BLANCHARD — They pitched primitive wall tents and pyramid tents. They kept their powder dry, and made sure their tomahawks hit their marks. They swapped tales and traded goods. In other words, the Coeur d’Alene Muzzleloaders kept the old-timey mountain man ways alive at their 3rd Poirier Ranch Rendezvous last weekend.
Northwesterners from nearby and afar traveled to the event in order to celebrate a way of life that, for a time, epitomized the American West.
In the early 1800s when white settlers were still few and far between out West, fur trappers would venture into the hinterlands to catch beavers for trade, explained Bob Kelley. The market for beaver fur was hot because the fashion of the day required the soft material for felt-lined top hats, said Kelley, who goes by the name Skinner at the events. At first trappers had to haul their product all the way to St. Louis, Mo. It took a long time to do so, said Kelley. Eventually the trading companies started scheduling dates and locations when their representatives would meet the trappers farther out West. Thus was born the rendezvous.
Event manager, or booshway, Lee Hammond explained that the joy of participating in a rendezvous is the chance to socialize with friends and make new ones. It also gives you a way to improve your skills. For Hammond, woodworking was his niche. Since then, he’s learned new skills, such as learning how to start a fire with flint and steel. Typically 60-75 people come to the Coeur d’Alene group’s event, he said. The summer calendar is dotted with rendezvous events across the region, he added, and group members often travel to more than one per year.
Campers enjoying the primitive comforts of canvas tents stay remarkably dry thanks to the beeswax that makes the material water-resistant, said group member Rex Barraclough. Hammond showed off a wooden-framed bed in his family’s tent, which passed muster for historical authenticity. The Coeur d’Alene Muzzleloaders encourage members to stay as true to the period as possible, even going so far as to encourage the use of horseshoe nails or wooden pegs instead of modern, mass-produced nails.
Theresa Fears of Spokane led a class on dyeing with all-natural food products, such as coffee, onion skins, and berries. Ladies from Montana, Washington, and across North Idaho said they preferred the natural method to having to go buy an extra set of pots and use safety equipment, to dye with chemicals.
Participants often come to the rendezvous with their eyes on a prize. Having trained with their weapons of choice at monthly shoots — such as smoothbore musket, the tomahawk and knife, bow and arrow, or flintlock pistol — they take aim at a series of targets set up around the rendezvous camp known as trail walks. Competitors can go through each trail walk more than once, but only get scored once in each event, said Rathdrum resident Terry Sellers, aka Two Talks.
When he was a kid, Coeur d’Alene Muzzleloaders president Howard Wright had dreamed of enjoying the old ways. Once he found the local group 18 years ago, he found a group of new friends. It’s a family-friendly environment with men, women, children, and seniors involved in good old-fashioned, face-to-face communication, he said.
Why did the old ways change? asked Kelley. It wasn’t because the white man overhunted beavers, he said. The days of the mountain men ended when the demand for beaver fur went away, said Kelley. By the time President Abraham Lincoln entered the White House in 1861, top hats were made with silk, he said. The beaver fur fad of the early 1800s had run its course, and as trendsetters in London and New York looked for something new, the mountain men had to move on as well.
To learn more about the Coeur d’Alene Muzzleloaders, go to cdaml.org, facebook.com/cdamuzzleloaders, or call 208-660-6434.