The Mountain Men and the Fur Trappers Rendezvous

When looking for unique vacation ideas, a real trip into history is found at the several fur trapper rendezvous events held each year in the United States.For those wanting to learn more about the very early west and the fur trapping industry that led the westward advance, the fur rendezvous celebrations are an excellent place to start.

Before the military forts, before the roads and trails and before the settler, there was the mountain man of the American West.

green river valley wyomingOur western road trip takes us to the amazing Museum of the Mountain Man located in Pinedale Wyoming. The Museum of the Mountain Man is situated in an area that was historically important to the entire Rocky Mountain fur trading system. Pinedale Wyoming can be considered ground zero. During the early 1800’s, six separate rendezvous’ were held in the scenic Green River Valley (public domain photo above) which is near today’s Pinedale Wyoming. The museum might not be in a better locale than Pinedale.The Museum of the Mountain Man offers visitors a visual and interpretative experience. You will learn all about the fur traders, famous trappers of the era and a look at just how important the industry of collecting fur pelts was to the expansion of the American West.

Pinedale Wyoming and the Green River Valley lie in western Wyoming, about 100 miles south of Yellowstone National Park and about 60 south of the Teton National Forest. The Museum of the Mountain Man, operated by the Sublette County Historical Society, Inc, and is located at 700 E. Hennick in Pinedale. The museum is a gathering place of knowledge, artifacts and ongoing events that all tell the story of the rugged mountain men of the American West. It’s a very good addition to your family vacation planner.

Historians generally agree that Lewis and Clark, during their historic 1804-1806 exploration of the northwest, were not the first white men to traverse the region. It’s thought that before their arrival, fur trappers from Canada to the north came down to explore some of the very same sections of the route which Lewis and Clark took. Canadian fur traders and the mountain men searching for beaver were really the major explorers of the American northwest. One of the highlights of the Lewis and Clark journey of course were the detailed diaries that were written. It is from these diaries that we can know in quite detail what the journey was like and the dangers encountered. The Lewis and Clark diaries are a historical textbook that students use to this day.

jim bridger photoPerhaps the two most noted, and there were more, mountain men of the 1800’s were Jim Bridger (pictured left) and Kit Carson (pictured below right). Today, both men are memorialized by historic national sites. There is Fort Bridger in western Wyoming not far from Pinedale and there is the Kit Carson Home and Museum in Taos New Mexico. It was the early fur trappers and mountain men from the east who were the first to make contact with the Native Indian peoples of the northwest after the Spaniards had interfaced with the southern tribes.

The mountain men and fur trappers accomplished many things. They traded with the Indians although in some instances not entirely fairly. Regardless, the Indians seemed to prefer the fur traders over the military that would follow. Secondly, the fur traders established some new trails through the mountains in addition to those the Indians had made. Thirdly, the fur traders became invaluable assets as scouts when the military did arrive. Both Jim Bridger and Kit Carson served as scouts for the army. Bridger was involved in military expeditions in the northern plains during the Lakota Sioux troubles and Kit Carson, who at one time was an army officer himself was involved with Fremont in California as well as with Navajo campaigns in what is now New Mexico. The military value of these two men laid in the fact that they knew the trails, the streams and Indian habits and culture better than any military officer at the time. Another sometime attribute of the early fur traders were their diplomatic and political benefits The early traders in effect forged friendly alliances with the native tribes. Many of these adventurers were young single men and as a result they often times married into various Native American tribes.

kit carson photoThe western fur trading era began to die away in the late 1830’s, but during it’s heyday, the “rendezvous” was quite an event. The ‘rendezvous” was what the word implies. It was a large gathering of mountain, fur trappers and fur traders who congregated to sell their fur peltsIĀ 

Prior to the rendezvous days, a typical fur trapper would haul his pelts all the way back to perhaps St. Louis Missouri. At first, the trappers themselves transported these furs from the Rocky Mountains all the way back to St. Louis, Missouri, There they would be traded for supplies for the coming trapping season. Around 1825, the traders decided that there was a better and more economical way to bring their goods to market. They created the “Rendezvous” where they would congregate in the west for the exchanges. .This wasn’t a hard sell since most of these men much preferred staying in the wilderness than traveling to the big city. These annual summer gatherings were quite successful during their day.

The legend lives on today with several “Rendezvous” gatherings taking place around North America each year. one of the largest and longest fur trappers festival takes place each year in late February in Anchorage Alaska. The Rendezvous in Anchorage began in 1935 and is still going strong. This festival is one of the biggest events each year in Alaska and leads right up to the world famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

You will also want to check out the The Rocky Mountain National Rendezvous. This is another annual event and celebration of life on the pre-1840 American Western frontier. It’s a lot nostalgia, a reenactment and a whole lot of history, based on the old fur-trade rendezvous held in the Rocky Mountains prior to 1840. The 2012 dates are July 13-21 at the Roitz Ranch in Mountain View, Wyoming. Mountain View is about 6 miles south of Interstate 80 and a couple of miles from Fort Bridger in the western part of Wyoming.

The Green River Rendezvous, near Pinedale Wyoming, is held every July. The 2012 dates are July 12-15. The Green River Rendezvous is a western trip back to the time of the mountain men. During Rendezvous, the nearby town of Pinedale is alive with activities and events surrounding the Mountain Man theme. It’s a terrific addition to your western road trip summer vacation.

(Photos and images are public domain)