In 1893, a group of Baltimore patriots joined the Improved Order of Red Men and began meeting in Hampden Hall on what is now The Avenue. Adopting the democratic ideals, customs and costumes of American Indians, as well as the Red Men motto, "Freedom, Friendship and Charity," they were chartered as Tecumseh Tribe No. 108 of the national fraternal organization.
By 1922, their little social club had grown to more than 100 members and built its own lodge in the 3800 block of Hickory Avenue. As recently as its 100th anniversary in 1993, membership was 350.
Now, the 120-year-old tribe, the last in Baltimore, is selling its building and leaving Hampden. The 25 remaining members, an aging sliver of the group's heyday, will transfer their memberships to the more active Chippewa Tribe No. 19 in Frederick County.
That's 51 miles from Kenneth Heavel's house in Medfield.
"It's sad. It's progress and change," said Heavel, 70, one of six 50-year members. He is past president of both the Tecumseh tribe and the state chapter, and carries the title of Past Great Sachem.
Under national bylaws, the local group, once a familiar sight in parades and charity events, will give up its tribal name and turn in its charter. Members will travel to Frederick twice a month for Chippewa Tribe meetings, probably starting in June, Heavel said.
"We're still having meetings, but the meetings are being held to dissolve," said John Sprucebank, 55, a fourth-generation Tecumseh tribe member.
The Tecumseh tribe soon "will cease to exist," said Jack Wright, Great Chief of Records for the Red Men in Maryland. The local ladies auxiliary, part of a related national organization called The Degree of Pocahontas, has already merged with the Chippewa tribe's ladies auxiliary, Wright said.
Wright is not surprised that the Tecumseh tribe is fading away. He said Heavel almost single-handedly kept it going in recent years.
"Kenny's tired," Wright said. "Kenny was the backbone of Tecumseh Tribe 108."
Its departure is another blow to an organization that had nearly 20 Red Men tribes in Mayland when Wright, 54, of Cumberland, joined more than a quarter century ago. Now, there are six, from western Maryland to the Eastern Shore, including Chippewa No. 19, the oldest active tribe in the U.S., and Conococheague Tribe No. 84 near Hagerstown, the largest in the country, with about 3,000 members, Wright said.
"It's always sad when you lose a tribe," Wright said.
The only two people at the Hampden building when the Messenger stopped in Feb. 22 were two men, who said they were buying the building and that it was under contract. They would not give their names and said they are still deciding what to do with the building, which includes The Lunch Box restaurant.
Heavel confirmed that the building is under contract for $525,000. That money will go to the Chippewa tribe under Red Men bylaws, he said.
Heavel said he doesn't know what the buyers' plans are for the building.
"I'll find out," said Jack "The Nose" Barr, a longtime Hampden resident and former two-term Tecumseh Tribe secretary, who is well known for walking The Avenue wearing his fake nose, a reference to his nosiness and penchant for getting the scoop on happenings in Hampden.
Barr said he was a member of the Red Men tribe in the 1980s, but dropped out because "they kept going downhill year after year," as members aged.
"Now the old ones have died off and the new ones, nobody wants to do anything," said Barr, 78.