The equipment of the Mountain Man was, by necessity, rugged, durable and given the technology and materials of the times, generally heavy.
In 1835, two Protestant missionaries traveling to the Oregon Country stopped at the Green River Rendezvous. Before volunteering for missionary service, Marcus Whitman had been a doctor who had practiced medicine in Canada. His training came in handy at the rendezvous.
Whitman and Parker met in St. Louis in early April 1835 and traveled together via steamboat to Liberty, Missouri, where they joined the American Fur Company’s caravan to the annual Rocky Mountain rendezvous in western Wyoming. The caravan included about 50 rough-edged, hard-drinking, unchurched fur traders and voyageurs. The missionaries disapproved of their intemperate habits, and the men, in turn, resented the presence of the missionaries. “Very evident tokens gave us to understand that our company was not agreeable, such as the throwing of rotten eggs at me,” Whitman wrote to David Greene (May 10, 1839, ABCFM Collection).
Whitman gained a measure of respect after an outbreak of cholera forced the caravan to halt for about three weeks near present-day Council Bluffs, Iowa. More than a dozen men, including the caravan’s commander, were sickened, and three eventually died. Whitman had had no direct experience treating the disease — a severe infection of the intestines, spread by contaminated food or water — but he had learned enough to associate it with lack of cleanliness. He recommended that the men be moved from a camp in a low-lying area adjacent to the Missouri River to “a clean and healthy situation” on a nearby bluff. In a letter to Narcissa, his wife, he attributed the outbreak to the traders’ consumption of alcohol and dirty water. “It is not strange that they should have the cholera, because of their intemperance, their sunken and filthy situation,” he wrote (June 21, 1835, cited in Mowry, 60).
Jim Bridger asked Whitman if he would extract an arrowhead lodged in his back. Three years earlier, Bridger and Thomas ‘Broken Hand” Fitzpatrick had led a party of trappers to the Madison River. Here, they encountered a band of Blackfeet Indians and, in the skirmish that followed, Bridger received two arrows in his back. After the battle Fitzpatrick dug one arrowhead out with his knife, but could not remove the second.
The report on Dr. Whitman’s removal of the arrowhead explains why Fitzpatrick could not pull it out. “It was a difficult operation, because the arrowhead was hooked at the point by striking a large bone.” The three years following the injury, a “cartilaginous substance had grown around it. The Doctor pursued the operation with great self-possession and perseverance; and his patient manifested equal firmness.” A large audience, including many Indians, looked on in awe as Whitman successfully extracted an iron arrowhead three inches in length from Bridger’s back. Afterwards, another trapper asked Whitman to remove an arrowhead that had been stuck in his shoulder for two and a half years.
The caravan reached the rendezvous site on August 12, 1835. News that a doctor had arrived spread quickly. “Calls for medical and surgical aid were almost incessant,” Parker wrote (Journal, 80) as Whitman’s reputation as a surgeon quickly spread throughout the camps at the rendezvous. Both Jim Bridger and another mountain man, Joseph L. Meek (1810-1875) would later send their young, mixed-race daughters to school at the Whitman Mission.
Whitman and Parker were encouraged by the reception received at the rendezvous. They decided that Whitman would return with the fur company to the East, to organize a missionary party to travel to Oregon Country the next year, while Parker would continue westward with Nez Perce guides to locate mission sites.
The topography of Canada and the United States, west of Lake Superior and North of the forty-second parallel, was determined between 1793 and 1812. With the exception of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, fur traders from the American and Canadian fur trading companies did all of the early exploration. These fur traders were either accompanied by Native Americans, or Native Americans told them about the major passes and routes through the Rocky Mountains.
