WOODMEN OF THE WORLD
And the associated organizations
Jim Davenport of Colorado sent this information on the history of the Woodmen of the World.
One of my hobbies is photographing Woodmen of the World, and the associated organization tombstones, as well a collecting memorabilia from those organizations. After getting started doing that I decided that it would be a good idea if I actually knew something about the organizations and here is a brief history of them. Most of the information was received directly from the ones that still exist, and they have been quite helpful in answering my queries.
The below is really just a 'thumbnail sketch' of the organizations and is not meant to be a complete or totally accurate history of the organizations.
The organization Modern Woodmen of America was started on January 3, 1883 with Joseph Cullken Root as the head of the organization. It began as a fraternal organization with benefit paid to the families of it's members when the member died. This was at first accomplished by the 'passing of the hat' and the contents were given to the widow. Membership was limited to white males over the age of 18 years. There were some other membership restrictions also but those were probably the main ones. After a while it was discovered that the passing of the hat was not really working out so the organization began selling life insurance to the members, and that is what is happening to this day. The MWA still exists as a strong insurance company with it's head office in Rock Island, Illinois.
The MWA also had a women's auxiliary called Royal Neighbors of America and that organizations also still exists.
You will find many tombstones, mostly in states east of Colorado, that have the logo of the MWA inscribed on the face of the stone. Usually it is crossed axes with the initials M W A and the handles of the axes going between the letters. Sometime the design appears on a shield or flag design. The Royal neighbors have a kind of 5 petal flower design on a few stones but I usually find the initials RNA in a small aluminum stake beside the tombstones with the initials RNA on it.
In 1890 there arose a conflict between some of the leaders of the MWA and a couple of them moved west and started the Woodmen of the World organization in 1890 and ultimately ended up with two different organizations called Woodmen of the World, one in Omaha, Nebraska and one in Denver, Colorado. They ultimately separated into their own organizations with the Denver one adopting the name Woodmen of the World, Pacific Jurisdiction. Mr. F. A. Falkenburg was the first head of the Pacific Jurisdiction WOW. Both of these organizations had the same goals and membership requirements as the original MWA had. Both of these organizations still exist as the Woodmen of the Worlds, Omaha and as the Woodmen of the World, Denver. It is actually in Littleton, Colorado.
The auxiliary of the Woodmen of the World was established in early 1891 as the Mystic Circle but the name was soon changed to Woodmen Circle but after several years the Pacific area Woodmen Circle members split with the Omaha Woodmen of the World and the western members started an organization called Women of Woodcraft which later in about 1917 changed their name to Neighbors of Woodcraft. They still exist as an insurance company headquartered in Portland, Oregon.
The eastern WOW women' auxiliary was still known as Woodmen Circle and on occasions as Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle and existed under that name until recently when it was incorporated into the Omaha Woodmen of the World.
You will see many stones in the cemeteries in the western states with the words 'Here Rests A Woodmen of the World' usually also with a logo of either a stump in a circle, or a dove flying over a fallen log with an axe, a maul, and a wedge incorporated in the dove type logo'. There are a number of variations of these designs done according to the whims on occasion of the tombstone inscriber. It appears that there were some basic patterns that were used and probably ordered from the WOW headquarters. Most of the stones are the 'regular' shaped stones that one sees in most cemeteries, but on occasion, one sees some really neat tree stumps carved from brown limestone, or marble, or granite that say Woodmen of the World on them. There is a marble one in Ogden, Utah about 10 feet high, and a two tree trunk one in Colorado Springs, Colorado made from brown limestone for a husband and wife that is over 8 feet tall. Most of the brown limestone ones that I have seen are in Colorado but have seen a few in some other states. On occasion they do not have the Woodmen wording on them but will have the axe, maul, and wedge incorporated into the design of the tree stump. On occasion they will only have the initials W.O.W. on the stone. Many times the WOW slogan "DUM TACET CLAMAT" will be found inscribed as a part of the logo design. I found through one historic write-up that I received that this means "Though Silent, He Speaks". I do not see many of the really ornate tree stumps for folks that died after about 1910.
I do need to mention that not all tree stumps are Woodmen, as I have seem many, especially back east, that predate the Woodmen organizations.
The Women of Woodcraft and Neighbors of Woodcraft had logos on their stones similar to the WOW logo of the dove flying over the fallen log and have the organizations name inscribed as a part of the logo and many times have the wording "Erected by Women of Woodcraft" or "Erected by Neighbors of Woodcraft" inscribed on the lower part of the face of the stone.
Woodmen Circle, and SFWC usually have a shield design with the initials WC on it and the Wording "Woodmen Circle" or "Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle" in a circular design, and many times the WCF and SFWC stones are in the shape of a tree stump about 4 feet tall.
Of course you may find the above inscriptions on any shaped stone, and also on a few of the metal monuments that are made of zinc. One just has to look carefully and you'll see them. Many times there will be only a couple or none in a cemetery but on occasion there will be many of them in a cemetery. It kind of depends on how active the WOW was in the area. In Leadville, CO there are two fairly large cemeteries with 70+ in each of them.
One thing to notice, This practice of putting the organization name one the stone died out in about 1935 when the organizations stopped giving a $100.00 extra death payment in addition to the insurance amount with the proviso that the organization's name be placed on the stone.
They WERE NOT a lumbermen's or logging association, though those folks could belong. There were some 'dangerous' occupations that could not get the insurance unless they paid an higher insurance premium and if you were a manufacturer of, or sold, alcoholic beverage you could not belong to the organizations. However if you used liquor NOT TO EXCESS you could be a member and hold their insurance.
The Woodmen organizations, and the Women's organizations also, had a lot of social activities as did most of the fraternal organizations of the time period. They had dances, and dinners, picnics and parties. They, of course, had their 'secret' meetings with passwords, etc., they had drill teams that performed for their meetings and ceremonial occasions such as funerals and initiations, and competed against each other in contests and also marched in parades. The drill teams, instead of using rifles like most of the other organizations, used AXES. They were usually axes with aluminum heads and the initials WOW or MWA embossed into the axe heads. They had annual meetings of the head camps to do official business of the organizations. They also did a lot of community projects
Woodmen of the World still exist as social organizations also and do a lot of community projects, give flags away to organizations, have summer camps, and apparently enjoy life to it's fullest.
If you wish to contact the Woodmen, Neighbors of Woodcraft, or Royal Neighbors here are their addresses:
Modern Woodmen of America
PO Box 2005
Rock Island, IL 61204-2005
Neighbors of Woodcraft
PO Box 1897
Oregon City, OR 97045-0987
this info was copied from the internet. and is on a letter I received from Neighbors in 1995
Woodmen of the World
PO Box 266000
Littleton, CO 80126-6000
Woodmen of the World, Omaha, Insurance
1700 Farnam St.
Omaha. NE 68102
Royal Neighbors of America
230 Sixteenth St.
Rock Island, IlL 61201
No, I don't belong to them nor have any of their insurance, but sure do enjoy pursuing their tombstones and memorabilia.
James J. Davenport <firstname.lastname@example.org> Cortez, Colorado