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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Egads, Clampus Vitus!

By Eric "ug" Carlson

"Put branches of roses all over my coffin.
Put roses to deaden the clods as they fall."
"The Cowboy's Lament," by Frank Maynard

JACK "JACKRABBIT" FURLOW, representing the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus--Mountain Charlie Chapter No. 1850, extended me an invitation to the dedication of a cemetery monument for Capt. Harry Love. I accepted. Nothing is more entertaining than garish California history as presented by ECV. Without a doubt, Clampers have a knack at digging up and honoring worthy historical truffles deemed unnoteworthy by effete mainstream arbiters.

Capt. Harry Love is credited with killing bandits Joaquin Murrieta and Three-Fingered Jack in 1853 near Arroyo de Cantua in Fresno County. Love and his posse rode into Stockton with the head of Murrieta and the hand of Three-Fingered Jack to claim a $1,000 reward. From that July day in 1853, some have questioned whether Love shot the right Murrieta and/or the right Jack. What has been established, after considerable research, is that Love is indeed buried in Mission City Memorial Park in Santa Clara. William B. Secrest, the world's foremost expert on California outlaws and desperadoes, attended the ceremony, and I asked him if Love truly shot Joaquin Murrieta. "He got the right guy," William replied. Take that to the bank.

In addition to the Mountain Charlie Chapter, the Joaquin Murrieta Chapter made an appearance, in full colors, humbugged by Noble Grand Humbug Walt Stevens. Clampers in red shirts, top hats and official regalia buttons gathered round the cemetery monument, and the event kicked off with a mournful rendition of "The Cowboy's Lament," played admirably by Ray Silvia on his Hohner Marine Band harmonica. Then, a moment of silence was requested by master of ceremonies Patrick "Aloycious" Sweeny. On a signal, a great shout rang out: "Right wrongs nobody!" This is an impressive way to start a meeting (San Jose City Council take note and learn). Soon, dignitaries began to speak, as is their wont. I myself was introduced as the "media representative."

Bill Secrest, who provided words for the captain's tombstone, related Love's story. "Finding out about Harry Love was a lot easier said than done," he said. As it turns out, a sleazy skunk of a San Francisco judge named McGowan made the job a lot more difficult than it should have been. McGowan hated Love and spread lies about the captain for years, many of which were dutifully recorded in newspapers and passed down through the years. William has a book coming out on Harry Love called The Man From the Rio Grande.

Lorie Garcia, historian and author, told the tale of Mary Bennet, the woman who became Love's wife. Mary was a 6-foot-tall, 300-pound force of nature described as Amazonian. She was a good match for Harry in both size and temperament. Alas, irreconcilable differences arose, and the couple separated. The story is a bit murky at this point and involves guns and Bowie knives. The bottom line is that Capt. Harry Love died in Mission City on June 29, 1868, from a gunshot wound that required the amputation of his arm. His assailant was an employee of his estranged wife.

Noble Grand Humbug Herman "Bubba" Bitner, a.k.a "RedDog," provided a benediction, after which the cemetery monument (tombstone) was revealed to much fanfare. I was standing next to Jack "Jackrabbit" Furlow and asked him about his garb, which included a top hat with a raccoon tail projecting from the back and a coat graced with a fox tail emerging from his shoulder blades. "I always wear top hat and tails for formal occasions," he solemnly intoned.

Clampatriarch Patrick "Aloycious" Sweeny explained to me that the leader of an E Clampus Vitus chapter is called Noble Grand Humbug. One can only be Humbug for one year, after which one devolves to Clampatriarch for a year, and then Dead Salmon. I asked what came after Dead Salmon and was told, "Nothing. Once you're a Dead Salmon, that's it." I was starting to like these guys. I enjoyed conversations with Grand Noble Historian "Hysterical" Bill Clark, Damn Fool Doorkeeper Steve Wilson and others.

The possibility of Clamper membership was offered, but I may have screwed the pooch at this golden opportunity by not following everyone to Jersey's Bar & Grill for a beer. Once one violates a Clamper tenet, Clampers are as hard to find as leprechauns.

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From the July 31-August 6, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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