The French explorers who mapped the shores of America’s Great Lakes were not trained in surveying. When we look at the maps they drew, in the 1600s and 1700s, there are many mistakes. Modern surveying had to wait, in any case, until the invention of a reliable chronometer watch that could be used to observe astronomical objects and precisely fix longitudes. The inventor who assembled the first longitudinal chronometer was an Englishman, a Mr. John Harrison, and he and his successors sold chronometers to the “sea dogs” of the Royal Navy. Starting in the late 1700s, the Royal Navy calibrated its chronometers by the longitude of its headquarters in Greenwich, a suburb of London, and the longitudinal numbers that flash on our GPS devices are based upon Greenwich to this day. Determining one’s precise location, which now can be done with the push of a button or two on a smart phone, then required tedious observations of several known angles – such as the elevation of the North Star – and then complex arithmetical calculations by the light of a grimy window, a candle, or an oil lamp.
The word CACHE stirs up visions of pioneers, gold miners, pirates and FUR TRADERS. Fur traders and early explorers often “cached” their goods. When Lewis and Clark were hiring men in and around Mackinac Island’s great rival, St. Louis, in 1803; they hired many trained fur traders. Two years later in 1805, pushing up the Missouri River into what is now western Montana, these men saw the Rocky Mountains rising in front of them. They knew they would be coming back, so they carefully memorized certain sections of the riverbank, dug at least two separate holes, deposited some of the goods that they did not want to portage over the mountains, and called the holes “caches.”
In 1806 the successful explorers, who had reached and wintered on the Pacific coast, re-crossed the mountains and retrieved their hoards. Lewis was sad, however, he admitted in his journal, that at least one of the caches, containing valuable bearskins, had gotten wet and the furs were ruined. Later fur traders learned how to dig and line relatively waterproof caches by searching for patches of well-drained sandy high ground and using grease, tallow, wax, or some other waterproofing agent to try to seal valuable goods.
Each cache was buried secretly and the extra dirt was piled on a blanket or hide and taken to a stream where it could be washed away. Other tricks to hiding a cache include digging up the floor within the walls of a tent, burying the cache and then camping over it for a period of days to tamp down the dirt and remove any sign of the hole. Many trappers would build a campfire over the cache as well. Sometimes, it was over a year before the trapper returned to their cache and to find it they made rough maps, identifying a large mound of dirt over here…a unique tree over there…a big boulder…They would then note the location of the cache by pacing the distance to the cache from each identified landmark.
Let’s fast forward to the current century. Although modern technology has given ease to what was once tedious, man’s desire to seek and discover has not waned. We experience a Bill Murray type of “Groundhog Day” each day we live by getting up, going to work, doing the sleep thing and starting all over again most days of our lives. It’s no wonder our desire for diversity and adventure is often achieved during our “down-time” by getting ourselves lost in the great outdoors.
On May 2, 2000, at approximately midnight, eastern savings time, twenty-four satellites around the globe simultaneously processed new orders and instantly the accuracy of GPS technology improved tenfold.
An announcement, the day before, came as a welcome surprise to everyone who worked with GPS technology. The government planned to remove selective availability of GPS completely by 2006.
On May 3, 2000, Dave Ulmer, a computer consultant, wanted to test the accuracy of the now publically available GPS tracking by hiding a navigational target in the woods. He called the idea the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt” and posted it on an internet GPS users’ group. Dave placed his own container, a black bucket, in the woods by Beavercreek, Oregon, which is near to Portland. Along with a logbook and pencil, he left various prize items including videos, books, software, and a slingshot. He shared the waypoint of his “stash” with the online community on sci.geo.satellite-nav:
N 45° 17.460 W 122° 24.800
Within three days, two different readers read about his stash on the Internet, used their own GPS receivers to find the container, and shared their experiences online. Throughout the next week, others excited by the prospect of hiding and finding stashes, began hiding their own containers and posting coordinates. Like many new and innovative ideas on the Internet, the concept spread quickly.
Within the first month, Mike Teague, the first person to find Ulmer’s stash, began gathering the online posts of coordinates around the world and documenting them on his personal home page. The “GPS Stash Hunt” mailing list was created to discuss the emerging activity. Names were even tossed about to replace the name “stash” due to the negative connotations of that name. And Geocaching was born.
GEO: for Earth, was used to describe the global nature of the activity, but also for its use in familiar topics in gps such as geography.
