Tuckerton Red Men Honor Civil War Vet; On Nov. 19 Host Free Thanksgiving Dinner

Nov 15, 2017

Ten members of Tuckerton’s Pohatcong Tribe 61 of the Improved Order of Red Men, along with two members of its women’s affiliate, the Degree of Pocahontas, memorialized Veteran’s Day on Saturday in a rather unusual way.

They carpooled all the way up to Paterson to join descendents of Charles McMurtrie in a ceremony that honored McMurtrie’s service in the Civil War.

McMurtrie, lying about his age, was only 15 years old when he joined the Union Army in 1864. He was a private in New York’s 158th Infantry Regiment that spent the early part of 1865 chasing General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia until Lee’s surrender to Union General U.S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9.

McMurtrie died of heart failure at the age of 33 in 1882. Having moved to Paterson and being rather poor, he was buried in an unmarked grave at that city’s Cedar Lawn Cemetery.

Enter his great-great granddaughter, Maureen Clary, who now lives in South Carolina. She researched her family’s history and learned of her ancestor. She received a copy of his death certificate and discovered an obituary saying he was buried at Cedar Lawn.

A Cedar Lawn employee checked a ledger that indicated the location of McMurtrie’s plot. Clary decided that her great-great grandfather should not only have a marker but one that showed he had fought in the War Between the States. So she contacted the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, who provided a tombstone.

Clary also discovered that McMurtrie was a founding member of the now-extinct Paterson Red Men Lodge. A few months ago she fired off a letter to the Tuckerton Red Men informing them of the planned Veteran’s Day ceremony.

The Improved Order of Red Men is a fraternal organization founded in 1834. If it seems rather strange that members of an organization of non-Native Americans call themselves Red Men, you need to know a little more American history.

The Red Men trace their beginnings to the Sons of Liberty, the underground patriot group that helped press Americans into open rebellion against their British masters in the 1760s and 1770s. They’re best known for dumping tons of English tea into Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773. They disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians during one of our country’s original acts of civil disobedience – thus the name.

The organization grew until it reached a membership of about half a million members in the 1930s. Notable members included Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding and Franklin D. Roosevelt. It has declined since, now with an estimated 15,000 members across the country. Its headquarters in Waco, Texas says there are only four tribes remaining in the Garden State, the largest and most active being Tribe 61.

So the Tuckerton Red Men decided that they should be represented at the ceremony commemorating McMurtrie’s service.

They joined a group of about 40 of McMurtrie’s descendents on Saturday. The memorial service included a New Jersey Army National Guard honor detail playing taps, firing a gun salute and presenting an American flag to Clary. A Roman Catholic monsignor led graveside prayers, saying he was performing the same service that would have been conducted back in 1882. The Tuckerton Red Men performed their own service honoring the Civil War vet.

The Red Men motto is Freedom, Friendship, Charity. The Tuckerton Red Men honored the first two parts of that motto on Veteran’s Day. Now on Sunday, Nov. 19, from noon to 4 p.m., they’ll honor the final part when they will serve a free Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings at their lodge, located at 145 West Main St. (Route 9) in Tuckerton, adjacent to Ocean County’s Tip Seaman Park.

The dinner, which is open to all, has proven a popular event over the past couple of decades, yearly attracting upwards of 1,500 persons.

Charles McMurtrie would be proud.

— Rick Mellerup


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