What is a Pre-1840 Rendezvous?
A Rendezvous was a pre-determined place and time set for Fur Trappers to meet up with Fur Traders. This kept the Fur Trapper from having to come all the way back to civilization to cash in their Beaver Plews and other furs they had collected.
Usually the Trappers or Mountain Men would spend 11 months of the year in the mountains trapping beaver. Beaver was in great demand because its fur. The fur was made into the felt for the Top Hats that became popular in the 1790’s.
Beaver fur was most desirable in the winter. So the Trapper would struggle through the Rocky Mountain Winter in order to trap them. With winter’s cold the Trapper faced the possibility of frostbite, bone numbing cold, running into Ol’ Ephraim, or Bug’s Boys, or illness. It was a fact that not many Greenhorns made it through the first year.
To the Fur Trapper, rendezvous was like our present day state fairs. It was a great time to socialize with other Trappers and to find out what is going on back home. It was also Pay Day! They would bring their furs and trade them for necessities they would need for the upcoming year.
Some of the things a Trapper would need are: coffee, sugar, whiskey, pemmican, jerky, lead, blackpowder, traps, clothing, blankets, horses, mules, and Foofuraw.
When the trading was over it was time for fun. There was singing, dancing, horse races, foot races, target shooting, knife throwing, gambling, whiskey drinking and yarn telling.
So Why is the Rendezvous Pre-1840?
William Ashley, founder of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, helped establish the idea of a “rendezvous.” Ashley’s men made it to the Yellowstone River country in 1824, along with about $10,000 dollars in supplies. Promising to meet them on Henry’s Fork, near the Green River the following summer, Ashley brought them wagon loads of supplies, and the rendezvous was born. The word rendezvous is a French word meaning “appointed place of meeting.”
Ashley failed to bring whiskey that first summer of 1825, and the rendezvous lasted only two days. In later years, until the last rendezvous in 1840, whiskey flowed more freely, and the festivities lasted for weeks. By the time the rendezvous was over, many of the mountain men had lost their entire year’s earnings.
Six rendezvous were held on the Green River, north of present day Pinedale, Wyoming, with the others in the Wind River area, or Idaho and Utah. These sites were chosen since there was ample space for up to 500 mountain men and 3000 Indians. Ample grazing and water was needed for the thousands of horses.
The rendezvous came to an end with over-trapping, and the changes in fashions from beaver hats to those of silk from China. The last rendezvous was held on the banks of the Green River, very near the site of the first one, bringing full circle a slice of history never to be forgotten. We celebrate that colorful history at the Alafia River Rendezvous.
For more information on Mountain Men and Rendezvous follow these links.
Click here for our Glossary of Terms used above.