Improved Order of Red Men Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Improved_Order_of_Red_Men

Improved Order of Red Men membership certificate, 1889, with busts of Washington and Tammany, and vignettes of imagined scenes of Native American life and cultures.[1]
Red Men's Hall, Jacksonville, Oregon
Improved Order of Red Men Museum and Library, Waco, TX

Who Are the Improved Order of Red Men We are a patriotic nonprofit organization – the oldest fraternal group originated in the United States and chartered by Congress. Born at the Boston Tea Party as the Sons of Liberty the settlers dressed as Mohawk Indians to show unity with the natives against the British.

Following the Boston Tea Party of 1773, the Sons of Liberty broke into smaller groups and adopted names such as Sons of Saint Tammany, Sons of Saint Tamina, and Columbia Order based on the legendary exploits of Chief Tamina.

In 1775, the brothers quenched council fires to fight in the Revolutionary War, and again to fight in the War of 1812. After this war, the men regrouped to form the Society of Redmen and refocus on Indian Customs and Rituals with an added military aspect.

A special meeting was held in Baltimore, Maryland around 1833 to change the name to the Improved Order of Redmen, and adopt the precepts of Freedom, Friendship, and Charity. In 1847, the men reconvened in Baltimore to form the Great Council of the United States. A “fun” side-degree, the National Haymakers’ Association, was then created in 1879 – similar to Shriners within Freemasonry.

Finally, in 1906, Congress granted the Improved Order of Redmen a Charter; this was followed by supporting the founding of the Society of American Indians, and helped organized the first (2) conferences. Eventually, through the hearts and hard work of the brothers, they were provided the opportunity to sponsor the Hall of Patriots in the George Washington Building at Freedom’s Foundation in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania around 1960, and presented a check of $7500 as the first payment in 1966.

In the 1970s, the Improved Order of Redmen gave support to Native Americans by creating the American Indian Development program designed to aid American Indian children by providing education and healthcare. Since then, the Redmen have also given assistance to the blind and mentally handicapped.

Notable members: George Washington, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thomas Paine, Paul Revere, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, Richard M. Nixon, and Albert Einstein.

The Improved Order of Red Men is a fraternal organization established in North America in 1834. Their rituals and regalia are modeled after those assumed by men of the era to be used by Native Americans. Despite the name, the order was formed solely by, and for, white men.[2] The organization claimed a membership of about half a million in 1935, but has declined to a little more than 15,000.


On December 16, 1773, a group of colonists — all men, and members of the Sons of Liberty — met in Boston to protest the tax on tea imposed by England. When their protest went unheeded, they disguised themselves as their idea of Mohawk people, proceeded to Boston harbor, and dumped overboard 342 chests of English tea. (See Boston Tea Party.)[3]

In the late 18th century, the Tammany Societies, named after Tamanend, were formed. The most well-known of these was New York City's Society of St. Tammany, which grew into a major political machine known as "Tammany Hall."

For the next 35 years, the original Sons of Liberty and the Sons of St. Tamina groups went their own way, under many different names.

Around 1813, a disenchanted group created the philanthropic "Society of Red Men" at historic Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia.[citation needed]

The organization grew in the 1820s. Parallel lines of advancement were offered in the Order of Red Men: a series of military titles and a set of Indian rankings.[4]

Class and ethnic differences introduced by new immigrants, anti-Masonic persecutions, attacks on fraternal groups based on excessive drinking, and, ultimately, a wide-spread cholera epidemic in 1832 led to the decline of the organization.

In 1834, the Improved Order of Red Men (IORM) was started as a revival in Baltimore.[5] It was focused on temperance, patriotism and American History. In 1835, with only two tribes in place, a larger IORM was organized. Unlike the original Order, the IORM uses only expanded Indian titles.[4] Rather than the public display of Indian costumes, the IORM uses its regalia in private gatherings.[4] *homemade regalia was also worn in public events such as parades with permission from the Great Incohonee at recent as the mid-2000s in many states*

In 1886, its membership requirements were defined in the same pseudo-Indian phrasing as the rest of the constitution:

Sec. 1. No person shall be entitled to adoption into the Order except a free white male of good moral character and standing, of the full age of twenty-one great suns, who believes in the existence of a Great Spirit, the Creator and Preserver of the Universe, and is possessed of some known reputable means of support.[6]

In one 1886 tribe, a member's 12 cent a week dues went into a fund which was used to pay disability benefits to members at a rate of about "three fathoms per seven suns" ($3/week) for up to "six moons" (6 months) and then two dollars a week. Some medical care ("a suitable nurse") was available, and also a death benefit of one hundred dollars. The fund was invested in bonds, mortgages, and "Building Association Stock". Meetings were held weekly on Friday nights.[6]