CACHE: The French word invented in 1797, referred to a hiding place someone would use to temporarily store items.
For the first few months, geocaching was confined to existing experienced GPS users who already used the technology for outdoor activities such as backpacking and boating. Those users had an existing knowledge of GPS and a firm grasp of the obscure lingo used. New players had a steep learning curve before going out on their first cache hunt and tools were initially scarce for this new game.
Jeremy Irish, a web developer for a Seattle company, stumbled upon Mike Teague’s website in July 2000 while doing research on GPS technology. The idea of treasure hunting and using tech-gadgets represented the marriage of two of his biggest interests. Discovering one was hidden nearby; Jeremy purchased his first GPS unit and went on his first hunt the following weekend.
After experiencing the thrill of finding his first cache, Irish decided to start a hobby site for the activity. Adopting the term geocaching, he created Geocaching.com and applied his professional web skills to create tools to improve the cache-hunting experience. The cache listings were still added by hand, but a database helped to standardize the listings. Additional features, like searching for caches around zip codes, made it easier for new players to find listings for nearby caches.
With Mike Teague’s valuable input, the new site was completed and announced to the stash-hunting community on September 2, 2000. At the time the site was launched there were a mere 75 known caches in the world.
Slashdot, a popular online magazine for techies, reported the new activity on September 25, 2000, introducing a larger group of technology professionals to the activity. The New York Times picked up the story and featured it in its “Circuits” section in October, starting a domino effect of articles written in magazines, newspapers, and other media outlets around the world. CNN even did a segment in December 2000 to profile the new hobby.
The growing community chanted the mantra “If you hide it, they will find it” to the newer players. After some reassurances, pioneers of the hobby started placing caches just to see whether people would go find them. They did.
Through word of mouth, press articles, and even accidental cache discoveries, more and more people have become involved in geocaching. First started by technology and GPS enthusiasts, the ranks of geocachers now include couples, families, and groups from all walks of life. The excitement of the hunt appeals to both the inner (and outer) child. Today you can do a search on just about anywhere in the world and be able to walk, bike, or drive to a nearby hidden cache.
Geocaching is a real-world treasure hunt that’s happening right now; all around you using GPS enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache hidden at that location. There are now 2,590,242 active geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide.
See! Everyone, at heart, wants to be a Mountain Man!
If you are bringing your family up to camp and visit the Rendezvous, consider giving geocaching a go. If you have a boy scout in your family, they can earn a merit badge for participating. This is a FUN, FUN activity for the entire family!
Dana is a member of Groundspeak and Geocaching.com. If you have any initial questions about this activity, please feel free to leave a comment below and she will reply. Or, you may contact her by email with your questions:
Phillip Covington was born in North Carolina on December 1803. He moved to Kentucky, where he became a school teacher. Then, at the age of 23, he left his Kentucky home for the far western edge of Missouri.
Fast forward to 1879: Covington wrote a manuscript about his adventures in the mountains for the Greeley Colorado Sun. His lively account is quite informative and provides a lot of “new” information about the Rocky Mountain fur trade, fills in gaps, corrects assumptions and tells us more than we ever knew about the 1828 Sweetwater Rendezvous.
Covington relates that William Sublette arrived in Lexington on September 15, 1827 with a train of pack mules, laden with beaver, to meet William Ashley’s party from St. Louis, who had several wagon loads of goods and groceries ready for transport. Sublette advertised for new recruits and Covington, along with several of his bachelor friends, answered the call. In exchange for $250.00, the men agreed to dedicate 12-14 months to pack goods and trap beaver. The men purchased from the company, at what Covington called “very low” prices, two blankets, a capote, two heavy red flannel shirts, and as much extra clothing as each thought proper to lay in. Most also purchased two pounds of tobacco and a pound of salt. On or around October 1, 1827, Jackson and Sublette took charge of the pack train and, with 45 men – Covington included – and 80 mules heavily loaded with good and groceries, they headed to the mountains with goods and supplies valued at $20,000.00.
