FORT BUFORD — The long history of the Buffalo Soldiers and Masonic Lodges intersected on Saturday. A towering equine monument made in Bozeman, Montana, by artist Jim Dolan was dedicated to those who have served as Buffalo Soldiers.
What brings these two entities together, the Masons and the Buffalo Soldiers, is common ground. Quite literally.
The site at Fort Buford is owned by the Grand Lodge Foundation. On this location, two Masonic Lodges were once utilized. The Buffalo Soldier Units began their residence at Fort Buford in 1891, and the Eureka Lodge No. 135 was chartered in that same year. At that point in time, the two Masonic lodges located at Fort Buford where segregated by race. Although it remains a purely fraternal order, with the only possible female member of the Masons rumored to have been Joan of Arc herself, lodges are no longer segregated by race.
This mirrors the 9th Cavalry very closely. The 9th Cavalry was dubbed ‘The Buffalo Soldiers’ and continued to be racially segregated during World War II.
The tie between the Masons and the Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Buford is rooted back in the 1890’s but extends to present day. Charles Snargrass is a prime example of this. Snargrass, a 93 year-old veteran of the 9th Cavalry and Grand Secretary of the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge in Minnesota, was present and participated in the ceremony on Saturday.
Snargrass served in the Cavalry during World War II and could identify the historical accuracies which the artist of the monument portrayed.
“It’s very impressive,” Snargrass said. “It’s unbelievable that his imagination went that far. He got all the details. With the halter around his neck and the reins. We didn’t tie the horses by the reigns. We used the rope that was around their neck. That’s what we would tie them around the posts with.”
He could see the connection between the Masons and the Buffalo Soldiers easily. Not only by being the living, breathing, example of this, he felt that history was the tie that binds.
“When this lodge [Eureka Lodge] was first chartered in North Dakota, the Buffalo Soldiers delivered them their first charter,” Snargrass said. “That person from the 9th Cavalry was the first Grand Master that this lodge had. It gives it a lot of background and a lot of heritage.”
The Monument itself was designed and built by Bozeman artist Jim Dolan and named ‘Our Work Is Done’. Masked in a white canvas sheet until the unveiling, it stood at an impressive height.
The statue is a athletic looking horse with all the trappings of a Cavalry soldier. It took Dolan 6 months to complete his work.
“I pretty much worked straight through,” Dolan said. “I finished on Monday, and we brought it here on Tuesday.”
Dolan also found a connection to the history of the Buffalo Soldiers within his own lineage. “My great uncle was in the Calvary and rode with General Pershing,” Dolan recounted. “As I understand it, he was the one of was in charge of the Buffalo Soldiers. It was kind of fun to have a connection with the Buffalo Soldiers through family.”
According to Jim Salvoija, Past Grand Master for North Dakota and state historian for the Masons, the statue was bought and paid for by a singular individual. “We had a benefactor that came into the picture and actually supplied the monument,” Salvoija said. “It’s an undisclosed source. It’s an individual that wasn’t a Mason but now is. He became so involved in the history and the real story of what it is.”
From as far away as Missouri, Minneapolis, and Minot, Masons came from across the country to witness the dedication. The connection to the state of Missouri is that the Eureka Lodge was chartered by what is now known as the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Missouri. Ed Johnson is a Past Grand Master Mason who made the hike from the ‘Show-Me State’. He wasn’t sure what the Eureka Lodge would have looked like back in the day, or if there ever was an actual structure.
“They probably did meet someplace,” Johnson said.
The location has been narrowed down to a spot near the river. The monument even has a clever homage to the location with the head of the horse tilted towards the Southeast where the Eureka Lodge may have been.
But the symbolism didn’t end with the horse. The entire ceremony was rife with Masonic ritual and dogma interlaced with raw military tradition. Even the decadent trappings of Grand Master Masons made the fashions of top military brass look like an exercise in utilitarianism.
The explanation of the multi-century custom of cornerstones by the Masons gave way to outlining why oil, wheat, and wine were important symbols in a Masonic dedication ceremony.
But when exactly does a mass of metal become a hallowed edifice according to Masonic tradition? The answer is once a good bit of symbolic oil is poured on the ground and a man with the title of ‘Grand Master’ turns to the four directions of the compass and proclaims it so.
The rain at least held itself off long enough to allow for a short photo opportunity with Snargrass and senior members of the fraternal order. But the mass of phones, iPads, and cameras promptly returned to their hidden resting places once the clouds opened with their own full salute to the situation. T-shirts were handed out, and everyone sought cover at the Masonic Site. Only the metal horse was left standing riderless and alone in the rain.
“The crowd was wonderful and I was in awe to see all this done,” Snargrass said. “I’m glad that I lived this far.”