Credo Quia Absurdum: Wilderville's been Clamped

What appeared to be ruffians in red shirts and black hats barged into the Wilderville Post Office late Saturday morning.

But the group — yes, they also wore jeans and footwear — weren't going postal.

They were Clampers, members of a fun-loving group dubbed E Clampus Vitus who simply wanted to hang a plaque in the post office. The red shirts belong to the Umpqua Joe Outpost 1859 of Humbug Chapter 73 based in the Yreka-Fort Jones area of Northern California.

Earlier in the week, Clamper patriarch Leo Champagne, 72, of Ashland, explained what they were about.

"We're just a group of men who like to celebrate history," says the retired businessman. "We're all into history, particularly little-known things. Our mission is to celebrate historical sites."

That's what brought them to Wilderville, that hamlet tucked away off Highway 199 a few miles south of Grants Pass. After placing the plaque, they headed out for a barbecue and more fun at Lake Selmac in Selma.

Clamper legend has it the group originally formed in the mining communities of the West back in the mid-18th century to take a humorous poke at formal fraternal organizations with their solemn, straight-laced members. It's easy to imagine formal fraternal groups, with their sashes and serious ceremonies, spouting indignities at rowdy Clampers.

To rub it in a bit, the latter began donning red long johns and sporting badges made from tin can lids when they met. Clampers have been known to hoist a few brewskis during clampouts.

Consider their motto: Credo Quia Absurdum. A quick check of Cassell's Latin dictionary in the MT's library comes up with a rough translation of "to trust because it's absurd."

As for E Clampus Vitus, Cassell offers neither clampus nor vitus. The letter "E" could be an abbreviation for "egregious, emeritus or evocatus," Cassell tells us. We go for evocatus.

The group has attracted many celebrated members, including Mark Twain. America's greatest writer allegedly came up with the idea to write "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" while attending a clampout.

But members began to fade away as the mining communities crumbled to dust. The modern version took root in 1931 during the height of the Great Depression in California when a couple of young fellows discovered the group and tracked down an aging Clamper from the old days. There are now more than 40 chapters across the West with many based in the Mother Lode country of California's Sierra Nevada range.

With Wilderville having been "clamped," the fledgling local outpost has placed plaques in four Jackson and Josephine county locations, including the old stage stop that now houses the Del Rio Winery in Gold Hill, the Butte Creek Flour Mill in Eagle Point and the Applegate Trail Interpretive Center in Sunny Valley.

Wilderville was selected because it had one of the earliest post offices in Oregon, Champagne says.

I know Wilderville because I attended first grade there in 1957-58 when the hamlet had an elementary school. The first and second grade were in the one room taught by Mrs. Bagwell in 1957.

She was a nice lady whose pleasant personality was strained to the max. The poor lady had four Fattigs in the room — two sets of twins 14 months apart.

But I digress.

Wilderville had a post office even before statehood, according to the Oregon Geographic Names book. The good book — known as the bible for Oregonphiles — reports the community's was established on Sept. 30, 1858.

Back in the day, the community was first known as Slate Creek for the stream that flows past, the book reports. The Wilderville moniker popped up in 1878 when it was named for then-postmaster Joseph L. Wilder, it concludes.

Meanwhile, the local Clampers are keeping their eyes out for historic sites to plaque, as well as potential members to try on a red shirt.

"You are supposed to be asked to join," Champagne says. "But we welcome any reasonable person with open arms."

Carpe diem.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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