Northern Light Lodge

Minnesota's Only Military Lodge

As a result of General Sibley's expeditions of 1862 and 1863, the different bands of Sioux Indians had been demoralized and scattered into remnants and several hundred, under Chiefs Little Six, Little Leaf, and Medicine Bottle, had sought refuge from danger and distress near the international boundary in the vicinity of St. Joe, then in Dakota territory, twenty-five to thirty miles west and southwest of Pembina. The United States Government deemed it important, for the protection of the people who living on the frontier in Minnesota and Dakota Territory, to restore confidence to those who had fled from their homes during the Indian outbreak, and, to insure their early return, to capture or in some way to secure these Indians who were fugitives from justice.

On October 5, 1863, the battalion under Major Hatch, left Ft. Snelling on its trek to Fort Abercrombie. major Charles W. Nash, later to become Grand Master of Masons of Minnesota was quartermaster and commissary of subsistence of the command and to him fell the responsibility of supply food for man and beast on the long journey. A long supply train with food and supplies for the men joined them at St. Cloud. When they reached Fort Abercrombie, Hatch's Battalion was ordered to Pembina to establish a post there. They were to pick up grain and hay for the animals at Georgetown, which failed to materialize, except for a small amount of hay, and many horses, oxen, and cattle suffered and died along the way. Snow fell to a depth of over a foot and the weather was intensely cold, so it was a discouraged and disheartened band of men who arrived at Pembina on November 13, 1863.

Immediate steps were taken for the comfort of the troops and citizen employees, as well as the horses and cattle, by the erection of log quarters for officers and men - headquarters, hospital, commissary and quartermaster's warehouse, guardhouse, barns, stockade, and other buildings as required. The severity of the weather increased and on January 1, 1864, the thermometer dropped to sixty degrees below zero. However, indomitable perserverance pushed forward to complete the several buildings, and the majority of the troops were in comfortable quarters by the first of the year or soon after. While fresh vegetables were almost impossible to find, trapping and hunting provided meat, and Major Nash was able to purchase sufficient potatoes and onions for variety. A.G.B. Banatyne of Fort Garry - now Winnipeg - furnished a small supply of ground feed for the working horses and hay for the other animals, so all were cared for on a subsistence basis at least.

Major Nash had been stationed at Fort Abercrombie, in the southeastern part of what is now North Dakota, and joined the battalion at Georgetown before its northward march. With him were a number of masons who had suggested that lodge be organized and had placed the matter in his hands. Brother Nash visited St. Paul in the early fall of 1863 and presented a petition for dispensation to M.W. Brother A.T.C. Pierson, Grand Master. In the proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota for 1863 we have the following from the Grand Master's address on October 27, 1863:

"About the middle of last month I received an application signed by Brothers C.W. Nash, J.L. Armington, A.T. Chamblin, Charles H. Mix, and eight others who were enroute for Pembina, Dakota Territory, for a dispensation authorizing them to open and work a lodge. Pembina is the most northern point in the territory of the United States - a great central point where concentrates a large amount of immigration and of travel between two oceans. The want of a lodge at that place has long been felt and often expressed; and as the brethren names were active, well informed and discreet Masons - the first two former Masters and the latter Wardens of lodges in this jurisdiction - and as they expect to remain in that hyperborean region for at least two years, I granted a dispensation to establish a lodge at Pembina."

The Officers appointed by Grand Master Pierson were: Master, W. Brother Charles W. Nash, Captain, Hatch's battalion; Senior Warden, Brother J.L. Armington, M.D., Surgeon, Hatch's battalion; Junior Warden, Brother A.T. Chamblin, Captain, Hatch's battalion; Treasurer, Brother William C. Nash, Quartermaster, Hatch's battalion; Secretary, Brother Charles H. Mix, 1st Lieut., Hatch's battalion, Senior Deacon, Brother Frank W. Langby, Orderly Sgt., Hatch's battalion; Junior Deacon, Brother John Schultz, M.D., Ft. Garry; Tyler, Brother Stephen H. Jones, employee of Burbank & Co., Army contractors.

The dispensation was issued September 13, 1863, and was received by W. Brother Nash at Fort Abercrombie, while the troops were preparing to march to Pembina. He did not read it carefully at the time, but observed its nature and put it away until it would be required. As stated before, the troops did not reach Pembina until November 13, 1863, and it was early in January, 1864, before the officers and men could occupy their new quarters on the bank of the Pembina River, near its confluence with the Red River of the North.

Brother Nash had two rooms, office and private quarters, with a door in between. These were appropriated and used as a lodge room. Many of the officers' quarters adjoined, seven or eight in number, with connecting doors, and were placed at the disposal of the brethren when required.