It was a brutally cold winter that year and by the time they reached the mountains the mules were starving and freezing. Every night one or more mule died until every man was on foot. There was no place to cache goods, so the men were forced to carry the merchandise. Just before Christmas, in the Black Hills near where Fort Laramie is now located, they stopped in a cottonwood grove and made camp. On Christmas morning Sublette distributed pure brandy which was well received by the company after such hard traveling.
When March arrived and the snow began to disappear, the party found a suitable spot on a bluff along the Platte to cache the supplies. After that, the men started trapping beaver along the many streams that flowed from the foothills.
Covington reports that during this time, the principal food of these trappers was beaver meat. This contradicts long-held beliefs of many historians who claim the mountain men seldom ate the meat of the beaver they trapped.
During the spring, blowing snow and rain caused considerable damage to one of the caches. Several bales of calico, red and blue cloths, tobacco, sugar, coffee and raisins became wet and damaged. Entire bolts of cloth had to be opened and spread out to dry.
Blackfoot Indians killed Joseph Coté at Birch Creek, which later became known as Cote’s defile. Dale Morgan stated that Cote’s death was “almost the only clue that Jackson and Sublette’s were present in the mountains in the spring of 1828.” The Indian that killed Cote’ slipped in among the mules, cutting several loose. Coté was on guard duty and although he crawled close to the Indian, with gun cocked, the Indian fired first. Cote’ was the only man of Sublette’s company lost that year.
Approximately two or three hundred Blackfoot warriors attacked Robert Campbell’s party as it was just a few miles from the rendezvous site. Things might have gone poorly for Campbell’s group if it had not been so close to rendezvous. 60-70 trappers and several hundred friendly Indians quickly arrived from rendezvous to reinforce Campbell’s group.
Depending on who is telling the story, the Blackfoot Indians are believed to have retired from the field before the reinforcements arrived. Lewis Bolduc was killed during this skirmish. Corroborated by Campbell as well as Daniel Pott and Jim Beckworth, Covington’s articles relate that a war party left, then returned after a week or so, with several enemy scalps. A scalp dance was held upon the party’s return and Covington provides many details of this celebration in his writing.
Covington provides the most detailed description known of the location of the 1828 rendezvous site. He wrote:
We camped at the south end of the lake. It had a most beautiful shore, sloping gradually to the water’s edge, sandy and gravelly, with a considerable quantity of cottonwood trees growing without any underbrush. South of the lake was a beautiful a valley as eyes ever beheld, about two or three miles each way, all covered with the most luxuriant grass, which furnished excellent pasturage for our animals. About half a mile from the lake, a large spring came up out of the prairie, which made a stream about two feet deep and fifteen or twenty feet wide, with plenty of the finest quality of fish. This was on the east, and on the west, not more than half a mile, came out another spring of nearly the same description, both boiling up on the prairie, and dry ground all round. Both of these streams ran down a gradual slope into the lake.”
The valley Covington mentions is most likely modern day Meadowville Valley. The spring to the east could be Falula Spring and the spring on the west is probably what is now known as Big Spring.
Covington stated that a small cabin was built up about eight feet high with poles laid across, then covered by cottonwood limbs with the leaves still on, forming a good shaded covering. They split poles for shelving for the dry goods and two or three poles formed a counter on which more goods were laid. The only other mention of a log building at a rendezvous comes from the 1838 event.
Rendezvous this year would last through the early part of July. Covington describes a lively time at rendezvous. “Plenty of fine horses; plenty of fine brandy and whiskey at $2.00 a pint or tin cup full; plenty of goods and groceries of almost every description. Horse racing and shooting was carried on to a considerable degree, while card playing and drinking was not neglected.” Like so many rendezvous yet to come, the men let their hair down and celebrated another successful year in the Rocky Mountains.
Many of the most famous of mountaineers were present. Hugh Glass retold the famous story of his encounter with a grizzly and even pulled off his shirt to show the scars on his back and body as proof. Covington mentions becoming acquainted with Jim Bridger, Ezekiel Abels, Jim Beckwourth and Black Harris. Harris is believed to have gone west with Sublette in 1827. His whereabouts were unknown up until 1829, but it is now apparent that Harris was at Bear Lake in the summer of 1828.
