On Oct. 12, the Up River Men, members of E Clampus Vitus of the Tuleburgh Chapter, bequeathed a historical plaque at the Liberty Cemetery in honor of the many children buried there. There to accept the plaque was President Janis Barsetti Gray of the Galt Area Historical Society and Secretary Elizabeth Aguire Hagland.
“The society is very thankful for the Clampers that do so much for our historical cemeteries,” Aguire Hagland said. “The monument at the liberty cemetery is beautiful, and we also appreciate their help cleaning up, maintaining and protecting the cemeteries.”
The E Clampus Vitus nonprofit organization dates back to the 1800s in the mining areas of West Virginia. It caught on until it reached the gold fields of California and in 1939 made a comeback with men who wanted to preserve the history of the American West. Since that time, they have donated plaques all over the area and the Up River Men are committed to the San Joaquin County history to preserve it and remember the pioneers who settled this area. All members call themselves “Clampers.”
The new plaque at the Liberty Cemetery reads:
“Old Liberty was a stagecoach stop in the north east section of San Joaquin County. It linked Lower Sacramento to the Gold Country. As the weary pioneers would pass through Liberty, they buried their loved ones here and several of them were children that could not survive the harsh traveling conditions. Many of them could not afford the $2 dollar burial fee inside the five acre grounds and it was once said by Mr. Sexton that sometimes there would be fresh mounds surrounding the cemetery in the morning. In 1961, the California Highway and Public Works started excavating around Liberty Cemetery for the state’s new section of Highway 99. In doing so, to the west of the cemetery gates they claimed to have moved 19 graves and one being a mass grave of small children. To this day no one knows where the children came from. It was also speculated that there are more gravesites underneath the highway and in the surrounding vicinity of Liberty Cemetery. Some of the last graves to be put into the cemetery are here at this location where once stood a public works marker for those relocated graves that were destroyed by one of the many grass fires along with 40 to 50 other wooden markers in the cemetery. Dedicated by E Clampus Vitus, Tuleburgh Chapter 69, October 12, 2019, Credo Quia Absudum, Up River Men”
Chris Purtlebaugh, the vice humbug of his chapter, said each member who reaches the title of humbug is allowed to plaque at least two places in their area. The outgoing humbug chose one of his as the Liberty Cemetery when he heard that many children were buried there without any markers.
Purtlebaugh said the Clampers’ motto is Credo quia absurdum est, which is Latin for “I believe it because it is absurd.”
Miners were often rejected by the mainstream clubs, such as the Masons, Elks and Oddfellows, so they started their own order and it began as a drinking club. Any newcomers to their area were met with a mandatory rule that, if they wanted to do business in town, they had to join the order. Initiations were indeed absurd and included a wheelbarrow tour of the town and the mandatory dress of red long johns, suspenders and jeans.
But good works were and are a part of their purpose. In the early days, they often helped out widows of miners who were left without support. Now they are dedicated to preserving old landmarks throughout the gold country, commemorating them with plaques that tell the story of the old west.