Guidelines for Beginners

bookcand A guide for newcomers to the Alafia River Rendezvous.

The Alafia and other rendezvous strictly enforce what is referred to as the “pre-1840 rules”. These rules may seem harsh and near impossible to the beginner, but newcomers must understand that many of us have invested thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of our time to correctly make our clothing, shelter, and plunder. That’s one of the reasons we have rules, to try to keep the primitive area primitive, and to recapture some of the spirit of the era. If you’re planning to attend the Alafia River Rendezvous as one of your first rendezvous, I heartily suggest you find someone more experienced to camp with and show you the ropes. You can usually borrow clothing and other items you need from them, and not spend much money to get started. You’ll also have a better time if you look like you fit in. Most of us are glad to offer suggestions to newcomers to improve your appearance, and enjoyment, in camp. Heck, most of us will talk your ears off giving our personal opinions about what is acceptable and what is not.

The Top Four Pre-1840 Rules of Rendezvous

#1 The Booshway is always right!

#2 If it is modern, and someone else can see it, smell it or hear it, it’s gotta go.

#3 If you’re unsure if something is appropriate, you can ask someone or do some research of your own.

#4 For all other matters, refer to Rule Number 1.

* exceptions made for medical, health and safety reasons-see rule Number 1.

If you follow these four rules, you can’t go too far wrong. None of us was born in buckskins, and none of us expect you to show up at one of your first rendezvous with hand made brain tanned skins. However, we do expect you to have made a reasonable attempt at fitting in. If you can’t do the following, and I consider this about the minimum, I regretfully ask that you visit us only on Public Days. You can buy virtually everything you need on the following list from traders present, and get plenty of free advice as you shop. Wood is available for purchase at the Alafia, but is not always furnished at other rendezvous. Water is available at the Alafia for hauling to your camp but it may not be available at other rendezvous. Make sure you check ahead on these details.

I’m going to briefly cover clothing, footwear, camping gear, cooking gear and information sources for beginners. This is geared toward what is accepted, rather than what is totally authentic.

Clothing

All clothing should be made of 100% natural fibers. This is not only for period correctness but because at rendezvous we all spend a good bit of time at the fire pit, either cooking, warming up or just visiting. A tiny spark is all it takes and that man made fabric will melt to your skin causing serious burns! Also never, ever go barefoot around the fire pit!

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Men

A buckskin outfit obviously is appropriate. Avoid the orange Tandy leather look. So are breechcloth and leggings. Cotton or linen trousers, breeches and stockings, or pants also work. The prevalent style was the drop front. French fly style existed (mostly after 1800), but was not as popular. Drop sleeve shirts of linen, wool and cotton that end any where from hip length to mid thigh are acceptable. Most of these were pullover style with one button at the collar. Clothing patterns and ready made clothing is available to purchase from rendezvous traders or on line. See source list at the end of this article. If you sew your own, beware of the fabric you use. Today’s calico is much different from the original.

Original calico usually consisted of broad checks in red/white, blue/white, black/white or solid colors. The fancy prints offered today are a far cry from the originals. Also, when buying material, make sure that both sides are the same color. Nothing is more embarrassing than to roll up the sleeves and see a different color than the rest of the shirt because of modern dying techniques. No plastic buttons or zippers.

Stay away from blue colored blue jeans. You can buy some painters pants, dye them if you want, cut off the hip pockets and belt loops, and you’ve got a pair of pants that will get by. This works when worn with the longer shirt, shirt tail out and belted with a leather belt or a sash. Do not wear modern hats, cowboy hats, watches, Buck folding knives, modern shirts, modern belt buckles, or plastic anything. Avoid any and all Civil War, Pow Wow, and most Boy Scout paraphernalia. This is a pre-1840 event. If you don’t have a decent hat, make a bandanna. A good bandanna is nothing more that a piece of cloth 3 feet square. Get the color you want (no synthetics!), and cut to size. You don’t even have to hem it. What could be simpler?

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Ladies

Women have a couple of basic things that they can wear. If you would like to have a Native American look, then wear a simple wrap skirt of wool or a heavy weight cotton topped with a lose shirt cut like the men’s described above, then belted with either a leather belt or a woven sash and worn with mocs.

For a generic white women’s outfit you need a full gathered skirt made of wool, cotton or linen worn over a white cotton or linen shift or chemise. Back then a chemise was worn under everything. It is a women’s slip and night gown. It has a drawstring scooped neckline with sleeves to at least the elbows that have a drawstring also; the hem goes to below the knee. The skirt can be a simple drawstring design. Remember no zippers! If you are not wearing period shoes wear your skirts to the ankle. Top off your outfit with a simple white apron.

When you are ready to add to your wardrobe consider a shortgown, bedgown, jacket, or gown (first two are easier to make), with sleeves ending slightly past elbow. These should be made of the same types of fabrics as petticoats. The latest research suggests that the French and English Bodices sold at many traders tents are not accurate. It seems no matter how warm a lady was she would never have gone out without sleeves). These bodices should be avoided.

BasicwmShortgown/Basic Wardrobe JP Ryan Six Piece Pattern bedgownBedgown Kanniks Korner Pattern caracojacketCaraco Jacket Mill Farm Pattern gownGown A Robe Polonaise Mill Farm Pattern capsCaps Kanniks Korner Pattern

Most ladies never went out without something on their heads a nice white cap does wonders for hiding a modern hairdo. Beware though it has recently come to light that those caps made of little circles of fabric and drawstring up on your head, called “mop caps” are NOT accurate. Mocs will work with this outfit or plain black leather flats. But if possible try to get some period shoes.