Due to a fire which destroyed the Grand Lodge headquarters in St. Paul in 1868, the exact date of the first communicatioin of the lodge is unknown, but it has been estimated that it must have been on or about January 15, 1864. The brethren at Fort Garry had been previously informed that a dispensation had been issued and Brother Sir John Shultz, M.D., ex-governor of Manitoba, was present at the first meeting. As noted above, he was appoiinted junior deacon.

About this time it was discovered that the lodge had no name or meeting location and that the Grand Master had omitted to give it one. How it was settled is told by Worshipful Brother Nash: "I wrote to the Grand Master calling his attention to the omissions and took occasion to suggest what I thought would be a proper and very appropriate name and meeting location, and in case it met with his approval, to so advise me and direct that I insert it in the dispensation. The name that was suggested met with his cordial approval and the lodge was thus named. It came about in this way. It was the night that I was writing the Grand Master and on going out of my quarters I observed the grandest display above me that it was ever my pleasure to behold. I never witnessed such grandeur of this character before and I never expect to again. It as an exhibition of the Northern Lights; the celestial globe was grand and beautiful in the extreme and for a long time my eyes fastened upon the sight with delight. It was also witnessed by many in our cantonment. On returning to my quarters to complete my letter to the Grand Master, I narrated the circumstances, hence the name "Northern Lights Lodge" was given.

A busy winter followed and twelve Master Masons were raised. Most of their names and occupations follow: Brother Abel Grovenor, Captain, Hatch's Battalion, Pembina; Brother Stephen H. Miner, Lieutenant, Hatch's Battalion, Pembina; Brother Donald A. Dabniels, First Lieutenant, Hatch's Battalion, Pembina; Brother A.G.B. Bannatyne, merchant, Fort Garry, Manitoba; Brother William Coldwell, publisher, Fort Garry, Manitoba; Brother William Inkster, merchant, Fort Garry, Manitoba; Brother W. B. Hall, farmer, Fort Garry, Manitoba; Brother J. E. Sheal, merchant, Pembina, Dakota Territory; and Brother R. Morgan, Pembina, Dakota Territory.

Three others whose names cannot be obtained were initiated, passed and raised at Pembina, there having been thirty-six degrees conferred in Northern Lights Lodge U.D., during that winter. It will thus be seen that this pioneer lodge was an industrious and working lodge from the start. The lodge worked at Pembina during the winter and spring of 1864, until May 5th, at which time the troops were removed.

On W. Brother Nash's return to St. Paul in June, 1864, he delivered to the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota the records, petitions, and all papers relating to Northern Lights Lodge which, of course, included the dispensation and the report to the Grand Master of all acts and doings of the lodge. On April 21, 1868, the building in which the Grand Lodge, the subordinate and co-ordinate bodies of Masonry met in St. Paul was destroyed by fire, as was all the property contained therein, including the records of the Grand Lodge.

Prior to the departure of the troops from Pembina in 1864, a petition to Grand Master Pierson was drafted, praying that the dispensation for Northern Lights Lodge be continued with authority to transfer it to Fort Garry. The petition was handed to Brother A.G.B. Bannatyne to obtain the necessary signatures. These were obtained, the petition was forwarded and a dispensation was received, as follows:

"To All Whom It Concerns:

"Know ye that we, A. T. C. Pierson, Most Worshipful Grand Master of Masons in Minnesota, having received a petition from a constitutional number of brethren who have been properly vouched for as Master Masons in good standing, setting forth that having the honor and prosperity of the craft at heart, they are desirous of establishing a new lodge at the Red River Settlement under our jurisdiction, and requesting a dispensation for the same, and:

"Whereas there appears to us good and sufficient cause for granting prayer of the said petition, we, by virtue of the powers in us vested by the Ancient Constitution of the Order, do grant this dispensation empowering Brother John Schultz to act as Worshipful Master, Brother Andrew G. B. Bannatyne to act as Senior Warden and Brother William Inkster to act as Junior Warden of a lodge to be held under our jurisdiction at Red River Settlement, Rupert's Land, U. D., and we further authorize the same brethren to enter, pass, and raise Freemasons, according to the Ancient Constitutions of the Order, the customs and usages of the Craft, and the rules and regulations of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Minnesota, and not otherwise, and this dispensation shall continue in force until the next Annual Meeting of the Grand Lodge aforesaid, or until this dispensation is revoked by us.

"Given under our hand and seal at St. Paul, the twentieth day of May, A.L. 5864, A.D. 1864. (Signed) A.T.C. Pierson, Grand Master" (Seal)


This article and later articles about the lodge at Ft. Garry, Manitoba were written by W. B. Ed Halpaus, Northeast Area Deputy. W. B. Ed acknowledges as sources W.B. Milo Dailey and Jim Acker, of the Frontier Army Lodge of Masonic Research #1875 of North Dakota & South Dakota.

Milo Dailey: <milod@trib.com>

Jim Acker <james_acker@yahoo.com>


Northern Light Lodge Article 2