Rendezvous celebrates 50th anniversary

Attendees walk Traders’ Row as grizzled mountain men sell their wares during the Fort Bridger Mountain Man Rendezvous over Labor Day weekend at the Fort Bridger State Historic Site. (BRIDGER VALLEY PIONEER/Virginia Giorgis)

FORT BRIDGER — The 50th Fort Bridger Mountain Man Rendezvous over Labor Day weekend at the Fort Bridger State Site turned time back to the early 1800s as the rendezvous recreated a slice of early American history.

Weather hit the area Sunday evening as the sky opened up and delivered a cloudburst, sending people inside and dispersing the crowd. Monday’s rain added to the fast shutdown of the rendezvous as many people packed up quickly and head for home.

But before the heavy rain came Sunday, Fort Bridger was a site of action with many grizzled, buckskin-clad mountain men, pioneer ladies, Native Americans and pilgrims or flatlanders (visitors) traversing the area.

As for the tepees in the primitive village, visitors were welcome, but they are told not to enter lodges unless the owner was there and asked them in. The heavy action, as usual, was on Traders Row where pre-1840 goods (replicas) were for sale. This included furs, beads, buckskins, knives, tomahawks, candles and much more.

Also a prime part of the Rendezvous is the Native American dancers, who presented various dances indicative of their tribes, performing twice each day.

The Fort Bridger Rendezvous creates a step back in time to the pre-1840s of the American West in the Rocky Mountains in the fur-trapping years. Rendezvous, a French word for meeting, proved to be a place designated in the fall so the mountain men could trade their furs, or plews, for products normally bought with cold, hard cash.

The rendezvous is reminiscent of the trips west by entrepreneur William Ashley and the goods he carried for the mountain men. The plews were like money in the bank and were used to buy the supplies the mountain men would need for another year. The fur companies thought it was better to keep the mountain men in the wilderness to trap instead of returning east for supplies.

The event recreates a time in the Rocky Mountain West when men lived by their wits, spending the winter trapping beaver for the fashionable top hats worn by gentlemen in the east. When the top hats went out of style and the need for furs dwindled, many mountain men continued to live out their lives in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains.

Others, like Jim Bridger, took a second life and did other things. Bridger is credited with creating a post on the Oregon Trail and other westward trails where travelers could get supplies for their journeys.

The Fort Bridger Rendezvous has grown from a handful of tepees, 13 on a cold, rainy, snowy weekend in 1972, to the second largest visitor event in Wyoming — only outdone in attendance by Cheyenne Frontier Days. This year marked the 50th of the rendezvous, having lost 2020’s event to the global COVID-19 pandemic.