'Some fellas call themselves survivalists, but these mountain men were the true survivalists; they lived off what the mountain gave them. Most people thought these men died from fighting the Indians, but they died from starvation," says Don Denford, cofounder of the Manzanita High-Mountain Rendezvous. "The mountain men came to the rendezvous, [which was] their get-together once a year to trade furs. It kept them alive for the following year." Denford has been involved in reenacting historical rendezvous for 30 years and founded the Manzanita High-Mountain Rendezvous 12 years ago with his wife, Joann.
"When the rendezvous starts, the booshway is the one that runs it. His word is law," says Denford. "A lot of men back then would leave cities and trap in brigades. Each brigade had a booshway." He explains that much of the language used by hunters and trappers in the American fur trade between 1700 and 1840 was a mixture of French and English. The booshway is a man who has volunteered to be responsible for the rendezvous from beginning to end. For this year's Manzanita event, April 29 to May 8, the booshway is in charge for ten days. But he doesn't work alone.
The top dog appoints dog soldiers, whose duty it is to police the rendezvous. "If there are any problems, they can handle it," Denford says. "Fire watch at night and during the day, whatever it takes." According to Denford, the Manzanita High-Mountain Club has a spotless record. "We haven't even had anybody with a cut finger." Each camp is equipped with a bucket of water, a fire extinguisher, and a shovel. There are emergency medical technicians on hand.
Some of the demonstrations and competitions include archery, tomahawk throwing, and target shooting. Participants "hunt" -- targets are three-dimensional, animal-shaped metal objects that make a loud gong noise when struck. Visitors must register prior to the rendezvous to participate in any competition or camp overnight and are welcome to learn and try everything that is demonstrated. "People can see how the guns are loaded and fired. Anyone can walk up and say, 'I'd like to shoot a gun.' He signs a waiver and they show him how it works," says Denford.
Last year there were approximately 250 participants (those who camped and competed) and about 300 visitors. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday the gates are "closed" to visitors. "We don't turn them away, they're welcome if they show up, but it's just a dead day." During these slower-paced days, demonstrators are given the opportunity to compete.
The concept of rendezvous can be compared to that of a renaissance fair. Participants camp in a cordoned-off area (in this case, a privately owned cattle ranch), survive the elements, and do their best to keep the scenario authentic -- from clothing to cooking. "It's the idea that it's a challenge to do it," says Denford. "Get as primitive as you can." Denford wears leather moccasins, leather pants, a calico shirt, and a Bridger-style hat. He made most of this clothing himself.
Members of the Manzanita High-Mountain Club have studied the period (roughly 1700 to 1840) from a collection of resources including The Book of Buckskinning series, which consists of 12 books. In the first book, beginners learn about "clothing, guns, rendezvous, crafts and skills, tepees, and women in buckskinning [clothes made from the suedelike skin of a male deer]."
Though most participants refuse modern amenities and the majority of rendezvous around the country enforce authenticity, the Manzanita High-Mountain Rendezvous is more lax and includes a section for "tin tepees." Denford and his wife, who is no longer able to sleep on the ground, take their tin tepee, an RV.
Sara Claypool, an environmental engineer, has been attending the Manzanita High Rendezvous for eight years. "My husband is the major history buff in the family. He dragged me out to the [first one]." Claypool's husband is what she calls an "amateur historian." How would she characterize the other participants? "Some are real history buffs, some are into archery or shooting sports, and a handful of people are really into family values. [There are] home-schooled Christian families and bikers."
According to Claypool, the best part of the rendezvous is nighttime, after visitors leave. "There's no electric light, so people are hanging out by candlelight." Like everyone else, Claypool dresses the part, but unlike the buckskinners, she does not make her own clothing from deerskin. "Some women dress as Native Americans. I go in more of a colonial costume: a skirt, a chemise. But my costume is not as authentic. The men just get really serious about their costumes. It's just a little bit harder when you're female. Mountain women didn't really exist." -- Barbarella>
Manzanita High-Mountain Rendezvous
Thursday, April 28 to Sunday, May 8
8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Fridays until 8 p.m.) Santa Ysabel
Cost: $3; children under ten and military free
Info: 760-745-2927 or www.homestead.com/manzinita/main.html