Please avoid makeup and nail polish too. If you feel naked with out your makeup try just a little bit of blush and mascara. Check the source list at the end of this article for patterns and places to purchase ready-made articles.

Children

I have two boys that have been rendezvousing with my husband and I since they were 5 and 7. What I recommend for small boys is drawstring pants made of heavy cotton, wool or linen. Then the long shirt over them (shirt tail out) and belted just like I mentioned under the Men’s section. As they get older then they can handle all the buttons of the drop front breeches. Just put mocs on his feet and he is off to have a good time. Little girls basically wear the same as described for the Ladies. Mocs will do for the girls also or a plain leather ballet type shoe works too! When cold weather strikes as it sometimes does just dress the little ones in thermals under their period clothes. (This works for adults too. Just make sure they don’t show!) A blanket or a good sized piece of wool can be fashioned into a cape type outer garment for extra warmth.

Footwear

This is the toughest thing for a beginner to get without spending a good bit of time making moccasins or spending some hard cash, unless you go barefoot. Fields are full of stickers and prickly pear. You’ve been warned. Mocs are the best, whether they’re Poppins or homemade. I’ve seen few from Tandy that will hold up to a week at rendezvous, but many people start with these. I did. Rubber soled mocs are a no-no, but if you’re a newbie, and keep both feet on the ground all the time, most folks won’t say anything to you. Cowboy boots are definitely out. Round-toed boots such as Wellingtons are acceptable as long as there is no decorative stitching. I am partial to the SW style mocs offered by a couple of firms that have a thick rawhide sole. The cactus can’t get through it, and neither can most of the rocks. No sandals, tennis shoes, or other modern stuff even for kids. Solid color wool or cotton socks are appropriate. See sources for moccasin patterns.

Camp Gear

Tents in the primitive camp must have started life as white or tan canvas. No Boy Scout green, blue, or any other color of the rainbow in the primitive area. Obviously medicine lodges or tentage with personal decorations are acceptable. Poles must be wood, and stakes should be wood or iron. No plastic or aluminum. No nylon ropes or plastic/metal line tighteners. If you have modern stuff inside your tent and someone can see it, keep the door closed, no matter how hot it is. Make some wooden boxes about two-three feet long and the width of a 1×12 with a hinged lid. Use rope handles. This hides a lot of stuff (like all your cooking cans and boxes) plus gives you something to sit on around the fire. As an alternative, you can hide a lot of plunder just by piling it up on the side of the tent and throwing a cotton or woolen blanket over it. A big chunk of white canvas (comes 6 feet wide at the sewing store) or a canvas painter’s drop cloth (available at home improvement stores) also works to hide it.

The least expensive dinner plates that are passable are just plain tin pie pans. Make sure they don’t have the manufacturers name stamped into the metal. Another possibility is to check flea markets, yard sales or thrift store for wooden bowls. Make sure they are real wood, have a basic shape (nothing modern) and if they have a design painted on them that you can sand it off. Sometimes you can find them for about 25 cents each! Lots of times people use bowls instead of plates to eat off of. Avoid any and all plastic cookware and utensils. In fact, avoid stainless steel utensils. Have a period mug or cup to drink out of. Open your beverage, pour it into the mug, and then get rid of the container. All pots, pans, and skillets should be either tin ware or cast iron. No aluminum or painted cookware.

Keep all modern cooking products under cover, even when in use. That means catsup bottles, canned food & boxes, baggies, aluminum foil, etc.

Don’t use charcoal lighter to start a fire. Set an example for your neighbors, and do it right. Flint and steel fire starting kits are available at most of trader tents.  Do keep some firewood and lighter knot covered and out of the weather so you will be able to start a fire when you really need it. Keep all coolers and water bottles out of sight at all times. Burlap bags work nice to hide a trash sack, and are needed to convey bags of ice from the ice wagon to your camp (didn’t think we’d let you walk across camp with a plastic bag of ice, did you?).

Lighting is a touchy subject. To the best of my knowledge, only candle lanterns and oil lamps are appropriate. I’ve seen no documentation that kerosene lamps were ever used in the fur trade.

And I know they didn’t have Coleman or electric lights back then. Do NOT bring these things for lighting. You can tell at a glance when they are in use inside a lodge. Remember, if someone else can see it, here it, or smell it, and it is modern, it has to go. The dog soldiers will be enforcing that rule. (Dog soldiers and rangers are the police of the Alafia and most rendezvous.) Flashlights are okay for emergencies, but for emergencies only. Finding your last beer in the cooler is NOT an emergency. Dragging a 3-year old with diarrhea out of the lodge in the wee hours IS. Use judgment.

Miscellaneous

You’ll need an ax to split firewood. An old-time bow saw and a shovel may be helpful also. Cutting live trees is against the rules and grounds for expulsion from the rendezvous. Bring guitars and banjos and dulcimers and ???

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As a final note

When you are sure that rendezvous is what you really, really want to do….don’t go out and buy a bunch of stuff. Before you make the BIG investment in correct clothing, tentage and camp gear, you need to do some research and some thinking about your persona. Who are you going to be? A Fur Trapper, a Trader, Native American, etc, all this effects what you would be sleeping in what you would be wearing and what you would own in general. It can be a costly mistake to go through trade town and just buy willy nilly. Remember just because a trader is selling it at Rendezvous doesn’t mean it is right for your persona.

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