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Rendezvousing with the mountain men.

Tepees and canvas lean-tos stretch as far as the eye can see. Milling about, visitng and playing amidst them, are people of all ages--clad, every one of them, in some variation of buckskins, beads, cotton, silk, breechcloths, coats fashioned from wool blankets, moccasins, or kilts.

The crack of rifles sounds in the distance. Over open fires, iron pots bubble and boil with an assortment of aromas. Almost nothing of the modern day can be seen or heard (even cameras are disguished under leather), and soon the modern visitor, in a moment of eeerie disorientation, can't be entirely sure this isn't 1835.

It's the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association's Western National Rendezvous, pictured above one of the largest and most authentic of the West's mountain man gatherings.

We have located more than 50 similar, though smaller, events occuring from Memorial Day weekend through fall. At almost all, visitors in street clothes are welcome. If you live near an event, or if any are on your vacation route, a stop for a few hours or longer offers a living history lesson impossible to duplicate in a classroom.

At least half are staged by clubs of buck-skinners (anyone reenacting the fur trade era, 1790 to 1840). You can learn a lot from sone of these amateur historians. Don't be afraid to ask questions: they're proud of their hobby and eager to share it.

Sites are usually scenic or historic places. Events are informal, suitable for families, and free unless otherwise noted. Bring a picnic; food isn't always available.

The fur trapper: a breed apart

The mountain men of the American West were a bold and reckless breed with no counterpart anywhere else in the world.

Armed with their wits, a muzzle-loading rifle, and love for the out-of-doors, they combed the West trapping beaver and living off the land. Superb explorers, mountain men like John Colter, Jed Smith, Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, and Peter Ogden also blazed the trails for later settlers.

It was at great outdoor summer fairs once each year that the trappers swapped their pelts for necessities--usually at enormously inflated prices. Noisy, wild, lasting about a month, these rendezvous began in 1825 and most occurred in the central Rockies. They ended in the late 1830s, after silk replaced beaver for the fashionable man's hat.

Of modern "rondys": contests for rifles, tomahawks, liars

At all rendezvous and most festivals, you'll find variations of the following:

Traders' row. Collectors of folk art may find treasures both rough-hewn and of museum quality spread out on blankets for sale or trade.

Some buckskinners become experts at making one item: hand-tanned leather clothes and bags lavishly decorated with beads and bone, carved powder horns, knives and black-powder rifles, wrought-iron gear for open-fire cooking, tin-and-candle lanterns. Some traders publish catalogs and have more items in shops back home, so ask around if you don't see exactly the item that interests you.

Competitions. For their survival and livelihood, trappers relied on their skills with rifles, knives, and tomahawks and their ability to set traps, so games of skill involving all these things are popular.

It's all rather loosely scheduled, and you may have to ask a few people to find out what is happening where. Then hang around. Anyone interested can likely wangle an invitation to take a turn at shooting a musket or throwing a 'hawk.

Games may simply involve hitting a target, or they can get elaborate. Senecas, for example, are mountain man marathons where individuals or teams must race through an unfamiliar course and on cue set traps, fire muskets, throw 'hawks at surprise targets, leap into canoes, race across lakes, or run through creek bottoms, and finally try to start a fire with only flint and steel.

Other popular rendezvous events include contests for best costume, tallest tale, and ugliest face.

Lodges. When you hear of a rondy with any number of primitive camps, encampments, or lodges (the usual term), expect to sell tall tepees, canvas lean-tos, and other period shelters pitched in a meadow or under the trees.

While old-time trappers were too nomadic to own a tepee, modern buckskinners prefer them. Strike up a conversation, show some interest, and you might well be invited to glimpse 1830s luxury. You'll find the tepee furnished much like the well-appointed Plains Indian home of old, usually with beds of skins, Hudson's Bay blankets, woven willow backrests, and parfleche (rawhide) chests.

Dress. Most colorful of all are the buckskinners themselves. While some play free and loose with the dress code, others have invented ensembles that accurately depict a person or a type. Given a chance, most of them love to bend your ear as to how they made it or why.

"Our whole family loves buckskinning," explained one Utah mother. "Composites are beautiful. The people are easygoing, and--let's face it--sleeping in a tepee on skins in surroundings like these sure beats most 1980s-style camping."

