The Mountain Man Rendezvous

James P. Beckwourth
Black trader, one time war chief of the Crow, teller of tall tales.

William Ashley, founder of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, was instrumental in establishing the "rendezvous." Ashley's men made it to the Yellowstone River country in 1824, along with about $10,000 dollars in supplies. Promising to meet them on Henry's Fork, near the Green River the following summer, Ashley brought them wagon loads of supplies, and the rendezvous was born.

The rendezvous--a French word meaning "appointed place of meeting"--was a time when trappers, both white and Indian, could sell their furs, and trade for needed supplies, (which included Indian squaws), meet with old friends, get rip-roaring drunk, engage in storytelling, gambling, gun duels and contests of all sorts. Horse racing, wrestling bouts, and shooting contests were the favorites. "Meet me on the Green," the mountain men would say.

Ashley failed to bring whiskey that first summer of 1825, and the rendezvous lasted only two days. In later years, until the last rendezvous in 1840, whiskey flowed freely, and the festivities lasted for weeks. Things generally got rowdy, debauchery ran rampant at the rendezvous, and by the time they were over, many of the mountain men had lost their entire year's earnings.

Six rendezvous were held on the Green River, north of present day Pinedale, Wyoming, with the others in the Wind River area, or Idaho and Utah. These sites were chosen since there was ample space for up to 500 mountain men and 3000 Indians. Ample grazing and water was needed for the thousands of horses. All were held in Shoshone territory, rather than farther east or north where the hostile Sioux, Blackfeet, and Crow ruled the land.

The rendezvous came to an end with overtrapping, and the changes in fashions from beaver hats to those of silk from China. Also, permanent trading posts, such as Fort Laramie, drew Indians away from the rugged mountains to trade in the buffalo robes of the plains. The last rendezvous was held on the banks of the Green River, very near the site of the first one, bringing full circle a slice of history never to be forgotten.

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