. Worthy of perpetuation in coloured slides and especially beautiful is the old common at Newburyport, with its swan-pond, where I well recall I found the most voracious mosquitos met in more than fifty years of intimate experience with those pests.

Pike heard of fortunes to be won in the West and, in 1831, set forth to seek his. We know that he went west by way of St. Louis, and that he followed in general what is today called the Santa Fe trail. He visited the city of Santa Fe, where he must have been profoundly interested in the oldest capital city and the oldest capital building in the United States. The city, as the capital, and the building, as a museum, still together with the oldest church building in the United States. All these Pike undoubtedly saw and, with his keen mind, studied. All I considered well worthy of preservation on slides as a portion of the Pike pictorial history.

From Santa Fe, Pike went north to the old Indian pueblo of Taos, and thither we followed him, to see the thousand-year-old homes of the Pueblo Indians, as Pike saw them in his day; to see the ruins of the old Franciscan Mission Church, which in Pike's day had not yet fallen into decay; to see the upper reaches of the Rio Grande, which Pike had followed, as the Franciscans had done more than two hundred years before him, and the Indians perhaps a thousand or more years before them.

Passing through the old Indian Territory, now the State of Oklahoma, one finds the ruins of old Fort McCullough which was established by Albert Pike during the Civil War. It was about 8 miles from the town of Caddo, named after the Indian tribe of that district, on what is known as Nails' Crossing. Still living in Caddo is Jim Nails, son of the Nails after whom the ford was named. Nails Senior was a personal friend of Albert Pike, and Nails Junior, whose striking picture, I have in the Pike collection, remembers countless stories told him by his father before the latter's demise, stories of the days of the war and of Pike. Jim Nails, a fullblooded Cherokee, is now almost eighty years old. His body is as straight as the proverbial arrow, but his memory is perhaps a shade on the apoeryphal side, at least so I judged.

Finding no fortune in New Mexico, Pike drifted south to Fort Smith, Arkansas, and again we followed him. Only a portion of the old fort remains today, but it was all there, when Pike passed through. The portion which was the old arsenal we photographed, standing near the river as Pike saw it in 1832. Fort Smith today boasts of one of the two Consistories of the Scottish Rite in the State of Arkansas, the other being in Little Rock.

North of Fort Smith lies Fayetteville, where Pike taught school for a time. The old schoolhouse, moved from its original site but not far, is today used as a Pike museum and is an Arkansas State Monument. It was dedicated as such some years ago by the Grand lodge of the State of Arkansas. The building is a two-room affair, with an attic where Pike slept over the schoolroom. The front of the two rooms, the schoolroom proper, is filled with early Arkansiana, much of it, unfortunately, having nothing to do with Pike. There stands the old stove he used, however. Certain pictures of Pike hang on the walls, and old cooking utensils, from heaven only knows where, grace certain shelves.

The back room contains one of the finest collections of early American glass in existence, the cases being illuminated, of all things, with fluorescent lights! The glass is wonderful, although what it may have to do with Pike is a matter too esoteric for my understanding. Since it was there, however, I photographed it, together with the front room and the grounds surrounding the building.

Being called to Little Rock, Arkansas, as assistant to the editor of the Little Rock Advocate, Pike at last reached the beginning of his real life. It is not the purpose of this article to treat of the life of Pike, only of the geography of his life as it crosses ours today. For a complete biography I refer the reader to Fred W. Allsopp's Albert Pike, and, while digressing, permit an acknowledgment here to Brother C. Eugene Smith, P.G.M., 33 degree, Secretary of the Little Rock Scottish Rite Bodies, for in valuable help in the locale and pictures it was my privilege to arrange while there. Brother Smith gave most freely of his time while we were in Little Rock, and, when I somewhat hesitantly spoke of disliking to impose upon him, he smiled at me and said: "What did you come for?" After that we used his time, his car, his knowledge of Arkansas and Pike without limit.

In Little Rock, Pike was admitted to the Bar. The old building where he argued cases before the State Supreme Court still stands, and we photographed the very court room. One portion of the town of Pike's day has been set aside as a museum, one might call it if an entire portion of a town could be so styled, and is to be seen exactly as Albert Pike saw it in the 1830s, '40s, and '50s. Albert Pike's old home, a lovely example of the ante-bellum southern architecture, is as he built it when he brought to it his bride in his early manhood. One may not enter the old house, for it is the property of private citizens, but one may photograph its exterior, as I did. In passing, one might stop to reflect whether Scottish Rite Masonry should not acquire this noble relic of its noblest son.

In the cemetery one may still see the broken fourfold column marking the resting place of Pike's wife and three of his children, none of the columns bearing a name. One pauses to wonder at some of the strange workings of Pike's gigantic intellect, one might almost censure Pike for some of the things he did with respect to his wife and children. But I said in the beginning that I should not deify nor glorify this great man; what of good he did speaks for itself, what of ill perhaps was no more than every o ther great man may have done. The picture I took of the column is perhaps the most beautiful of all the Pike pictures we secured.