Nearly all events listed here and starting on page 92 feature black powder shoots, tomahawk contests, a traders' row, and the like. The estimated number of lodges (tepees) and participants in pre-1840s dress is clue to each event's size. But small ones may be as much fun as larger ones.

If you write for a locator map or more details, include a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Be sure to confirm dates and place before making a long detour.

Unless noted, hours are about 9 to 5 or so.

ARIZONA

May 25, 26, 27, Williams. Bill Williams Rendezvous Days: a dozen lodges, 100 in period dress. Events in town and at City Park, a mile south. Lee Henson, 635-4484; Chamber of Commerce, (602) 635-2041.

June 28, 29, 30, Young. Tucson Mountain Men Rendezvous expects 20 lodges, 100 in period dress. Roger Stevens, 4315 E. Seneca St., Tucson 85712; 326-4073.

CALIFORNIA

May 24 to 27, Sacramento. Fort Sutter Rendezvous expects 20 lodges, 100 in period dress. Cannon shoot Monday at noon. Hours: Friday 1 to 5, weekend days 8 to 5, Monday 8 to noon. Site is 20 miles east of Sacramento on State 16 at Ione Road. Jim Gleason, 5946 Muldrow Rd., Carmichael 95608; (916) 344-5208.

May 25, 26, 27, near Burney. Pit River Pioneers Rendezvous at Clark Creek Lodge expects 20 lodges, 100 in period dress. From State 89, drive through McArthur-Burney Falls State Park; follow signs at junction. Jerry Chandler, Box 314, McArthur 96056; (916) 336-5448; Randy Trafton, 337-6474.

June 8 and 9, Fremont. Mission Days, a chance to see newly replicated 1809 Mission San Jose. Festivities include the Mission Horribles (as mountain men camped here long ago were dubbed) in a dozen lodges, displaying era skills, cooking. Mission and Washington boulevards; (415) 656-0541.

June 8 and 9, McCloud. Trout Creek Rendezvous expects up to 30 lodges, 100 in period dress. Saturday 8:30 to 7, Sunday 8 to noon. Classes on loading and shooting muzzle-loaders, throwing 'hawks and knives. Three miles east of McCloud on State 89, go left on Pilgrim Creek Road 20 miles; follow signs. Morris Wood, Box 502, Mount Shasta 96070; (916) 842-2664, 842-2418.

June 15 and 16, Eureka. Pine Creek Black Powder Shoot and Rendezvous, sponsored by Civil War Historical Society, expects 10 lodges, 35 in period dress. Cannot shoot Saturday at 1. Lessons in black powder shooting, 'hawk throwing. On State 299, 12 miles east of U.S. 101. Bob Becker, 2588 Tower Dr., Eureka 95501; (707) 445-1665.

June 20 to 23, Susanville. Paiute Creek Renegades Fourth Annual Rendezvous expects 100 lodges, 300 in period dress. Drive 5 miles west of Susanville on State 36, 7 miles north on State 44, then follow signs went on a dirt road for 3 miles. Bob Anton, Box 41, Susanville 96130, (916) 253-3412; Bob Benbough, 257-7370.

June 22 and 23, Sacramento. Sutter's Fort State Historic Park Living History Days. Tickets: $2 adults, $1 ages 6 to 17. The fort is at 28th and L streets; (916) 445-4422.

COLORADO

May 24 to 27, Cheyenne Wells. Cheyenne Wells Primitive Renzdezvous, on a historic site near the Kansas border, expects 100 lodges, 400 in period dress. Go north of town 5 miles on U.S. 385, then east 4 miles on Road W. Joe McNevin, (303) 756-1406.

May 25, 26, 27, Westcliffe. The Colorado Springs Memorial Day Weekend Shoot expects 70 lodges, 500 in period dress. Camping: $5. From Westcliffe (near Pueblo), go west 6 miles on Hermit Road and follow signs. George Bennett, 1909 Meyers Ave., Colorado Springs 80909, 634-7811; Bonnie Hidy, 495-4021.

June 20 to 23, Pagosa Springs. Pagosa Rendezvous '85 expects 60 lodges, 300 in period dress. Costume judging and Indian dances, evening barbecue. Camping: $10. Site in 6 miles north of State 160 on Piedra Road. Don Miner, Box 4640, Pagosa Springs 81157, 731-5974; Pamela Rumin, 731-4141 or (800) 523-7704.

