The nonprofit Improved Order of Red Men promotes itself as the oldest fraternal organization that originated in the U.S. It was founded in 1765 before the American Revolution by Sons of Liberty, a patriotic group that helped establish freedom and liberty in the early Colonies, according to the Red Men's national website,

Sons of Liberty patterned itself after the Iroquois Confederacy and its democratic governing body, the website states.

In 1773, members of Sons of Liberty met in Boston to protest a tax on tea imposed by England, and when their complaint fell on deaf ears, they disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians and dumped 342 chests of English tea into Boston Harbor, according to the site. During the Revolutionary War, they took up muskets with the Continental Army, the site states.

After the War of 1812, Sons of Liberty changed its name to the Society of Red Men and in 1834 to the Improved Order of Red Men, which was chartered by Congress, the website states.

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In 1847, various Red Men tribes came together in Baltimore and formed the Grand Council of the United States. Within 30 years, there were Great Councils in 21 states and 150,000 members nationwide. By the mid-1920s, there were tribes in 46 states and U.S. territories, and more than 500,000 members, the site states.

"They kept the customs and terminology of Native Americans as a basic part of the fraternity," the site states. "Some of the words and terms may sound strange, but they soon become a familiar part of the language for every member."

Today, the Improved Order of Red Men has about 20,000 members in 18 states, according to the national office in Waco, Texas. The organization is "devoted to inspiring a greater love for the United States of America and the principles of American liberty," according to its website.

Along with its women's auxiliary, the national Red Men organization supports charitable, youth and educational programs, the site states. Wright said it is the second biggest contributor to Alzheimer's' disease research in the country.

The local tribe has emphasized community service in the Hampden area through the years and used to have a float in the annual Hampden Mayor's Christmas Parade, Heavel said. The tribe has also donated to various local groups over the years, including the Roosevelt Recreation Center's annual Christmas party, Heavel said.

Plugging along

At one time, there were 26 Red Men tribes in Baltimore alone, plus a Great Council Hall, where archives for tribes statewide were stored.

"It got too dilapidated to use," Wright said.

"Now, we're the only one left," Heavel said. For younger members, "It's not quite to their liking. They have other interests. I don't blame the younger people, but we need youth."

Wright, a member of three different tribes, believes there is still life left in the Red Men's bones, and he points to the Chippewa and Conococheague tribes as examples.

"If I have anything to do with it, we're going to keep on plugging away," he said.

Sprucebank joined in 1976. He and his brothers, David and Mark, all of Glen Burnie, are fourth-generation members of the tribe. Their great-grandfather and grandfather, both of Hampden, were members, as was their father.

They are the future of the Red Men.

"I just like the fraternity and I love the work that we do and the charities we're connected with," said Sprucebank, who works in the parts department of the Bob Bell Automotive car dealership.

Sprucebank tried to look on the bright side and said he doesn't mind driving to Frederick County, which is 65 miles from his house, about the same distance away as Hampden is.

"Two things I won't miss," he said, chuckling, "driving through Baltimore City in the summer around the ballpark and parking in Hampden. Parking is so bad. I won't miss that."