On a main street of Little Rock is to be seen the most beautiful of all the Pike memorials, one which Pike himself never saw, the Albert Pike Memorial Temple. In this great building are housed the Blue Lodges, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, and the York Rite of Free and Accepted Masonry. In its way almost as impressive as the House of the Temple in Washington, D.C., this memorial is a dream of good taste, elegance and fitness for Masonic use. Occupying almost an entire city block, appropriately lettered, it is the type of architecture associated with Scottish Rite Masonry. Within one finds statues of Pike, pictures of Pike, even a stained-glass likeness of Pike, and yet there is not much of the material left by Pike himself. And even in the House of the Temple in Washington, of which I shall shortly speak, there is not a great deal of importance of Albert Pike, personally. As I looked over the pitifully few relics of his I thought that, in very fact, his expressed wish had come to pass that, if he were remembered, it should be in the hearts of his fellow Masons, not in marble or stone. For, although one may call the Temple in Little Rock or the one in Washington memorials to Pike, yet in a truer sense these things which I thought important enough to travel almost 10,000 miles to see and to photograph are only the vessels of the lamps which contain the oil of Masonic truth, the light of which shall lighten the feet of all men.

Of course, many pictures of the Little Rock Temple, interior and exterior, were taken, and Brother Smith took great delight in showing to us the glories of the seat of the Little Rock Consistory.

For one or two paragraphs we must make a geographical and chronological skip, in the matter of time, to point out that Albert Pike was not made a Mason until he was 41 years of age, having been raised in 1850 in Western Star Lodge No. 2 in Little Rock. He received the Scottish Rite Degrees from the 4th to the 32d, inclusive, in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1853, and the 33rd Degree in 1857, becoming an Active Member of the Supreme Council in 1858.

In the matter of geography we find ourselves for the moment in Charleston, and looking at an old building of highly eccentric architectural features which, in the days of Pike, housed the Supreme Council for the Southern Jurisdiction, and where Albert G. Mackey himself conferred the degrees upon Pike. Today the building is sound and serviceible. It has been sold to an insurance firm, which occupies the first three floors, the fourth and top one being leased to a broadcasting station where, on the Sunday morning I photographed the structure, forty negro singers, members of a colored church choir, were gathered to put their plaintive songs on the air for those who seek the benefits of a vicarious atonement. My mind dwelt for a moment on the difference between Masonry, which emphasizes the potential nobility of man, and the philosophies of certain sects, which believe that without a miracle man is essentially evil. I wondered what Pike would sa y if he had heard the "worms of the dust" songs I heard that morning in the old Temple where he had received so much Masonic Light!

We passed through the Pea Ridge country, in Arkansas, where Pike was engaged in his only battle of the Civil War. When Arkansas withdrew from the Union, Pike went with it. He opposed secession to the last, but stated that Arkansas had given him everything he had and that, when it seceded, his first duty was to the state.

He had been commissioned Brigadier General in the Confederate Armiy, the reason being that he had the confidence of the Indians, which Lee hoped to win for the South rather than let them become allies of the North. Pike did so win their friendship, but stipulated that the Indian troops were not to be used in battle. Upon this, agreement was reached, but Pike's superiors broke their promises and did order the Indians into battle against Pike's pleadings. Scalpings took place, which were blamed on Pike, but for which he was in no way responsible, unless one holds against him the fact that he threw his fortunes with those of the state which had given him everything. He resigned his commission, was ordered to be courtmartialed by the Confederacy, but was never actually arrested. He became a recluse until long after the war was over. The Pea Ridge country bears no marked memorials of Pike, except, the land itself over which he trod .

Pike was elected Grand Commander of the Supreme Council, 33 degree, Scottish Rite Freemasonry of the Southern Jurisdiction, in 1859, but his talents for Masonic matters could not come into full fruition until after the war. In 1868 he moved to Washington, where he lived unto the day of his death.

The pictures which have to do with Pike in Washington are mine by reason of the great courtesy shown me over a long period of correspondence, and in person, by the Grand Commander. The monuments to Pike in Washington are to be found, for the most part in the present House of the Temple. However, the old House of the Temple stands as in Pike's days, but is now occupied and owned by business firms. In the House of the Temple a room is given over to the possessions of Pike, such as his books and pipes, gifts which had been made to him by Masonic friends from the very edges of the world, decorations and patents which had been awarded to him. There are to be seen two of the candles burned down almost to the point of being gutted, candles which lighted his coffin before he was buried and while the ceremony of the Knights Kadosh was performed over the shell from which the spirit had fled. Perhaps the most touching thing of all found in this room is Pike's old desk, where he probably wrote much of his magnum opus, and a quill pen which Pike himself made, and with which he wrote at the desk.

And last of all, at a turn of the stairs that leads to the Council Chamber where is conferred only the 33rd and Last Degree of the Scottish Rite Masonry, is a crypt where rest the ashes which were once Albert Pike. By an act of Congress his body is permitted to be there, and, by the same act, opposite to Pike's crypt is an empty one, in which one day will rest the remains of the present Grand Commander.

I like to believe that, at some day, in some manner, perhaps this Mason who received light by following the long road trod by Albert Pike might in turn pass on a ray of that light to some other seeker after the Ineffable Light, the Light of Masonic Truth.