By Lynn Blamires Content Writer for My Local Utah
The 36th Annual Easter Mountain Man Rendezvous at Fort Buenaventura celebrated one of the most colorful periods of United States history. The original fort built by Mountain Man Miles Goodyear occupied a small half-acre on a bend of the Weber River just south of downtown Ogden. Today the spot that commemorates the fort spreads over 84 acres and includes facilities for camping, fishing, and in other ways getting in touch with the ways of the mountain men.
The fact that it is referred to as a colorful period doesn’t mean that we envy the hardships of those who actually lived it – those aren’t the colorful parts. Peter Ogden wrote about his experiences on the six trapping expeditions he took into the Snake River Country. He wrote, “This is certainly a most horrid life in a word I may say without exaggeration Man in this Country is deprived of every comfort that can tend to make existence desirable.” Later that month the once-sturdy Ogden noted with disgust how illness, low rations, and excessively high temperatures had reduced him “to skin and bone.”
That is not the colorful part. The color is how they dressed, shooting the period rifles and pistols, cooking in Dutch ovens, throwing hatchets and knives, doing foot races, canoe races, spinning yarns, trading with each other, and camping together. The last official rendezvous was in 1840, but this reenactment at Fort Buenaventura began in 1986.
Thirty-six years later it has become a much-anticipated event. What started as a group of people who wanted to get in touch with their ancestral ways has grown to be a dedicated, organized group of families who have learned the skills of the mountain men. They are known as the Fort Buenaventura Mountain Men and the fort is where they can step back in time and experience the colorful part of what life was like as a mountain man.
It is not just a place where men and women go to play – it is a family activity where children also learn the skills of a mountain man. Every 2nd Saturday is a Buckskinner Day where members dress in period costumes and practice mountain man ways including shooting, archery, cooking, tanning hides, and more. They use those skills to make articles of clothing to enhance the authenticity of their outfits, cook Dutch oven recipes, and tan hides in the original manner of a mountain man.
Included in this Mountain Man Paradise are:
- A replica of the fort that Miles Goodyear built. Inside is a copy of the Goodyear cabin, a trading post, and a tack and supply shop. The Fort Buenaventura Mountain Men have also built a mud oven where they have practiced baking bread and meats.
- A primitive area where the learning of basic skills is a constant focus. A full-fledged forge is housed in a trapper’s cabin and is used to learn the proficiencies of a blacksmith. Two lean-tos facing each other called a “Shebang” have a fire pit in the middle where Dutch oven talents are learned. Fire building with bow drills, hand drills, and flint and steel is a challenge as is learning to use a knife for all of its varied purposes.
- An Archery Range where even the kids learn to hit a target
- A Black Powder Rifle Range where amazing contests are held.
- A Knife and Tomahawk Range where the proper distance and throw is learned to stick the blade every time in a sawed-off log.
- A fishing pond that is kept stocked and where canoes ply its waters.
The Weber River runs through the area of the fort which adds to the authenticity of the acreage known as Fort Buenaventura.
These 84 acres come alive at Easter as they did this year at the 36th reenactment of those mountain man days. By the time Easter weekend has arrived, members of the Fort Buenaventura Mountain Men have already been camping for a week.
The setup is not as simple as throwing a popup tent and laying out a sleeping bag. The Mountain Men go into the fort several days before the rendezvous begins with everything they need to live like a mountain man. They set up teepees, wall tents, cooking equipment including Dutch ovens, tripods, cooking utensils, firewood, animal skins for sleeping, and everything they want to sell, trade, or barter.
When the rendezvous opens, color is everywhere. We stopped at the camp of a mountain man who was sitting in front of his teepee. To the side was a display made of crossed poles. At the top was a buffalo skull with an elk antler crossed beneath it. There were drums he had made and stretched with skins for drum heads and gourds he had made and lined with beeswax to hold water.
Hanging on a line by this display was a buffalo robe the Mountain Man had tanned and painted authentically. He explained that the circular design in the middle is the feathers of a war bonnet as viewed down from the top. The horses with riders surrounding the bonnet are warriors and buffalo hunters copied from paintings and sketches by Alfred Jacob Miller – a contracted artist for Sir William Drummond Stewart. They were painted onto buffalo robes to accompany Stewart to the 1837 Mountain Man Rendezvous on Horse Creek, a tributary of the Green River. Running in that circle are some of the animals they hunted. He further explained that the animals depicted on the corners of the robe represent those he has personally hunted. This work of art is also a record of his life.
This Mountain Man has made his mark on Fort Buenaventura. His animal carvings are prevalent in the Primitive Area. He has also carved signs marking the entrance to the Primitive Area and other parts of the fort.
The skill of bartering is alive and well at the fort. As I strolled among those that had wares to sell, I could see that what they had made was available for sale, but not always for money. It is a part of the mountain man experience that feels authentic and part of the old ways.
The rendezvous is over, but there is plenty to see every time you visit the fort. The Fort Buenaventura Mountain Men have done much to preserve a piece of history at the fort and preservation efforts continue. It is easy to see how they love what they do and to make it available for you to enjoy. If you haven’t been there lately, take some time to get in touch with the past and enjoy some peaceful color at the fort.