IDAHO

June 7, 8, 9, American Falls. The Massacre Rocks Rendezvous expects up to 25 lodges, 400 in period dress. Site: Massacre Rocks State Park, 10 miles west of American Falls on U.S. 30 (I-86); (208) 548-2672.

MONTANA

June 29, 30, July 1, Fort Benton. Ninth Annual Grand Gathering and Muzzle Loading Shoot: 10 lodges, 30 in costume. Site: 40 miles northeast of Great Falls, on the Missouri, Leyton Yearout, Montana Outfitters, Bootlegger Trail Route, Box 77, Great Falls 59401; (406) 727-4560.

June 30 to July 6, Fort Union Trading Post National Historical Site. See page 92.

NEVADA

May 25, 26, 27, Las Vegas. The Spring Mountain Fre Trappers Rendezvous expects 50 lodges, 300 in costume. Cannon matches Monday. Southbound on I-15, take Blue Diamond Road (exit 33); go west 22-1/2 miles to Lovell Canyon in the Spring Mountains. SMFT Rondy, 727 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas 89101; (702) 386-8746.

May 25, 26, 27, Sparks. Lakes Crossing Muzzleloaders Memorial Weekend Rendezvous and Nevada Black Powder Championships expects 20 lodges, 200 in costume. Ends noon Monday. Site is 11 miles east of Sparks: take Patrick exit off I-80; follow signs. Dan Fulton, 825-2615.

June 15 and 16, Carson City. Kit Carson Rendezvou: Buckskin Mountain Men will host 55 lodges, Indian tribes will host a camp. Old-time music, street dance and barbecue Saturday, wagon train encampment (see page 102). Mills Park, 3 blocks east of U.S. 395 on Williams Street. Carson City Tourism, 883-7442 or (800) 634-8700.

NEW MEXICO

June 6 to 9, Raton. The Sante Fe Trail Mountain Man Rendezvous: 60 lodges, 300 in period dress. Busiest days: Friday and Saturday, all day. From I-25 in town, take York Canyon Road west 6 miles to the site. Max Files, NRA Whittington Center, Box 700, Raton 87740; (505) 445-3615.

OREGON

June 22 and 23, Yamhill. Fifth Molalla River Rendezvous expects 15 lodges 100 in costume. From Newberg on State 99W, take State 240 west 5 miles past Yamhill; follow signs. Bill Sendelback, 2530 S.E. Wendy Dr., Gresham 97030; 663-1733.

June 29 and 30, Sandy. Wy-East Mountainmen July 4th Rendezvous expects a dozen lodges, 50 in period dress. From Sandy on U.S. 26, take State 211 south 1/2 mile, veer left on Bornstedt Road, go about 2 miles, then turn right on Rude Road to Wy-East Shooting Range. Steve Brown, 3741 N.E. 37th Ave., Portland 97212; 284-2279.

UTAH

June 14, 15, 16, near Francis. The 16th Annual Utah Rendezvous and Muzzle-loading Championships: 50 lodges, 300 in period dress. A half-hour southeast of Salt Lake City, the site is 8 miles east of Francis at Cedar Hollow. Entry: $1, children 50 cents. Bonnie Dorris, 818 Enchanted Dr., Midvale 84047; (801) 266-2818.

WYOMING

May 25, 26, Jackson Hole. Old West Days and Mountain Man Rendezvous with 20 lodgers buffalo barbecue, Indian dances, western dance contest, Saturday parade, crafts. Most action is downtown; shooting events at Teton Village's Snake River Ranch 12 miles northwest. Chamber of Commerce, Box E-10, Jackson 83001; Suzanne Young, (307) 733-3316.

May 25, 26, 27, Riverton. Wind River Muzzleloaders Memorial Day Weekend Black Powder Shoot and Rendezvous expects 50 lodges, 150 in period dress. Closes noon Monday. Site is near 1830 rendezvous site on Wind River southeast of town; follow E. Monroe Street. A.J. White, 414 Pine St., Shoshoni 82649; 876-2754.
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Date:Jun 1, 1985
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