1910, Order of Elks

Detail, Elk

Detail, The American Elk

Ellis, Charles Edward. An Authentic History of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Chicago: Published by the author, 1910.


Among the surprising histories in this volume devoted to the origins of the Benevolent & Protective Order of the Elks is the chapter describing the evolutionary course of the elk species. The detail from the color plate shown here appears in that chapter of Ellis' book. Initially calling themselves "The Jolly Corks," the first members of this theatrical boys club, quickly organized a hierarchical guild for an ever-expanding membership. The Elks spread from the first lodge in New York (1868) and encompassed the nation by 1890. Another section of Ellis' book offers decade-by-decade maps plotting their organization's spread as new lodges appeared in every state. Chief among the earliest founders were minstrels, many of whom had already declared membership in the society of Momus, the mystic (and mythic) ancestry of minstrelsy. Membership, fellowship, and brotherhood were key elements of the patriarchy. Ellis' book presents the same sort of brief biographical sketch of the minstrel membership that Edward LeRoy Rice would exhaustively catalogue a year later in Monarchs of Minstrelsy. Rice was certainly familiar with this book, he provided Ellis with some of the photographs, as had fellow New Yorkers and collectors, Albert Davis and Charles Britting, The minstrel membership who are profiled include Billy Birch, W.H. Smith, Joseph Norcross, Dave Reed, & Cool Burgess. The yearning to participate in the national pageantry of social performance may explain the prolonged life of amateur minstrelsy well into the first half of the 20th century. Ellis' history probably proved to be a useful model for Rice.


"Lodge Challenges Rebuff of Blacks," New York Times, May 7, 1987. 

Rimer, Sara. "Asking, Not Demanding to Be Elks," New York Times, April 10, 1997.