Their side of the mountain: finding joy in the wild life
Here there are no cellphones. No Gore-Tex. No palm pilots.Skip to next paragraph
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Not even zippers.
As far as the folks here are concerned, these gadgets might as well not have been invented yet.
Indeed, for two weeks along a bend of the Flathead River's North Fork, it may as well be 1835. Scraggly men adorned with all manner of menacing knives stride amid hundreds of tepees and canvas tents, muzzle-loading rifles cradled in their arms.
They are part of an estimated 3,500 doctors, deputies, and train conductors who don buckskins and camp every summer on the edge of Glacier National Park in an homage to the mountain men of the 1800s. These "buckskinners" have driven vans and trailers stuffed with authentic paraphernalia of the fur-trading era from as far away as Texas, Florida, even Alaska, in search of simpler times and a square-jawed social code that seems no longer alive in today's America.
It may mean going 10 days without a shower, but to those assembled it's a small price to pay.
"Back-to-nature's a big appeal, but so is the honesty," says Robert "Sully" Sullivan, whose wife, Linda, hand-sews the period clothes. "There's camaraderie. Family values. You don't have to worry about leaving your wallet out overnight here. Or a gun."
Indeed, the dozens of traders on hand at the Rocky Mountain National Rendezvous leave pricey wares unguarded night after night. The rare crime is treated harshly. "Somebody from 10 camps down sees your kids doing something wrong, they're going to correct them," says Mr. Sullivan, a Ravenna, Ohio, resident who works for General Electric. "That wouldn't happen in the city."
Adds Larry Merical, a retired deputy from Montana's Flathead County: "If you needed help, there's nobody here who wouldn't help you. We're all brothers. It's something you've never been around - this kind of comradeship - and so these people come here once a year to renew that."
This camp is a paean to the original fur trappers' rendezvous, which occurred throughout the west from 1824 through 1841. As mountain men went deeper into the Rockies in search of beaver pelts for the booming millinery trade, St. Louis-based traders would meet them part way, loaded with goods to exchange for the valuable furs.
After trading their pelts for blankets, beads, knives, guns, and, of course, whiskey, these adventuresome loners would return into the uncertain frontier. Many, perhaps most, lost their lives - to native Americans, treacherous competitors, unforgiving nature - but some persevered and eventually helped the United States creep inexorably westward.
When hats of silk became the rage in 1840, beaver pelts were no longer needed, and the rendezvous became a part of history.
Until the late 1950s or 1960s that is, when muzzle-loading aficionados began reliving the glory days of the fur trade. In 1974, as these celebrations grew increasingly popular in the West, the Rocky Mountain National Rendezvous was born, a kind of national convention for those who mix guns and nature with patriotism.
Modern mountain men may go easier on the whiskey, but, perhaps because most buckskinners are history zealots, today's rendezvous bears much resemblance to the originals. Traders peddle beads, quillwork, greasy grub, blankets, hats, and furs.