A rendezvous with history
Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer   
June 26, 2012 08:34 pm

 

A rendezvous enthusiast fires a rifle during last year’s event in the Rowdy Creek area in Smith River. The Pilot/Jef Hatch
A rendezvous enthusiast fires a rifle during last year’s event in the Rowdy Creek area in Smith River. The Pilot/Jef Hatch
Trappers and hunters and traders.

Hundreds of them will descend on Rowdy Creek Road in Smith River June 30 for the annual Jed Smith Mountain Men Tall Trees Rendezvous.

There, on a 12-acre parcel, they will set up their tents and trading posts and prepare for a week of reliving the early days of California exploration.

“It’s a blast,” said “Trapper John” Clark. “Time slows way down. You get up at 7 in the morning when the cannon goes off, and kick back and let the sun move at its own pace. You don’t get too excited. It’s really relaxing.”

 Unless you’re busy loading your rifle, shooting at target deer and buffalo or trading your wares at the market.

The event, now in its 34th year in Smith River, is home to those paying homage to the history of the area as discovered by Jedediah Smith almost 200 years ago.

Participants are required to act and dress the part, too, Trapper said.

Wearing leather pants, long dresses, raccoon hats and moccasins, and sporting guns, bows and knives, people will  participate in shoots, attend sewing and Dutch oven demonstrations and compete in various contests.

 Smith, however, shot and trapped for the real thing.

The mountain man was a hunter, trapper, fur trader, trailblazer, author, cartographer and explorer of the Rocky Mountains, the American West Coast and the Southwest during the 19th century.

He’s been rediscovered as an American hero who was the first white man to travel overland from the Salt Lake frontier, the Colorado River, the Mojave Desert and finally into California.

The local rendezvous got its start along the Smith trail near Point St. George. Folks in full mountain-man regalia spent three days of shooting, trail walks, ax splitting contests, tobacco spitting, tomahawk and knife throwing, muzzle loading, and primitive fire-making contests.

Trapper discovered the mountain man rendezvous as a child at the mouth of the Green River in Wyoming.

“Indian Bill,” he said, “built the town. He’d steal horses from the calvary, brand them, break them and sell them back to the calvary. He was the only Indian in the whole goldarn state who could drink in a bar.”

Many get their start by donning a pair of Levis and a plaid shirt, maybe bearing a Swiss Army knife.

“Then they’re there two or three years, and think, ‘This ain’t cutting it,’ ” he said. “And they go for the buckskin pants. A lot of times, people come to the rendezvous and don’t have the equipment, but they can participate and figure out what it is they want.”

They can trade or buy buckskins, muzzleloaders, knives, tomahawks, tools, beads, jewelry and furs at Trader’s Row to help complete their garb.

That’s how Aura “Calm Water” Wright’s persona evolved.

The Brookings woman attended her first rendezvous wearing jeans, a T-shirt and tennis shoes.

Three years later, she made a pair of buckskin pants, has drop-sleeve-style shirts, moccasins and an elk hide to protect her from the cold.

She shoots a 50-caliber cap-lock rifle and a 45-caliber pistol. And she’s not bad at knife- and tomahawk-throwing, either.

“It’s fascinating,” Wright said. “There’s always been a deep connection in me to that type of lifestyle – that history, the self-sufficiency. I absolutely love it.”

Trapper sports regalia from the 1830s.

Newcomers – particularly those who get really involved – explore and research the history, making each year a more authentic experience.

“A lot of the history has been lost,” Trapper John said. “The biggest thing of it was, very few of the men had an education, and the women wrote diaries. But they (the stories) were lost in history and were never recouped. We try to recreate it, teach people what we know. It’s trial and error.”

Scores of such folk from other states are likely to be found at the Smith River camp, too, as similar events take place everywhere throughout the West year-round.

“There was a couple one year, I couldn’t hardly understand them,” Trapper said. “And a lady in the next camp come over and she could talk to them real good. 

“They were from Germany. They were here for two weeks and spent five days at the rendezvous and said it was the best five days they’d spent in the U.S. They were plumb excited about it.”

Hang out long enough, and you’re bound to get a nickname.

Trapper John is a professional trapper and won a trapping event at one rendezvous. While talking about it later, his companions gave him his nom de guerre.

“One year a lady from the Bear Tribe was walking along and she fell, tripped,” he said. “Her name is Tumbling Bear. Another one from the Bear tribe snored real loud; he’s Snoring Bear. One man lost his voice box and had a hole in his throat. He became Silent Bear.

“Something happens and the name just falls on you,” he said. “Some little incident and it sticks with you.”

People opting to stay at the primitive encampments  have 45 minutes to unload their vehicles and park them elsewhere. Those with RVs and trailers – “Tin-Tipis” – will be directed to their proper staging location.

Shooting and throwing events take place on trails weaving around the Rowdy Creek Gun Club; targets will be set up along the trails.

The rifle and pistol targets include raccoon, deer and wolf cutouts, while the archery event uses three-dimensional deer and raccoon targets. The knife-throwing event uses block targets, but some blocks aren’t stationary.

“It’s like a magnet; it pulls you back,” Trapper said of the event. “I’d like to have a couple hundred acres here. We could change our whole lifestyle. We could make a whole survival thing out of it. I enjoy it, I really do.”

Full schedules will be posted near the primitive camping area.

Rules, fees, registration forms and information are available at www.jedsmithmountainmen.com.