The rendezvous is a re-enactment of the annual gathering of mountain men traders and Indians that occurred in the west and took place between 1825 and 1840.
During this time beaver pelts were in high demand and fur trade companies were established to meet the demand. Mountain men ventured deep into the heart of the Rocky Mountains to harvest these beaver pelts. They would then meet with various trading companies who would transport the furs to St. Louis where they would sell the pelts and make ready for the coming year. The trip would take about 3 months travel one way. It was very dangerous because of prairie fires, rain, and snow storms not to mention the greatest threat: the Indians.
In 1822 the Henry-Ashley Trading Company was organized. They placed an ad in the Missouri Republic which read:
To enterprising young men: the subscriber wishes to engage 100 young men to ascend the Missouri River to its source there to be employed for 1, 2 or 3 years.
Later because of Indian problems Henry and Ashley sent their men westward to the Rocky Mountains rather than up the Missouri River. The owners thought it would be more profitable to keep their men in the mountains the year round and to bring provisions to them. This idea gave birth to the legendary rendezvous system. The summer rendezvous were always chosen in some valley where there was grass for the animals and game for the camp. Everyone was there to purchase and trade. Most of the trappers would earn the full amount of their year’s wages.
By the late 1830s the European fashions had changed from beaver felt hats to silk hats. As the result the fur trade greatly declined. It is interesting to note that at the close of 1839 rendezvous it was decided that it would be their last gathering. However a small supply train was still sent in 1840 from St. Louis to the green river where a small rendezvous was held. Thus the last gathering of the mountain men took place, bringing to an end an exciting portion in American West History.
A few of these men became scouts for the army, and others became guides for the ever expanding flow of immigration to the west. Some trappers went to the Oregon and California countries while many others faded into history. These men however left their mark and legacy on the American West.
Those who left their mark on history included: Jim Bridger, Jeddiah Smith, Benjamin Bonneville, Kit Carson, James Beckworth, and the Sublette brothers. These men were responsible for the establishment of the great fur trade road, which, by 1843 became the famous Oregon Trail that helped open the American West.
These men lived, fought and sometimes died with the grizzlies and Indians. They were the first American Citizens to step foot in and record their explorations of Yellowstone, and the territory now covered by Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Utah.
The fort Bridger trading post was established in 1843 by one of the most widely known mountain men, Jim Bridger. Fort Bridger would be a major hub to for western expansion and Indian trade for mountain men, Indians, immigrants and Mormon pioneers. It aided the US army, the Pony Express, the Overland Stage, and the Union Pacific rail road. If it happened in the opening of the American West, it was influenced by Fort Bridger.
The modern day fort Bridger rendezvous has been taking place for over 30 years. Over 120 traders setup and hawk their wares. The goods sold and traded are reminiscent of the typical goods you would have found at a rendezvous in the 1800’s. Among the goods are black powder rifles, original Lewis and Clarke beads, clothing, moccasins, knives, tomahawks, furs, tanned leather, and hundreds of more items. In addition to trader’s row, there are combinations of over 300 mountain man lodges, tepees, and camps that are setup on the grounds of Fort Bridger.
Those in the primitive camping area use only items that would have existed in the pre 1840’s. There are demonstrations showing the skills that were essential for survival in those days. These demonstrations include: the blacksmith forge, primitive fire making, setting beaver traps as well as many demonstrations by members of the AMM (American Mountain Man Organization). There is a period food court at the rendezvous serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, not to mention great kettle corn, and Indian fry bread.
The rendezvous at Fort Bridger also has many competitive events, activities, and entertainment all weekend long. The competitions include: black powder rifle and pistol shoots, knife and tomahawk competitions, and the m c.
In addition to everything the rendezvous has to offer, the Fort Bridger historical site is open to the public. There is a museum, many historical buildings, and a replica of the original Bridger Trading post that is open year round for visitors.
The rendezvous is put on by the Fort Bridger Rendezvous Association (FBRA), a Wyoming non-profit corporation. The association is headed by a board of dedicated volunteers who literally put in hundreds of hours all year long to plan for the upcoming rendezvous. The Fort Bridger rendezvous has become the 2nd largest public event in the state of Wyoming, and the largest rendezvous in the inter mountain west with an annual visit of over 40,000 visitors and participants. Mountain man run, primitive archery shooting, a frying pan toss, and cooking competitions.
Activities at the Fort include: presentations by national historians, living history demo, and games for the kids. The entertainment is almost continuous during the rendezvous. Nationally recognized Native American drummers and dancers perform during they day, the Scottish pipe and drum core march and perform around the fort. And you never have to look too far to find individuals and groups of wandering minstrels playing for the public.
Randy - June 2011
I had returned to Salt Lake City for internship and residency after 4 years at
George Washington University Medical School in 1964. Soon after, we organized
the “Mountain Men of the Wasatch” (MMW), muzzle loading club in my front room.
