Remembering the Early Days of the US Branch of CMA


This article originally appeared in the 2006 issue (No. 58) of Creag Dhubh.

Although 2006 will mark my 30th year of membership in CMA, I had to delve into the early issues of Creag Dhubh (CD) to gain insight on how the present US Branch came about and grew to become the largest of the branches. When CMA was formed in 1947 there was no US Branch but three Americans were listed as members of the Canadian Branch. One of these was Mrs. Alberta Macpherson-Costello of Brooklyn, NY who in CD3 (1951) was listed as Secretary of the USA Branch. A report of US Branch activities also appeared in that issue which claimed 22 members, an increase of 10 from the 12 US members of the Canadian Branch listed in Creag Dhubh # 2 (1950). Of course, one understands that each CD issue reported the data from the previous year.

Mrs. Macpherson-Costello continued to be listed as USA Branch Representative in each of the following issues through Creag Dhubh # 14 (1962) when that office was listed as "Vacant". Her reports appeared in several of the CD issues during this period but it is not clear if US Branch activities extended beyond her own concerted efforts to recruit members through mailings and visits primarily on the East Coast. However, her work paid during these years wherein the number of members increased each year until the Registrar reported them to be 100 in Creag Dhubh # 14 (1962). Creag Dhubh # 10 (1958) was the last issue in which a report from the US appeared.

CD issues 15 --18 (1963 --1966) reported the position of US Branch Representative as "Vacant" but Branch membership increased moderately in most of these years until the Registrar reported 125 US members in Creag Dhubh # 19 (1967). Creag Dhubh # 20 (1968) reported that the Canadian and Us Branches had merged to become the North American Branch and this dual branch continued to be listed until CD26 (1974) where a separate Canadian Branch Report again appeared. However, there was no US Branch report appeared until the following issue (Creag Dhubh # 27). During the lifetime of the North American Branch, the officers listed were always Canadians except in CD20 when Roswell H. McPherson of Buffalo, NY was listed as one of two Vice-Chairmen. During this period, all the annual meetings of the North American Branch were held in Canada as would be expected under the circumstances.

The New US Branch Is Launched

Creag Dhubh # 27 (1975) told the story of how the US Branch in its present manifestation came about. Word had been sent out to CMA members living in the USA in January 1974 announcing that a US Branch was being organized along with the dates of a rally to be held the following October at the farm of Robert B. and Arlena MacPherson of Belchertown, Massachusetts. And thus during the weekend of 25-27 October forty-five Macphersons gathered at that farm and held the first annual meeting of a US Branch. Among the actions taken was the election of the following leaders:

J. Donald Macpherson, Chairman of the Canadian Branch and his wife, Betty joined in the festivities to demonstrate their support for their "offspring" their child. The photograph (in the original Creag Dhubh article) showed Chairman Robert "Piobair" (as he was known) carrying the haggis which was being ceremoniously piped into the clansfolk gathered there.

Creag Dhubh # 27 also reported that US Branch membership had grown in numbers to 282. Creag Dhubh # 28 (1976) reported 316; Creag Dhubh # 29 (1977) 357; Creag Dhubh # 30 (1978) 418; Creag Dhubh # 30 (1979) 442; Creag Dhubh # 32 (1980) 498. I won't list anymore of these numbers except to note that membership continued to rise until it peaked at around 2000 in the year 2000. Since then it has fallen and stabilized in the range of 1450 for several years now. Although several hundred recruits are added each year, a similar number of members fail to remain, a problem that seems to defy solution.

Factors Influencing Our Growth

I listed those numbers to highlight the fact that with the founding of the new branch, a new enthusiasm had captured the Macphersons of the USA; they had became evangelical in thought and deed. The second and third Branch Rallies were again held at Piobair Farm but the fourth met in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington; the fifth at Ionia, Michigan; and the sixth at Atlanta, Georgia. We were on our way out of New England toward the west and south a movement that has taken us all over this vast country for our annual meetings -- Sacramento, Phoenix, Dallas, Chicago, Kansas City, San Francisco, Baltimore to name but a few.

Another major influence underlying our growth is the publication of The Urlar, our quarterly Branch journal. It was launched in the early years albeit in a mighty skimpy form compared to the 68 pages it now carries four times a year.

With the formation of the new branch, Macpherson tents started to appear at Highland games such as those at held annually at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, Stone Mountain in Georgia, Alma in Michigan and Queechee, Vermont. Today you'll find Macpherson tents at more than sixty locations throughout at least eleven months of the year. I haven't heard of any games being held in December as yet but the Christmas Walk held on the first Saturday of December at Alexandria, Virginia draws Scots from all over the US and the Macpherson have strutted their stuff there for more than 25 years.

Space doesn't permit me to list the all the clansmen and women who have worked so hard to expand the membership by manning tents at games and acting as conveners for annual meetings. The number of games we've been present at over the last 32 years are countless; the number of meetings is more than thirty-two because in some years we held two council meetings which took almost as much effort to plan and support. Nor can I list all the cities that we have traveled to in order to be clannish. However, I should point out the first one that we met jointly with the Canadian Branch. It was held in 1980 at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario and it has been a practice we've repeated every five years since then alternating between Canadian and American venues.

The Cluny and Sheila Factor

Worthy of the highest notice have been the visits of Cluny and Sheila to our shores. The first was in 1978 where their first stop was at Alexandria, Virginia where Cluny was Chieftain of the Highland games there. It is always held on the hottest and most humid day of July each year. The two had only been to North America once before and that was in cool, comfortable August at Toronto, Ontario in 1972. What a change; what a challenge! But they appeared to be oblivious to the climatic extreme, particularly Sheila who demonstrated the highest degree of meteorological savoir-faire that I've ever witnessed.

After the games it proved to be my good fortune to be asked to drive them to the Branch Rally being held at Ionia, Michigan which was to be held at the home of Monroe and Phyllis Macpherson. It was a most pleasant trip, even in my dinky Toyota Corolla with Sheila in the back-seat and Cluny and I in front. You get to know people pretty well during one and a half days particularly when they have to persevere all the way beyond Pittsburgh (where we expected to spend the night) to Youngstown, Ohio the first day because a religious sect had occupied all the accommodations for a seventy-mile radius and I hadn't got the word. You might not think that this adventure had much to do with the future of the US Branch but let me assure you that being in their company through it all provided the motivation for what ever service I've since rendered to CMA. Their visits on subsequent occasions and Cluny's continuation of them after the sad loss of his lady have been a major factor in the sustained growth and financial contributions of members of the US Branch.

I can think of one more factor that has sustained over the third of a century -- it's been fun!