Fort Bridger Rendezvous
Today’s Fort Bridger Rendezvous (established 1972 and operated by the Fort Bridger Rendezvous Association) is an annual reenactment of the original events set up by the various trading companies, and despite starting with only a handful of people, now attracts thousands of visitors every year (the rendezvous is open to the public) in addition to hundreds of merchants.
From 1825 to 1840, large trading companies (e.g. Hudson’s Bay Company, North West Company, Rocky Mountain Fur Company, American Fur Company, etc.) established annual Mountain Man Rendezvous around the American West. The companies notified trappers of predetermined locations in the spring, to which they sent supply and whiskey laden pack trains and set up large camps or Pop-up villages. Trappers would convene and congregate and “rendezvous” in these temporary townships in order to replenish supplies, meet with friends, party and most importantly, trade/sell their furs—beaver was the fur of choice. At the end of the warm/trading season, the Large Trading Companies would pack up camp and transport the furs back to the East, where they wear sold to hatters—hatters preferred beaver fur for felt making because the tiny barbs on the soft underfur of beaver ensure that it will remain matted when felted, and thus beaver hats held their shape better and wore longer than hats made of other materials.
Native Americans, French Canadians, travelers, native wives, children and various other business folk also took advantage of these large economic gatherings. John Kirk Townsend, a naturalist accompanying a supply train to a rendezvous in 1834 provides the following description:These people, with their obstreperous mirth, their whooping and howling, and quarreling, added to the mounted Indians, who are constantly dashing into and through our camp, yelling like fiends, the barking and baying of savage wolf-dogs, and the incessant cracking of rifles and carbines, render our camp a perfect bedlam. I am confined closely to the tent with illness, and am compelled all day to listen to the hiccoughing jargon of drunken traders, the sacre and foutre of Frenchmen run wild, and the swearing and screaming of our own men, who are scarcely less savage than the rest, being heated by the detestable liquor which circulates freely among them.”- John Kirk Townsend
The most typically thought-of Rendezvous (i.e. largest, and O.G.) was held annually by the Rocky Mountain Fur Company (and later the American Fur Company, after the dissolution of the RMFC) from 1825 until 1840 in various locales around Wyoming—in fact, this time frame reflects the lifespan of the Rendezvous Tradition in general. Mountain men first established the fur trade in the 1810s but by the early 1840s the fur trading companies were in shambles and the prominence, importance and institution that was Mountain Man was coming to an end. Thanks almost entirely to dwindling animals populations a result of over harvesting, over trapping, and over hunting. Rapid expansion and settlement into the West also limited the need for temporary rendezvous, as supply trains were better established and permanent settlements more common.
Originally a fur trading outpost established in 1842, Fort Bridger11Often called the “Daniel Boone of the Rockies,” the fort’s namesake Jim Bridger was one of the most storied figures in early American Wyoming history. would become known as a key resupply point for pioneers traveling west on various major routes like the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails. Located on the Blacks Fork of the Green River in southwest Wyoming, the Army also established a post in Fort Bridger (in 1852) which was manned through the Utah War22A conflict in 1857-58 between Mormon settlers of the Utah Territory and the United States. up until 1890. As of the 2010 Census, Fort Bridger has a population of 345. The original Pony Express station and a Mormon Defensive Wall (built by Mormons) are both still standing, and are a part of the Fort Bridger State Historic Site.
Today’s Fort Bridger Rendezvous (established 1972 and operated by the Fort Bridger Rendezvous Association) is an annual reenactment of the original events set up by the various trading companies, and despite starting with only a handful of people, now attracts thousands of visitors every year (the rendezvous is open to the public) in addition to hundreds of merchants. Recreationally, the rendezvous hosts various competitions (black powder rifle shooting, archery, tomahawk throwing) and entertainment (Native American dancing, story telling, magic shows) as well as the continued, traditional economic activity with merchants selling only products pre-dating (or replicas of products pre-dating) 1840.
II An Abridged Guide to Activities at the Ft. Bridger Rendezvous
- Only PCs are allowed to stay in the Fort’s walls at night. Non-PC (both participants & attendees) stay in the “tin tepee” zone otherwise known as the RV/Camper campground.
Mercantile and Bartering
- The Traders appreciate the regs and rednecks and vacationers and cultural tourists and comic-con types and LARPers because they spend money.
Native American Dancing
Black Powder Rifle & Muzzle Loader Shooting
- Rifles crack and smoke. They go off in hour-long sessions every other hour all day long. A lot of shit is going off, bells, chants, rifles, the twang of bows, hatchets swishing, the sound of just-tossed frying pans landing in the dirt, etc. Shit is getting shot, thrown, tossed, targeted, tamped, skinned, melted, hewn, drawn, filtered and tied-up all day long.
- “When Daniel Boone ventured into the unmapped wilderness of what we now call Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, etc. He may have had to scrutinize the brackish offerings of a meadow pond. Reasoning from his past experience while judging the waters scent, color, and orientation in consideration against the lay of the land and the possibilities of a better and safer source. Everything would have been more difficult then for the most savvy of woodsmen times were not easy and dysentery, pink eye, and countless other afflictions were the lampreys of the hunters sojourn.”—KVH, author of The Modern Mountain Man
Frying Pan Toss
- Think javelin or shot put or caber toss but with a Griswold #12 Cast Iron Skillet.
- So basically each day at a designated time three or four miniature cannons (sometimes they’re like old school mortars) are loaded up with thousands of pieces of salt water taffy candies, or similar, and pointed into a field, in which field EVERY kid at the Rendezvous is lined up and anxiously awaiting the order to be given, e.g., the clock strikes 10:00am, the fuzes are simultaneously lit, a few seconds later the canons go boom and erupt, showering the kids with candy and smoke and possibly little bits of waded paper.
- State regulations strictly prohibit the consumption of alcohol at the Rendezvous.
- Rendezvous were known to be lively, joyous places, where all were allowed- free trappers, Indians, native trapper wives and children, travelers and later on, even tourists who would venture from even as far as Europe to observe the festivities.