ALBERT PIKE DAWN TO SUNSET
LeRoy V. Brant, 32 degree
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 invaluable 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 other 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 say 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.