Rendezvous

What are some of your favorite convention memories? Share them on the forum.

Jim SpencerEvery mountain man looked forward to it: the annual July get-together of trappers and traders, somewhere in the West. Henry’s Fork, Green River, Cache Valley, the Popo Agie, Pierre’s Hole, Horse Creek — wherever it was held, the event drew up to 500 free trappers, 3,000 Indians and the supply wagons of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and the American Fur Company. From 1825 to 1840, a rendezvous was held each year, until a combination of fashion change, dwindling beaver numbers and increasing Western settlement killed it off.

Those 16 wild, rowdy get-togethers were the highlight (or the lowlight, depending on how you look at it) of the mountain man’s year. The mountain men worked hard through fall, winter and spring, alone or in small groups, trapping, dodging hostile Indians when they could and fighting them when they couldn’t, wading freezing streams in buckskins, living off the land, accumulating beavers one by one, each as hard-earned as the last. They’d take their plews to rendezvous, trade some for powder, ball, tobacco and other supplies for the coming year, and blow the rest on gambling, liquor and women in a communal spree the likes of which the world might never see again.

Things have changed a lot between those old rendezvous and the ones held today. The debauchery and wild times are mostly gone, and today’s rendezvous is a much more family-oriented affair, whether it’s the annual convention of the Fur Takers of America (FTA), the National Trappers Association (NTA) or any of the regional, state and local get-togethers held around the country every year. But the underlying reasons for getting together with other trappers are as sound today as they were when Major William Henry Ashley brought $10,000 worth of supplies to the first rendezvous on Green River more than 180 years ago: sharing knowledge, restocking on supplies and camaraderie.

It’s that last one I personally feel is most valuable. Sharing knowledge can be taken care of through books, videos and subscriptions to magazines like this one. Ditto supplies; there are dozens of trapper supply dealers, and UPS is happy to deliver anything you need from their doorsteps to yours.

But nothing can replace the networking and personal reinforcement that happens when we attend gatherings of fellow trappers and fur hunters. I’ve said this before in this space, but here it comes again: one of the reasons we’re in this business is because we like solitude. Sure, some trappers are gregarious by nature, but if you don’t have a penchant for occasionally getting off by yourself, trapping and predator hunting probably aren’t your cup of tea. Better take up bowling.

Still, no matter how much of a loner you are, getting together with folks who share your interests is the best way I know of to recharge your batteries. And recharging is especially important when things have taken a turn for the worse, as fur prices have done lately.

Unless you live in the Alaskan or Canadian bush, or maybe Hawaii, I can almost guarantee there’s at least one trapper rendezvous, fur sale, trapper workshop or other similar gathering within reasonable travel distance of you in the next 12 months. The NTA has three regional conventions this year — May 1 to 3 in Williamston, N.C.; May 8 to 10 in Pittsfield, Pa.; and Sept. 18 to 20 in Lewiston, Mont. — not to mention the big one July 30 to Aug. 2 in Lima, Ohio. The FTA annual convention is June 11 to 14 in Mena, Ark.

In addition, several states have conventions almost as big as the nationals — Minnesota, Pennsylvania and New York, for instance. All these rendezvous will be full of vendors offering good deals on equipment, full of big-name and big-volume trappers doing seminars on every aspect of the sport, and full of trappers just like you and me — folks who love the sport and are willing and eager to talk about it.

But even the smallest gathering of trappers is a source of much-needed information and inspiration. My own fairly small state trappers organization is further subdivided into chapters, and the chapter of which I’m a member — The White River Toe Pinchers — holds monthly meetings except in summer. Aside from our spring and fall potlucks, there are rarely more than seven or eight of us at any meeting, but I never fail to carry away something useful. Just last month our chapter president, Charlie Bass, showed me a quick, effective method for replacing trigger wires on large bodygrip traps, using only a pair of pliers and 15 inches of 9-gauge wire. I’ve used that trick three times in the last month.

It continues to amaze me that so many trappers don’t attend any of these functions. If you’re a member of that group, I encourage you to grab a friend or your family and attend at least one gathering between now and next fall. I’ll bet a prime beaver plew against a summer-caught ’possum that you’ll make some new friends, and that you’ll get much more out of it than it costs you to attend.

Jim Spencer, of Calico Rock, Ark. is executive editor of T&PC. To contact Jim, send mail to P.O. Box 758, Calico Rock, AR 72519 or e-mails to modernmountainman@gmail.com.

What are some of your favorite convention memories? Share them on the forum.

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