Supplied by John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company and to add a little competition, Joshua Pilcher’s fur company was also present at the 1828 rendezvous. Most of their supplies, which had been cached, were destroyed by water seepage. They were, however, successful in trading for 17 packs of beaver with the meager supplies that they were able to salvage. Many historians link Johnson Gardner to Pilcher, claiming Gardner acted as Pilcher’s clerk, but he did not hire on with Pilcher until after the end of the rendezvous. Covington’s dialogue indicated Gardner was a free trapper, who had the best rifle in the company short of Captain Sublette. Gardner must have accompanied the furs east, then hired on with Sublette’s supply train.
The partners of Smith, Jackson and Sublette were responsible for the task of returning furs themselves to St. Louis. The company made their departure from rendezvous for St. Louis around the fifteenth of August, with 45 to 50 men and about 80 or 90 mules heavily laden with fur valued at nearly $36,000.00, consisting of 7710 pounds of Beaver pelts, 59 otter skins, 73 muskrat skins and 27 pounds of castoreum. The “big Bushaway” (probably Sublette) lead the way and the “little Bushaway” (most likely Antoine Janis) brought up the rear. Some of Pilcher’s men, also carrying their proceeds from trading at the rendezvous, accompanied Sublette back to St. Louis. Although Sublette and Pilcher were competitors and rivals, it was not unusual for them to travel together, for the greater safety provided by their numbers.
Camp fare was pretty rough. There was no bread, but Sublette brought along two or three mules loaded with side bacon and five or six fat steers to butcher. That meat was gone well before the caravan got to buffalo country.
On the Platte River Plains the company was surprised to spot several hundred Indians riding toward them at full speed. The men halted, formed a circle, unpacked the goods and piled them up for breast works. The mules were then picketed within the perimeter and the men hunkered down behind the packs, rifles aimed and ready, but the Indians proved to be Pawnee merely looking for buffalo. A few tobacco plugs earned the company passage.
Jackson and Sublette arrived in St Louis on October 13, 1828, netting a surplus of $16,000.00. Upon their arrival, the men of the party all stood in front of Ashley’s fine home and unpacked the mules. General Ashley, his wife, and his sister-in-law hosted the company for a breakfast of coffee, tea, white biscuits, and good butter. Nearly all of the men were still attired in suits of leather, hunting shirts, and blanket coats – just as they came off the plains. Says Covington, they had not washed with soap for months!
With breakfast over, Ashley gave each man $50 to go to town and purchase new clothes. Covington went to the barbershop for a shave and a haircut, got himself a new suit, then went to a hotel and called for a tub of hot water with PLENTY of soap. He returned to Ashley and settled accounts, receiving $210. He was only docked $40 for clothing and expenses for his year in the mountains.
“So you see I did not gamble nor spend much on alcohol, as some others did.”
We have some very exciting news to share with you!
Bear Lake Rendezvous is pleased to announce that our event in August of 2015 has been moved up a week!
The new dates this year are:
with the main event
Friday, Saturday and Sunday, August 21-23!
This is good news in so many ways, the most significant being that our event now falls on a weekend that is void of any other rendezvous in the area. Traders and die-hard rendezvous attendees will no longer feel torn about which events to attend because conflicts in scheduling have been removed! This adjustment also provides for less potential of having a run-in with mother nature and the grumbling skies that Fall sometimes brings to the area. We just couldn’t be happier!
(Hey! That rhymes!)
Those already pre-registered traders, who were contacted about the possibility of this change, do not need to resubmit registration. We will update our forms and flyers, and contact all other websites that may be advertising the now incorrect dates.
Traders who haven’t yet, and wish to pre-register, please feel free to use the old forms while we run through the process of updating everything.
See you in August!
As a small and unique cultural subset of the U.S. population in the early 1800’s, Mountain men distinguished themselves by forging into the wilderness between St. Louis and California. They mapped the rivers and mountains, established relations with Indian populations, saw unimaginable sights, survived uncivilized conditions and experienced incredible adventures.
