Volume 104, Number 27 - July 5, 2007
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Green River Rendezvous gets ready for celebration
When a group of Sublette County residents decided in 1936 to celebrate the mountain men who first explored Wyoming and the rest of the western territory, they honored an event that touched home.
Dressing in furs and skins, the history buffs reenacted the Green River Rendezvous, an event held every summer for 16 years in the mid-1800s where more than 3,000 Native Americans, fur traders and missionaries traveled through untamed wilderness to meet and barter goods that would ensure their survival through the winter. The Rendezvous represented the birth of the county community, as it was located in Sublette County for six years.
Little did the participants in the first Rendezvous Pageant know that the performance would still flourish in Pinedale 71 years later, and the county would perform it in the midst of a bounty of related events and educational programs to hundreds of people curious about the settlement of the Wild West. This year’s Green River Rendezvous events, held July 12-15, will scatter between Museum of the Mountain Man, Pinedale Rendezvous Grounds and downtown Pinedale.
The Museum of the Mountain Man staff anticipates garnering a crowd to watch the museum’s first fur symposium, The Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Journal and Forum, comprised of professors and researchers in the fur trade field whom the museum invited from more than 1,000 universities, museums and historical societies across the country. The museum selected seven fur-trade research papers from the group that the professors will present and discuss.
“We’re hoping the papers are going to be really debated, because there are going to be so many experts in the field,” said Museum Director Laurie Hartwig of the free forum that will take place all day Friday and Saturday. “They’re going to be challenging: ‘where did you get that information? That doesn’t make sense.’”
The museum will publish the research papers in The Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Journal, a glossy, grant-funded academic journal that the museum hopes to produce every year. Friday night will include a special reception and journal signing.
Other museum events will depict the struggles of the mountain men’s plummet into the unexplored western wilderness from 1820 to 1840. The product of their maps allowed wagon trains to immediately rumble down the Oregon and Mormon trails, Hartwig said.
“Can you imagine that these mountain men could be out here on their own instincts to live with hostile Indians and grizzly bears and weather?” Hartwig said with wide eyes, recalling the story of a mountain man who appeased his hunger by eating ants and fireburnt moccasins.
But children won’t have to imagine everything about the hardships of the Wild West, thanks to the American Mountain Men Association (MMA) demonstrations held in the amphitheater on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Their presentations will describe mountain man culture like Native American sign language, tool making and firearm use. Other museum programs include Michael Terry’s Plains Indian Encampment on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and LaPita Frewin’s Children’s Program on Friday and Saturday, in which Frewin shows how to make Native American materials. All museum events are free.
Mountain Men, of course, didn’t rely just on knowledge, but pure athletic ability as they trekked down jagged peaks and galloped horses across wild grown plains. Cowboys from across the county will challenge their bodies as well in the Rendezvous Rodeo held by the Sublette County Sporting Association July 12-14. Tickets cost $5, and children under 12 are free.
Events will include team roping, barrel racing, junior barrel racing, peewee barrel racing, breakaway, tie-down roping, bull riding and bareback riding.
“The rodeos are just packed,” said Sporting Association secretary Mary Anne Almquist, who has helped organize the rodeo for the past 20 years. Almquist estimated that 2,000 people crammed into the arena seats at last year’s rodeo. “Many I think have never seen a rodeo before,” she said. “It’s a very high energy, highly intense sport, very highly competitive.”
The event wouldn’t happen without the massive local support, Almquist said. Sublette County businesses sponsor the construction of the arena and the events, and many people volunteer to help with ticket collection at the door.
Other organizations also participate in serving concessions, like a local Catholic group that sells beer each year. “It’s wonderful, it earns a good deal of money for them,” Almquist said. The Rendezvous Pageant remains one of the Rendezvous weekend’s biggest draws, said Des Brunette, a member of the local board that organizes the reenactment each year.
More than 100 locals will act out events that shaped western exploration in an hourlong narrated play Sunday at 1 p.m., and will include the adventures of famous explorers like William Sublette and Jim Bridger. Performing the same script every year, most of the actors who play roles like trappers and Native Americans have participated in the pageant for as long as 20 years, Brunette said, herself a fourth-generation performer. “I think that the most important thing is the tradition and the heritage, the historical aspect of it,” she said. “(The mountain men) were the people who established this area, it’s important to keep that going for other generations.”
Actors make their own costumes, with authentic animal skin sold from the Mountain Man Museum and classes provided by the organizing committee. They also bring 50 of their own horses, Brunette said.
About 800 people crowded the Pinedale Rodeo Grounds to watch the play last year, and Brunette expects at least that many at the same location this year. Tickets cost $5 general admission, $3 for senior citizens.
“It’s a must-see for the entire family, whether you’ve see it once or not at all, it’s worthwhile, it’s very colorful and historical,” she said. “If I wasn’t in it, I’d still go every year.”
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