You can thank our worthy Chancellor for tonight’s lecture. He loaned me two books from his vast library, both of which deal with the first 50 years or so of our Order and its place in Texas history.
Picture, if you will, a Texas much different from what it is today. Texans relish the size of this state, how you can cross into the state at Shreveport at sunrise and, observing most of the state’s speed limits, still be driving in Texas at sunset. Imagine this land with no interstate highways. Actually, imagine this state without any highways, the only roads between cities consisting of dirt trails wide enough for a horse-drawn wagon. Imagine the only reliable personal transportation was your horse. A few of the wealthy had one of those newfangled horseless carriages, but most of us used a horse. The fastest form of inter-urban travel was the steam locomotive. The only forms of communication were the spoken word, maybe the telegraph, and the printed word.
No television, no radio, no internet. In just about every community, the menfolk would gather after the evening meal and share a little drink to discuss the news of the day. We still do that, but not often enough. For six weeks a year, a group of 10-12 of us gather behind the building here to share a little time, discussing the news while we deep fry up some fish for the Lenten Fish Fry Dinner. We do it because we enjoy doing it.
Catholicism has been prevalent in Texas since it arrived along with Cabeza de Vaca and his followers in the 1520s and ’30s. They were soon to be followed by Coronado and DeSoto in the 1540s. Juan de Onate crossed into what is now Texas on his way to conquer the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico in 1598. Once across the Rio Grande, a Mass of Thanksgiving was held and dutifully recorded, thus allowing El Paso and Texas to lay claim to having the first Thanksgiving in North America.
It was a warm evening during the summer of 1901 in El Paso. A group of men from the community were conducting their customary evening pastime discussing the news of the day. However, on this particular evening, the group was joined by a newcomer. Mr. Michael Burke had recently emigrated from Indiana to become the superintendent of the soon-to-be city trolley line. Always eager to hear news from other parts of the country, Mr. Burke soon became the center of attention. Along with political news, Mr. Burke spoke of a Catholic men’s organization that he belonged to. The organization had been founded in the Northeast almost 20 years previously. Known as the Knights of Columbus, the organization was rapidly growing in the Northeast and northern states. There was an expression of interest among several of the men, particularly a Mr. James Clifford. Within a few days, Mr. Clifford, along with E. V. Berrien, sought out Mr. Burke seeking additional information about the Order.
Soon, preliminary talks were underway with the desired result of bringing a Knights Council to Texas, specifically to El Paso. Word soon was received that Reverend James M. Hayes, rector of the Cathedral, Michael J. Coerver, President of the Dallas Show Case Co., and W. G. Crush, Passenger Traffic Manager of the MKT Railway Company (the same Mr. Crush who organized the incident at West that Brother Tom told us about) had been so impatient to become members that they had journeyed to Parsons, Kansas and had been initiated on April 20, 1901. That information caused the group in El Paso to intensify their efforts. As soon as 40 names were on the list, permission to proceed with the election of officers was granted by John H. Reddin of Denver, the Territorial Deputy for the K of C. The first Knights of Columbus Council in Texas was organized in El Paso on Sunday, April 13, 1902.
Enthusiasm was so great that E. V. Barrien, newly appointed Territorial Deputy Supreme Knight for Texas, undertook a trip to Dallas, Fort Worth, Galveston and San Antonio to encourage Catholic men in those cities to form Knights Councils.
On May 8, 1903, a special Pullman car was added to a train bound for Dallas. Twentyfour Knights and Sir Knight Barrien started on a five-city tour of the state to install councils in Dallas, Fort Worth, Galveston and San Antonio. The group arrived in Dallas at 4 p.m. on May 9. The ceremony commenced at 8 p.m. that evening.
The men from El Paso, along with the new Knights from Dallas, set out for Fort Worth at 6:23 a.m. on the 10th. Mass began at 10 with the ceremony starting at 3.
The morning of May 11 found the Knights from El Paso, along with several from Dallas and Fort Worth, boarding the train for Galveston, arriving there about 10 p.m. The council at Galveston was formed starting at 7 on the evening of May 12. The visitors were entertained so well that they agreed to spend another day in the coastal city.
The Knights from El Paso, along with brothers from the other three councils, boarded the train on the morning of the 14th headed for Houston, where they held discussions with many prominent Catholic men and began the groundwork for installing a council in Houston. Boarding the train again, the delegation, larger than ever, set off for San Antonio, arriving on Friday morning, May 15. The group toured many of the city’s sights, including the five missions: the Alamo, San Juan de Capistrano, San Jose, Espada and Concepcion. The ceremony reportedly started at 7:30 that evening and concluded at 2:30 a.m. It was reported that there were several breaks for refreshments and lunches. The men from El Paso departed for home that Sunday morning, having installed four councils in one week.
The first Fourth Degree exemplification in Texas took place in Dallas on Feb. 22, 1907. Sir Knight William G. Crush, along with Sir Knights Michael Coerver, Hugh J. Blackeney, and Michael Murphy, had previously received the honors of the Fourth Degree in Denver. A second exemplification took place Nov. 26, 1908 and a third with a class of 150 in February 1909. The number of Fourth Degree Knights in Texas then numbered 400.
This coming Saturday, we will host a ceremony where the honors of the Second and Third Degrees will be conferred on another group of men seeking to advance along their journey to knighthood. The next Fourth Degree exemplification will take place in Wichita Falls on April 2.