When the energy of the nation was focused on westward expansion, the Mountain Man was at the forefront of that expansion and consciousness. Subsequently, who and what they were become distorted until today popular knowledge holds, as truth, multiple misconceptions. It did not help matters that Mountain Men were also masters of spinning tales. Many an experience was embellished into a larger than life story that made it into the books of American history.
Some of these misconceptions include:
- Mountain men always have beards
- Mountain men were solitary and loners
- Mountain men softened their leather by first chewing it
- Mountain men cheated the Indians by trading worthless trinkets for valuable furs
- Mountain men were illiterate
What are some myths/legends you may have heard? Post them on our face book page.
We started thinking about Bear Lake as a great place to re-create a mountain man rendezvous. After all, the Bear Lake Valley is the place two of the twenty mountain man rendezvous’s actually occurred (1827-28). In late August, the area is beautiful and full of fun seeking, enthusiastic visitors.
We, as a group, are fast approaching a crossroads in our planning, implementing and executing a successful 2013 Bear Lake Rendezvous. (BLR)
Here is a quick overview.
Things we have:
- We found a landowner who appreciates the historical and educational elements a rendezvous re-creation would offer as well as celebrating the heritage of the area. He is willing to let us use his land accepting all the wear and tear that comes with holding an event concluding the sacrifice is worth it.
- We have Kash Johnson, a dedicated mountain man historian with 14 years experience in managing mountain man rendezvous re-creations. His only interest is to share his passion with those willing and interested to learn about the mountain man era.
- We have the support of the local community who are anxious to see a rendezvous event and embracing the idea.
- We have local and state media anxious to cover the event because it is in UTAH.
- We have a tourist based recreational area with over 15,000 people in the area playing and having fun on the scheduled weekend. It is a very focused local market with lots of people with a lot of money looking for things to do. Translation: Traders have a lot of potential customers ready to spend.
- Meetings with the landowner, county commissioners, Laketown town council
- Incorporated as Bear Lake Rendezvous Inc.
- Applied for and received non-profit status
- Fire Barrels
- Land owner agreement
- Site layout
- Website www.bearlakerendezvous.com
- Facebook page
- Logo created
- County permit
- Hooters purchased and refurbished
- Bank Account
- Alliances formed with The National Oregon California Trail Center, The American West Heritage Center and Bear River Heritage Area.
Port a pots $2000
Dump fees $500
Gate management $500
Office supplies $200
P.O. Box $45
State registration $15
Land lease $300
Web page $100
Unexpected/emergency funds $1000
Now, full disclosure. We have the money to proceed. So this is not a plea for money.
We have most of the ingredients necessary to cook up a great event. But we have to have the participation of traders and campers to attract a visitor market. As of now we have 11 traders registered. The area will support as many as we want. We need to have 35 traders/campers signed up and committed to attend to provide a marketable product to the visitors.
If we do not have 35 traders/campers signed up/committed by June 20th we will cancel the 2013 BLR and make plans for the 2014 BLR. All paid registrations will be 100 % refunded.
If we do cancel 2013 we would be interested to find out why there was not enough interest with the traders/campers. Bad dates? Too close to Bridger Rendezvous? Too hot? Think people will not attend? Bad Location?Your input will help us move forward and make changes as necessary for 2014.
Understandably, there is apprehension about a new event. Our number one goal was to produce a quality event for the participants as well as the visitors. We will pursue this goal and refuse to offer a “bad” event that will denigrate the future of the Bear Lake Rendezvous.
Also, receiving non-profit status will allow us to attract corporate sponsors who will be willing to contribute to the success of the future rendezvous. We can get into budgets for 2014 and the donation is then tax-deductible.
So anyway, thanks for reading through. It’s up to you. If you have registered, thank you. Please talk to all those that may not have heard. Pass on the info to friends and family. We are excited to proceed, if not this summer, next summer. We can make this a rendezvous to be proud of.
Thanks BLR INC.