The Order has a three-tiered structure. Local units are called "Tribes" and are presided over by an elected board of chiefs: a "Sachem," Junior Sagamore (Jr. vice president), Senior Sagamore (Sr. Vice President), Prophet (spiritual advisor), Chief of Records (secretary), Keeper of Wampum (financial manager), and several appointed chieftaincies. Local meeting sites are called "Wigwams". The state level is called the "Great Council of (State/Reservation)" and governed by an elected Board of Great Chiefs: Great Sachem, Great Jr. Sagamore, Great Sr. Sagamore, Great Prophet, Great Chief of Records, Great Keeper of Wampum, and several appointed chieftaincies. The national level is the "Great Council of the United States" consisting of an elected board of chiefs: "Great Incohonee" (president), "Great Senior Sagamore" "Great Junior Sagamore", "Great Chief of Records", "Great Keeper of the Wampum" (treasurer) and "Prophet" (past president). The headquarters of the Order has been in Waco, Texas, since at least 1979.[7] The museum and library in Waco is owned, maintained, and managed by the Texas Red Men Association.

Auxiliaries and side degrees[edit]

A side degree of the order was founded in 1890 as the National Haymakers' Association.[8] There was also once a uniformed division called the Knights of Tammany, as well as a group called the Chieftains League, which consisted of members who had been exalted to the Chief Degree (see below) and were in good standing within their respective Tribes.[2]

In 1952, the Order created the Degree of Hiawatha, as a youth auxiliary for males 8 and up. Most of the members of the Degree of Hiawatha were concentrated in New England. In 1979 there were less than 5,000 members in approximately 125 "Councils".[9]

The Degree of Pocahontas women’s auxiliary of the Improved Order of Redmen, so named from famous Pocahontas, daughter of the powerful Indian Chief, Powhatan, of the Algonquian Indian Tribe, who befriended the early English settlers at Jamestown and allowed herself to be held hostage after her father threatened to destroy the entire settlement. She is remembered for her courage, kindness, and generous, loving heart.

Women have forever supported their men. In fact, the female family members of Redmen so loved the Order, in 1884 a group of women had secretly founded Pocahontas Council No 1 of Marblehead, Massachusetts while continuing to petition the Great Council of the United States Improved Order of Redmen for a charter.

Finally, in September 1885 (GSD 394) at the Great Council of the United States (National) session held in Elmira, New York, legislation was adopted to allow establishment of councils of the Degree of Pocahontas. This was to go into effect on and after January 1, 1886 allowing Councils to be organized. At the next National session (1886) in Detroit, Michigan, the ritual was presented and adopted, and Wenonah Council No 1 of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania became the first Council of the Degree to be legally instituted and recognized. This first council fire was lighted February 28, 1887 at Redmen’s wigwam in Philadelphia.

As a separate organization, we engage in fraternal and social affairs, and provide an excellent program for women seeking ideal fraternal association. We work independently and, as always, with the Improved Order of Redmen to offer all Patriotic Americans an organization that is pledged to the high ideals on which American Nation was founded: Freedom, Friendship, and Charity.

Today, we help our local communities, especially the sick, and have several National projects. including: Freedom’s Park in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania; placing flower- wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery; Mohawk Park in Charlemont, Massachusetts. We also pay respects to Indian Castle Church in Little Falls, New York, and the Princess Pocahontas statue in Gloucester, Virginia.

The Degree of Anona, a junior order of the Degree of Pocahontas, was formed in 1952.[10]

Pocahontas Degree


The Improved Order of the Red Men grew in membership in the late 19th century. It reached 519,942 members in forty-six states in 1921, but had declined to 31,789 in 32 states in 1978[11] and to 15,251 by 2011.[12]

Until 1974, the Order was open to whites only. That year the 106th Great Council of the United States eliminated the all-white clause in what was called a "turning point for the order".[2]


The order itself claims direct descent from the Sons of Liberty, noting that the Sons participated in the Boston Tea Party dressed as their idea of "Indians". Thus, they continue to dress as "Indians" and use Native American terminology, despite being a non-Native organization.[2]

The group's ritual terminology is derived from language they believe is used by Native Americans, though it also shows the influence of Freemasonry. Outsiders are called "Palefaces", to open a meeting is called "kindling the fire", officers' installations are called "Raising of Chiefs" and voting is called "twigging".

Calendar system[edit]

Originally, the society used the Hebrew Anno Mundi system for calendar year numbering when dating their documents, rather than AD (note: the Redmen did not use the Common Era reference); however, in CE 1865, a new system was devised and adopted, known as the "Great Sun of Discovery" (GSD). The first year of the system, known as GSD 1, was the year that Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas, namely AD 1492.[13] In this system, years are known as "great suns" and months are called "moons", each with their own epithet, e.g. "Cold Moon" for January, but the length of these years and months conformed to the conventional Gregorian calendar.[14]

Philanthropy and positions[edit]

Improved Order of Red Men donating ambulance to the United States government

The order has historically opposed federal welfare programs, waste in government and Communism.[citation needed] However, there are examples of substantial socialist participation in the organization in pockets of the United States; for example, in southern West Virginia, during the build up to the West Virginia Mine Wars, "the Improved Order of Red Men [was] . . . the most comfortable lodge for Socialist miners and other radical workers." (http://www.wvculture.org/history/wvhs/wvhs1701.html) (this link does not exist, and this information does not seem correct.)

