For 49 years, on Labor Day weekend, an amazing number of people journey from all parts of the U.S. and even from other countries to attend the annual Rendezvous at historic Fort Bridger. With only a one-year lapse due to COVID-19, volunteers organize the event for the purpose of promoting, educating and re-living the history, culture and way of life of the fur trade era of the American West, circa 1790 -1840.
The Fort Bridger Rendezvous Association, a group of 13 volunteers, organize and plan the entire event. Shalayne Hunziker and Mike Chatelain, in their roles as Booshway and Segundo respectively, are responsible for the daily supervision of the event. As Booshway and Segundo, their job is to ensure everything runs smoothly and to deal with any problems that may occur.
“As Booshway this year, I am extremely happy with how the Rendezvous turned out,” Hunziker said. “Due to the extremely hot weather thisyear, the attendance was down a bit from previous years, but all those that attended seemed to be having a great time and enjoying the Rendezvous.”
The Rendezvous begins early in the week with “mountain men and women” arriving and setting up their tents and tepees. On Friday, Sept. 2nd, the opening day for the public, vehicles are parked in a line along both sides of the highway next to the Fort and others begin to fill several parking areas sectioned off by non-profits who charge drivers a small fee as a fund-raiser for their organization. From Friday through Monday, Sept. 5th visitors come and go and fill the old Fort. An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 visitors attended this year’s 4-day event.
Guests who attend the four-day event can choose from a host of special events, can visit the Fort Bridger Museum, the old original Bridger fort, watch Native American dancers and primitive demonstrations such as hawk and knife throw, archery, black powder shooting and Indian flute demo. Roving Scottish bagpipers entertained throughout the event and paraded among the guests periodically. Special presentations include speakers on the history of Fort Bridger and the mountain man era; the fur trade; tipi living; making moccasins; among others.
Participation in all shoots and other period events require primitive dress, including period footwear. There is also plenty of opportunity for children dressed in period style clothing to participate in period style games, run for candy shot out of a cannon, gunnie sack races and tug-of-war. Women dressed in period correct clothing participated in a special frying pan toss and archery and pistol shoot competition.
A big draw for visitors is Traders Row where the wares and hand-made items of the mountain men and women are available for purchase. Traders Row is busy from dawn to dusk with people wandering in and out of their tents and stopping to buy a treasure to take home.
Joshua Camp, Fort Bridger State Historic Site Superintendent said that because of the extreme heat this year, the Museum saw an increase of visitors stopping in and taking time to view the displays. He said the Museum saw sales of $12,000 over the 4-day event. He agreed that there was approximately a total of 30,000 guests and he personally met one group of visitors from France and another group from Germany.
“I personally love the feel of this old-style Rendezvous,” Camp said. “People learn more about the history at this Rendezvous that they can’t get anywhere else.”
Camp said the best thing for him was the Saturday night Buckskinners Ball which started after the gates closed at 6:00 pm. Only people dressed in period dress could attend. They had a band and a dance caller and performed the period dances of the era.
“It was a rowdy and tremendously fun evening,” Camp said. “Those old-time dances were really something.”
Camp said though there is always a little rowdiness, this year was all good times and the Rendezvous Association handled everything very professionally.
“They came on Tuesday morning and cleaned up the entire grounds. Except for the trampled grass which is to be expected, it looked better when they left than it had before the Rendezvous,” Camp said. “Throughout the whole weekend their crew kept garbage picked up and they did an amazing job.”
2022 was Hunziker’s third time serving as Booshway and she said she is honored to be a part of such a big event and work with a great board and lots of volunteers. The Fort Bridger Rendezvous Association board of directors include Hunziker and Chatelain; Eugene Fowles (Chair), Kim Turner (Secretary), Heather Shell, Brian Squires, Clayton Flint, Dave Morby, Andy Jackson, Tim Boulden, Dave Gonzales, Whitney Hall and John Nicholls.
Also helping to make the Rendezvous a success, Hunziker said, was the Fort Bridger Historic Association, the employees that work on the fort grounds, the State of Wyoming, the Uinta County Ambulance/EMT’s, Uinta County Search and Rescue, Uinta County Mounted Patrol, law-enforcement and all the amazing people that gave up their time at the Rendezvous to volunteer, help with the gates and events throughout the weekend.
“Overall, I feel that the Rendezvous (this year) was a success. Every year’s Rendezvous is unique in its own, so saying that this year’s was better or not as good as previous years is unfair to say,” Hunziker said. “I would personally like to thank all the local groups that helped with the Rendezvous this year. Without them it would be very hard to have a successful Rendezvous.”