Shining Times

“I defy the annals of chivalry to furnish the record of a life more wild and perilous than that of a Rocky Mountain trapper.”
–Francis Parkman

The life of a fur trapper is exhausting... and dangerous

The life of a fur trapper is exhausting… and dangerous

It’s rendezvous time and all around the West reenactment organizations or “buckskinners” are finishing preparations for a shining time around the campfire. Participating in rendezvous has been a source of inspiration, frustration and some of the best times, I’ve known.

Everyone should have their own lodge

Everyone should have their own lodge

There are those who find recreating history to be odd, silly and maybe even just plain dumb or a waste of time and money. However, at rendezvous, I have learned more about history, men and nature then could ever be taught in either a class or boardroom.

We're all on friendly terms here

We’re all on friendly terms here

The life of a mountain man or fur trapper was hard – there weren’t many that died of old age – because the very nature of their life brought them face to face with death on a regular basis. Of course for those that survived to tell the tales, these adventures became the stuff of legend.

Mountain men wear cool, handmade clothing

Mountain men wear cool, handmade clothing

The tradition of a rendezvous grew out of a need for the trappers to exchange pelts for supplies, and quickly grew into a month long revelry with trappers, travelers, women, children, Indians and company men joining in.

Yes, there are women at rendezvous

Yes, there are women at rendezvous

Mountain Man, James Beckworth, claimed there was “mirth, songs, dancing shouting, trading, running, jumping, singing, racing, target-shooting, yarns, frolic, with all sorts of extravagances that white men or Indians could invent.”

No electronics... but kids still have fun

No electronics… but kids still have fun

Today’s rendezvous are similar – we compete, we trade, we tell tall tales, we learn from each other and we have a good time. Conditions are primitive – no electronics, no RV’s, no refrigeration, no running water – and it’s easy to find yourself transported back in time, where things might have been simpler, but they certainly weren’t easier.

I'm a pretty good shot with my handcrafted black powder rifle

I’m a pretty good shot with my hand built black powder rifle

And yes, I handcrafted all my goods and clothing… from the brain tanned leather, to the beading and quillwork, along with my muzzleloader. What I didn’t make, I traded for, just as the original mountain men did.

So, are you ready for shining times around the campfire?

The Trade

The Trade
by Gale F. Trapp, 2012

the trade

The scene is typical of an early winter or late fall camp. The leaves are gone from the trees. The buffalo jerky, drying on the poles, hints of a recent hunt. But what else is happening here?

Is this a simple horse trade, or could there be romance in the brisk evening air? Is she, perhaps, inviting him to her lodge?

What does she have that he wants? Or, just maybe, is it that she wants something from him?

Could it be that the tribal elders directed him to pay in prairie currency for an unintended offence?

What do you think? I painted it… but even I do not know – for sure.

About the painting – acrylic on hardboard, 7”x9”. Available for purchase.

Remembering the Pony Express

PonyExpressRidersWhile the Pony Express lives on today as an example of romance, adventure and bravery from the American Frontier, the Express only operated for 18 months – from April 1860 to October 1861. Perhaps most interesting to me is the fact that the “men” were often just teenaged boys, the horses were frequently mules and the riders usually carried business correspondence, sometimes newspapers, but almost never love letters! After all, $5 an ounce was extremely expensive. And, while replacement riders were sometimes unavailable, usually riders traveled less than 20 miles at a time. Legend has it that riders were given rifles, but it was probably a just small pistol or even a knife. After all, rifles are heavy, and every ounce counted when riding for speed.

Want AdRiding for speed and keeping weight light, may be where the legend came from that the company posted ads for riders which read: “Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows, not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. Wages $25 a week.”. This picture is great, but historians actually haven’t turned up a genuine ad from that era. None the less, if I had seen this, I’m sure I’d have answered it.

bronco charlie miller Some of the riders parlayed their experiences into quite interesting tales, the most famous of which comes from Buffalo Bill. However, the tale of “Bronco Charlie” Miller was pretty entertaining… and the most embellished over the years. A performer with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, Bronco Charlie was probably never a Pony Express rider, but he did fabricate a great life story where he was born on a buffalo robe, and “delivered by an Indian squaw” in Hat Creek, California sometime around 1849 or 1850. No birth certificate was found for Charlie Miller, but he was believed to have lived to the ripe old age of 105.

I’ve often wondered what motivated these young men. Was it the money, the adventure or a little bit of both. I like to believe that had I lived back then, I would have been a Pony Express rider, how about you?