The IORM supported the founding of the Society of American Indians in 1911 and helped organize the SAI's first two conferences.[15]


Independent Order of Red Men[edit]

In 1850, the German-language Metamora Tribe of Baltimore refused to pay a benefit, even though the Great Councils of Maryland and the United States decided that it was legal and proper for them to do so. The group then surrendered its charter and formed a new, German-speaking Independent Order of Red Men. It asked the other German-language groups (or Stamms) to join the new group, but few did so. The Independent Order had a height of 12,000 members, though in the 1880s many Stamms returned to the Improved Order.[16] It still existed in 1896, but according to Albert C. Stevens it gave "no sign of vigorous growth".[16] In the early 1920s, Arthur Preuss could not get into contact with them, but felt it probably still existed.[17]

Afro-American Order of Red Men[edit]

In 1904, another group called the Independent Order of Red Men emerged in Virginia, this time composed entirely of African Americans. When the Improved Order objected to the use of the name, the leader of the group, R. M. Spears, had the charter withdrawn and renamed the group the "Afro-American Order of Red Men and Daughters of Pocahontas". The Virginia IORM still apparently considered an injunction against the new group, but it is unclear how the episode turned out.[18] A Tribe #23 based in Metompkin, Virginia is attested by the existence of a ribbon badge in the collection of Theda Skocpol, suggesting that the group had at least 23 local Tribes in the state. The badge is identical to the ones worn by the IORM, except with the AAORM initials.[19]

Notable members[edit]


Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Captions: "Red men administer no oaths binding you to any political or religious creed. They bind neither your hands nor your feet. As you enter their wigwams so you depart a free man." "If a stranger enter your abode welcome him and forget not always to mention the Great Spirit." "And make the forest as free to you as the air is to the eagle." "To adopt orphans and bring them up in various ways is pleasing to the Great Spirit." "Be merciful to the stranger found astray in the forest." "It is the will of the Great Spirit that you reverence the aged." "The three sisters: our life - our supporters. Unbroken faith." "And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth." "The Great Spirit spoke and the whirlwind was still. This belt preserves our words."
  2. ^ a b c d Schmidt 1980, p. 288.
  3. ^ "Boston Tea Party Historical Society".
  4. ^ a b c Deloria, Philip J. (1998). Playing Indian. Yale University Press. p. 59–65.
  5. ^ "Founding dates of fraternal organizations".
  6. ^ a b Constitution, By-laws and Rules of Order, Sciota Tribe, No. 214, Improved Order of Red Men, of Pennsylvania. Frankford Avenue and Aramingo Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Shaw Brothers, Printers. 1886.
  7. ^ Schmidt 1980, p. 286, 288–289.
  8. ^ Alan Axelrod International Encyclopedia of Secret Societies and Fraternal Orders New York; Facts on File, inc 1997 p.114
  9. ^ Schmidt 1980, p. 157, 288.
  10. ^ Schmidt 1980, p. 43, 260.
  11. ^ a b c d Schmidt 1980, p. 287.
  12. ^ "Great Council of U.S. Improved Order of Red Men" entry, Associations Unlimited database, Gale Research Co., 2011, cited at Gnerre, Sam (2 March 2011). "Improved Order of Red Men". South Bay Daily Breeze. Retrieved 3 September 2014.
  13. ^ Lindsay, George W (1893), Official History of the Improved Order of Red Men Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine, Reprint, London: Forgotten Books, 2013. (pp. 494-5)
  14. ^ Mencken, Henry Louis (1945), The American Language: Supplement I-II, Alfred A Knopf, New York (p. 185)
  15. ^ Todd Leahy and Raymond Wilson Historical Dictionary of Native American Movements Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press p.75[dubious ]
  16. ^ a b Stevens 1907, p. 262.
  17. ^ Preuss, Arthur (1924). A Dictionary of Secret and other Societies. St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co. p. 192.
  18. ^ Skocpol, Liazos & Ganz, p. 44–45.
  19. ^ Skocpol, Liazos & Ganz, p. 236.
  20. ^ Eastman, Frank Marshall (1922). Courts and Lawyers of Pennsylvania: A History, 1693-1923, Volume 4. New York: The American Historical Society, Inc. p. 358. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  21. ^ Jordan, John W. (1914). A History of Delaware County Pennsylvania and Its People. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company. pp. 634–637. Retrieved 19 August 2018.


  • Schmidt, Alvin J. (1980). Fraternal Organizations. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  • Skocpol, Theda; Liazos, Ariane; Ganz, Marshall (2006). What a mighty power we can be: African American fraternal groups and the struggle for racial equality. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Stevens, Albert C. (1907). Cyclopedia of Fraternities: A Compilation of Existing Authentic Information and the Results of Original Investigation as to the Origin, Derivation, Founders, Development, Aims, Emblems, Character, and Personnel of More Than Six Hundred Secret Societies in the United States. New York: E. B. Treat and Company.

External links[edit]