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National rendezvous buckskinner, mountain men, fur trade and black powder events news stuff.

The History of Rendezvous

by "Kentucky" David Ritchie
photos by "Camera" Bob Woodall

I am “Kentucky”  David Ritchie.   I had the privilege of being your 2014 Rocky Mountain National Rendezvous Booshway.  This is going to be a concise history of Buckskinning and rendezvous that I hope you will find entertaining and useful. 

What is a rendezvous? 
You’ve heard about it.  You have probably been to one or more.  Maybe your friends or neighbors have been to one.  A rendezvous is “. . . a place designated for a meeting. . . “(Webster’s New World Dictionary).  For our purposes, a rendezvous is a place where those of us who enjoy recreating the brief period in American history when the front stuffing, blackpowder burning, round ball shooting firearm was the common feature.  Let’s say 1620 to 1840.  Another way of distinguishing where our interests lie is by stating that we recreate the North American fur trade era.
Whichever way you look at it, we come together at rendezvous to celebrate and recreate this period by making, wearing, using, selling, and or trading the tools, clothing, etc. existing in the European and Native American cultures of the period.  This means you need to think about who you are, when you are, and where you are when you get your stuff ready to go to rendezvous.
This series will be about rendezvous with a very western orientation.  I will be talking about the Rocky Mountain West, and specifically about the Rocky Mountain rendezvous during the modern period.  Not that we won’t touch on the historical basis for what we do, but this will be mostly about the history of the modern rendezvous, beginning about 1960 or so.

The economic recession which followed the end of hostilities between Great Britain and the United States in 1819, left the successful William Ashley with few avenues for expanding the fortune he had gained through land speculation.  One avenue did, however, exist, the continuing high demand for beaver fur on the European continent.  Accordingly, Ashley entered into a partnership with his old friend, Andrew Henry and in 1822, that partnership printed the following advertisement in St Louis papers:

To Enterprising Young Men
The subscriber wishes to engage ONE HUNDRED MEN to ascend the river Missouri to its source, there to be employed for one, two or three years - For particulars, enquire Of Major Andrew Henry, near the lead mines, in the County of Washington, (who will ascend with and command the party) or to the subscriber at St. Louis, Feb. 13
Wm. H. Ashley (1)

Their initial endeavors were, to say the least, not successful.  Indian battles and sunken flatboats resulted in Ashley and Henry taking a dramatic departure from how the trade had historically been conducted. Clokey, Richard M.:  William H. Ashley, Enterprise and Politics in the Trans-Mississippi West - University of Oklahoma Press, 1980

The historical significance of this enterprise lies in its departure from dependence on river transportation of trade goods and peltry to and from the mountain streams to St. Louis and world markets.  Mssrs. Ashley and Henry initiated overland transportation by caravan of goods to the mountains meaning the mountaineers no longer would need to leave the trapping grounds.  This innovation also meant the traders would no longer rely solely on the natives to do the trapping.  Now more dependable mountaineers, working in trapping brigades, would bring in the beaver.  There would be an annual ‘rendezvous’ at an established point in the mountain West where they would meet the caravans from the east and exchange peltry for goods.  The first of these annual trading fairs occurred  on July 1, 1825 on Henry’s Fork, twenty miles from its confluence with Green River.  (2)
That’s how rendezvous got started.  This opened one of the briefest and most romantic periods of American history.  People remembered and lionized those intrepid souls who became Rocky Mountain mountaineers, trappers, scouts, and pathfinders.  Names like Sublette, Bridger, Carson, and Provost lived on in novels, history books, and as place names on today’s maps.   Then, in the 1950’s, during the prosperity following World War II and Korea, men who had spent harrowing times during the war now pursued outdoors interests, some of which included firearms.  And some of those firearms were percussion and flintlock muzzleloaders.

 According to an article written by Margery Pepiot which appeared in the March 1979 issue of The Buckskin Report, the first organized modern day rendezvous occurred in April, 1959 near Wapakoneta, Ohio.  Why?  Because the vast majority of black powder shooters came from the tri-state area (Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky)?  Regardless, these early shoots began to grow, both in number of participants, and in the historical accuracy of clothing and accoutrements.  The first National Rendezvous was held in June, 1967.  This was held at the Primitive Range at Friendship, Indiana.

The first National Rendezvous held west of the Mississippi River occurred at Chadron, Nebraska in 1973.  Phil “Bluejacket” Sanders was the Booshway.  The first National Association of Primitive Riflemen (NAPR) rendezvous was held at Lower Deer Creek, Montana in 1974, booshwayed by John Baird, publisher of The Buckskin Report.  The first joint NMLRA and NAPR rendezvous was held at Darby, Montana in 1976.  Ken Allman and Ed Kenny were the co-booshways.

Gowans, Fred R.: Rocky Mountain Rendezvous, A History of the Fur Trade Rendezvous 1825-1840, Gibbs M. Smith, Inc. Peregrine Smith Books, 1985


Documenting your Historical Stuff

by Thom "Swanny" Swan

Every few years the issue of historical authenticity, or rather the lack of authenticity, becomes a source of conflict among rendezvousers.

Most rendezvous rules of authenticity require that all visible clothing, equipment and supplies be historically authentic for the year 1840 or earlier. In theory both booshways and participants expect their rendezvous' dog soldiers to enforce the rules of authenticity. In reality dog soldiers almost never question the historical authenticity of any but the most blatant of anachronistic items.

Having served my own sentence as dog soldier, I can assure you that dog soldiers are no more knowledgeable than any other participants in this sport. I think dog soldiers often avoid questioning the authenticity of a participant's plunder because they themselves aren't sure whether or not a questionable item is authentic.