I was the first president. That didn’t last long as I was drafted into the Viet Nam
conflict the next year. The Army sent me to Alaska for 2 years. I returned to Utah in
1968, settling in Roosevelt, and reacquainted myself with old friends, including Dave
Winburn (now deceased), who was then the president of MMW, which had about 30
members at that time.
We talked at length about opportunities to Rendezvous, including at Fort
Bridger. ‘The place was such a natural for Utahans. Most of us had ancestors who
stopped there. Both sides of my family did between 1852 and 1860. My great-great
grandfather Banks wrote about meeting Jim Bridger and trading hides and horses. My
wife’s GG Grandfather, Howard Egan, know him well as he traveled hack and forth
from SLC to St Louis many times during his lifetime. We became quite enthralled
with organizing a rendezvous there.
This enthusiasm culminated in a trip to Bridger in the summer of 1968. Dave
Winburn, myself and another whose name I have forgotten went along. We looked
up the Fort personnel, employees of Wyoming Parks and Recreation, as I remember,
to propose the rendezvous. They were amazed that we had the temerity to propose
such a thing. ‘They had no time and no patience with the proposal and refused to
even buck it up to their supervisory level. We were politely but firmly hustled off the
property. We had the impression that they thought it. was funny, if not bizarre.
I was quite busy with a young family and a new medical practice, as well as
organizing a new muzzle loading club in Roosevelt and serving on the Board of
Directors of the Nat’l Muzzle loading Rifle Assn., but the rebuff that we suffered at
Bridger failed to slow Winburn down. He unhesitatingly took it to the next level of
Parks and Recreation in Wyoming, getting rebuffed along the way at every level until
he reached the Governor’s office some years later. It took 4 years and 2 Governors
but the imprimatur to organize a rendezvous finally came right from talc top.
This situation was assisted by several factors besides Winburn’s personal relationship
with the second Governor. A number of other participants interested in a rendezvous
at Bridger turned up over the years, not only in Utah, but also i n Wyoming. These
included members of the American Mountain Men (AMM) and other muzzle loading
and historical organizations. “Living history” had come into vogue in the meantime,
a new way of effectively teaching history to the public. There were also changes in
Wyoming Parks and Recreation administration, with consequent evolution in thinking
and in attitude about participatory History, all of which combined to eventually
produce a favorable decision. They had no idea what they were in for.
As I remember, the first rendezvous in 1972, consisted of a dozen or so tipis and a
few smaller camps. The `73 rendezvous was twice that size, and the `74 was 4 times
as large. All of the traders at the 72 doings were ensconced in the jail, I think. By
1980, there were hundreds of tipis, camps, a double row of trading tents, and space
was becoming an issue. (Fortunately, the Hopkinson’s pastures eventually filled that
void. The local Bridger community began to see the light and the future.
Early on, a coalition of AMM and WMM provided leadership and labor, with
the WMM eventually assuming a control position. However, the task became
increasingly difficult, time consuming and onerous as time went on, simply because
the increasing size of the rendezvous.
The eventual organization of the Fort Bridger Rendezvous Association (FBRA) was
a natural and much needed outgrowth of that need, spreading the work and time
requirements among local community leaders, muzzle loading; clubs and others vitally
interested in the project. There were some hurt feelings in the WMM but they soon
found to their joy that the workload was greatly reduced.
I long ago lost track of the politics of the Bridger Rendezvous. But I do know this.
It is the largest and best attended rendezvous in the nation: more participants, more
camps and more visitors than any other, anywhere. It is rendezvousing not in its most
primitive but in its purest form, a modern reproduction of an old time trading fair,
which is exactly what the originals were.
Where once traders trundled goods by wagon across the plains to meet with bands
of Indians, settlers and fur trappers, now traders arrive by truck and van to meet
with carloads of ersatz mountain men, pickups full of descendants of original
pioneers and busloads of tourists. Where in 1972 only a few dedicated mountain.
Men/trappers showed up for the Rendezvous. Now hundreds, if not thousands,
of pioneer trekker’s, many descended from the original pioneer stock that flooded
west, come to walk where their ancestors walked and see what they saw. Even the
tourists join in. Several years ago, a busload of German tourists turned up at the
Rendezvous, complete with 1_ciderhosen and big T,eica cameras. Before the day was
out, they were all dressed in Rendezvous costume, still with their big cameras and still
chattering away in German.
The Bridger Rendezvous is a great and authentic way to celebrate the opening of the
Nest. It is unique and one of a kind. It has changed with the years and will continue to
evolve. Just as the original Indians gave way to trappers, who yielded to traders who
served Indian, trapper and settler alike, the whole yielding place to cowman, rancher
and farmer and eventually to our modern industrial base. So also will the Bridger
Rendezvous evolve? Let’s hope that we can guide that evolution with foresight and
wisdom. It is way too good a program to lose to mere lack of enthusiasm, foresight or
Gary B White MD Roosevelt, Ut