Fort Bridger Mountain Man Rendezvous
August 30, 2010
Stop in Fort Bridger in southwest Wyoming on Labor Day weekend, (Sept. 3-6) and the sounds of gunfire, Native American drummers and dancers, and the hum of other activities will take you back in time to a Western North America Fur Trade Era Rendezvous such as those that occurred in the Rocky Mountains between 1825-40.
One of the largest mountain man rendezvous celebrations in the United States is held at Fort Bridger State Historic Site with activities including black powder shooting competitions, knife and tomahawk contests, primitive archery shooting, children’s musical entertainment and games, a pre-1840s Traders Row where historic items may be purchased, and an encampment of primitive campers enacting that time period.
Entrance fee is $4 per person 12 years and older, or come dressed in pre-1849s fur trade era clothing from head to toe and get in free. (Participation in all competitions, except children 11 and under, requires primitive dress, including footwear.)
During that historic period when beaver pelts, especially, were in high demand, fur trade companies were established in Western North America to meet the demand. Early fur traders that covered the Upper Missouri Region manned trading posts and the Indians brought pelts to them, but the system changed in the lower Rocky Mountain region in later years.
In 1822, the Henry-Ashley Trading Company was organized and sent their men westward to the Rocky Mountains. The owners decided it would be more profitable to keep their men in the mountains year round and bring provisions to them. Ashley’s new plan did not depend on Indian trappers, and with the exchange of supplies and beaver pelts at a rendezvous there was less need for trading posts.
Jim Bridger had begun his colorful career as a fur trader and mountain man with Ashley. (According to one source, Bridger and several other trappers bought out Ashley’s Rocky Mountain Fur Company in about 1830, but the various sources vary just like the “tall tales that are attributed to Bridger.”)
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By the late 1830s, European fashions had changed from beaver felt hats to silk hats, which brought an end to the fur trade and the rendezvous. The mountain men had to turn to other occupations. Many became guides for Western emigrants on the Oregon Trail and other routes.
In 1843 Bridger and Louis Vasquez built a trading post on the banks of the Black Fork of the Green river to serve westward bound emigrants and Indians. The first “fort” was composed of two double-log houses about 40 feet long, joined by a pen for horses, and a small blacksmith shop.
A recent archaeological survey using “ground penetrating radar” proved the assumed route of the Oregon Trail through the historic site without having to dig and disturb the terrain. The study showed a clear path where the emigrant wagons traveled combined with an obvious corridor on each side showing debris that had been tossed from the wagons as they traveled through.
Bridger did not operate his fort very long. Within a decade he had moved on to other adventures. The fort was obtained by the Mormons, and then became a military outpost in 1858. In 1933, the property was dedicated as a Wyoming Historical Landmark and Museum.
Rendezvous events will be dispersed around the State Historic Site giving visitors an opportunity to explore all the areas that represent the different historic periods of Fort Bridger SHS. The rendezvous is sponsored by the Fort Bridger Rendezvous Association, a Wyoming non-profit corporation of dedicated volunteers.
There is no camping available on the State Historic Site grounds except for the primitive campers in 1840s dress who had to make reservations well ahead of the Rendezvous. However, there is a small private RV campground nearby.
For more information, please access the Fort Bridger Rendezvous Association website at http://FortBridgerRendezvous.net or call (435)-793-4570. The e-mail address is: fbrainc@FortBridgerRendezvou.net.
If readers cannot make it to the rendezvous, they can visit Fort Bridger SHS during summer months. Check the hours and admission on the web site at http://WyoParks.State.WY.US or call the park office at (307) 782-3842. Fort Bridger SHS is located about three miles south of Interstate 80, Exit 34, in southwest Wyoming.