According to most rendezvous' rules each individual participant is expected to be able to document the authenticity of any questionable items in his or her outfit, but many of us aren't certain how to do so.This is designed to help both participants and dog soldiers assess the authenticity of stuff found at rendezvous.

To determine whether or not an item is historically authentic, two questions must be answered. First, you must determine that the item was available to those living and working on the North American frontier prior to 1840. Assuming you are able to document that it was available you must then determine whether the particular specimen you are assessing is substantially similar to the original artifact.

To document the availability of an item you must find it listed in a document recorded at or very near the time and place in question. Such documents are considered primary resources, and are extremely reliable. Though we tend to stereotype historical frontiersmen as illiterate and perhaps a bit loutish, the business of the historical fur-trade was every bit as sophisticated as any modern endeavor.Bean counters were as much a part of conducting the business of the fur trade as they are in modern enterprise and the trading companies generated a considerable amount of paperwork. Many historical business records, including inventories, indents (order forms), account books, journals, tax records and other documents which were generated during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries still exist, and can be used to document the presence of most historical stuff.

A few frontiersmen kept personal diaries or sent letters to the folks back home. Copies of these documents can be considered primary resources with evidence to support the presence of some artifacts, sometimes even items which were not particularly common.Pictorial evidence supporting the presence of some stuff may be found in drawings and sketches made at the time the scene was observed. Paintings based on those sketches are NOT primary sources, however.

Artists in the eighteenth and nineteenth century were no more ethical than those today, and if a paying client wanted a few "minor" details changed here and there, the artist wasn't likely to argue. Comparisons of field sketches to the finished paintings of artists such as Paul Kane and Alfred Jacob Miller provide more than enough evidence to show that their finished works are, at best, suspicious.

Finding an item in any document or drawing recorded at the time and place of your persona serves as primary evidence to support the argument that the item was indeed present at the time and place at which the document was generated. Not finding an item listed in a primary document doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't there, but it does mean that you can't document that it was there. If it can't be documented, it can't be considered historically authentic and probably shouldn't be displayed at a historical rendezvous.

Because of the growing interest in the various living history sports, more primary historical sources have been made available to amateur historians in just the past few years than ever before. One need not be a master detective to find good primary documentation because others have already found the documents for you. Here are just a few readily available sources I use in my own historical research.To document items in use in the Old Northwest Territory and Great Lakes region immediately after the Seven Years War (F&I), the records of the firm Baynton, Wharton and Morgan are excellent. Many of those records are preserved on microfilm by the Pennsylvania State Archives. Copies of some of the more valuable Baynton, Wharton, & Morgan records can be found in the appendixes of Mark Baker's book Sons of a Trackless Forest (Baker's Trace Publishing, P.O. Box 681672, Franklin TN 37068-1672). Some of the more surprising or unusual items found in these records include scalloped jelly pans, egg slicers, cheese toasters, medium sized standishes (portable stands containing ink pots, sand box, quills and accessories which provided a stable writing surface), folding pocket lanterns, and lots of other neat stuff.

To document items available in the Greater Northwest fur-trade (Canadian and Northernmost United States) between the time of the American Revolution and 1821, I rely on documents generated by a variety of "Montreal Pedlars", the Northwest Co., New Northwest Co. (XY), and Hudson's Bay Company. Most of the surviving documents from these outfits are preserved in the archives of the Hudson's Bay Company. An excellent listing of the material culture of this trade was compiled by Angela and Jeff Gottfred and published in Volume (tk) of The North West Journal; North West Brigade Club; Calgary, AB (postal code); 1997(?).

To document items available in the American Rocky Mountain fur-trade I rely on the research of the American Mountain Men, who have published copies of an inventory of goods available at the 1825 Rendezvous on Henry's Fork of the Green River from an inventory in Ashley's diary, Ashley's accounts from the 1825 rendezvous, an invoice of merchandise from the Rocky Mountain Outfit of 1836, and many other primary documents. The originals of those documents listed here are in the possession of the Missouri Historical Society. These copies are available free of charge at AMM's Internet Web Site, http://www.xmission.com/~drudy/mtman/html.

Other primary documents can be found easily. Simply check out the footnotes and bibliographies in your favorite historical texts or magazine articles. These will give you the name of the author or editor, the title of the book or publication, the publisher's name and location, and the date of publication or copyright. Armed with this information you can find the source in your local public or university library, or order a copy through the Inter-Library Loan System.It's not enough to merely document the historical presence of an item. You must be able to provide your documentation to those who may question the authenticity of the thing. Since you probably won't be able to quote your source "chapter and verse," it's a good idea to record the information and place the record somewhere in your outfit where it can retrieved if needed. To document an item, you should be able to provide enough information to allow the person who questions it to find the information in historical records. This can be done in the same format as a footnote, listing the author or editor, name of the book, article or document, name of the publication in which you found it, name of the company that published it, and the year the publication was produced or copyrighted. For example, to document a rather unusual item I discovered in an actual historical record, I might record the following:9 India Rubber Canteens.American Mountain Men: "Invoice of Sundry Merchandise from the Rocky Mountain Outfit 1836 under charge of Fontenelle, Fitzpatrick & Co." from Papers of the American Fur Company Reel 7 vols. Y and Z: Missouri Historical Society: Copy found at the AMM Internet Web Site http://www.xmission.com/~drudy/mtman/html/rmo1836.html.

You must also show evidence to support the argument that your version of the item is substantially similar to the original historical artifact. We'll tackle that task in part II, in the next issue of Rendezvous Report.

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photos by "Camera" Bob Woodall
Rocky Mountain National Rendezvous is not connected with the NMLRA in anyway.



Last updated: January 1, 2023
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