The Last Rendezvous
Growing up the son of a buck skinner, in a ghost town in east Texas might seem ideal, and you’d be right. I was born in 1981, one hundred years before that the town of Latch (then Know) was being formed. By the time I showed up, there was nothing left but a gas station, community center & a shack where papaw & his buddies would play bones. Now, I don’t know what most folks my age were being taught, but the tools of the day in our house were muzzleloaders & tomahawks. The only thing that kept my dad from living as a mountain man, was being a victim of the time.
In. 1659. Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard des Groseilliers got wind from a few Cree that there was an abundance of high quality beaver up north. When the French company they worked for was uninterested, they took off themselves to what the Cree called the frozen lake. They found the beaver & brought them back, proving the Cree right. Government bureaucracies may seem like a relatively new concept, but in 1660 Radisson & Groseilliers were arrested, fined and had their furs confiscated for trapping without a license. When they got out, they eventually convinced Prince Rupert & King Charles II to fund the trapping outfit that eventually became the Hudson’s Bay Company.
By the mid 1700’s native folks in the north would trap prime beaver in the winter, and visit the trading posts & trade furs for other supplies. The Hudson’s Bay point blanket was one of the main items traded for. The wool blankets with distinctive colored stripes also carried stitched lines or “points”. Point is short for the French empointer. The number of points determined the size of the blanket, which in tern called the value in pelts. The most valuable furs were trapped and worn for a year prior.
In the Rocky Mountain area in 1824 mountain men and natives started meeting at the annual rendezvous to trade their furs. Started by William Ashley of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company the rendezvous was a major ordeal, a years worth of hides were traded for supplies, rifles, coffee & whiskey. This was one of the few times mountain men would come across other people during the year, so rendezvous’ were as much for the party as anything. So much so that when Ashley forgot the whiskey the second year, it only lasted 2 days, rather than the 2-3 weeks that were normal. That wouldn’t happen again. Shooting, tomahawk & knife throwing competitions were a major attraction. After a couple weeks when everyone would have the supplies they needed for the year, full bellies & aching heads (if they hadn’t gambled it all away that is), they’d head back out on their own, ready to do it all again the following year. Every year that is until 1840, when the last rendezvous was held on the banks of the green river.
All this for a hat, well lots of hats. From the mid 1600’s to the mid 1800’s beaver fur hats were all the rage in Europe. Renowned for its smooth feel, light weight and durability beaver fur is by far the leader in quality. When John Hetherington wore his first top hat in 1797 they said it caused a riot. We all know the rest of the story there.
Now, I didn’t know any of this shit growing up. I’ve learned all this while trying to learn more about what I’m doing and my craft. It’s interesting though how everything comes around eventually. My dad was more interested in the running wild, exploration & solitude side of it. I’m more interested in the fact that a top quality hat and what I’ve chosen to put my life into is what drove us out west and connected us to sea from shining sea.