MUSCATINE, Iowa–The tradition of rendezvous goes way back to the 1800s. Fur trading companies would hold annual events, often lasting two to three weeks, for their mountaineers, allowing them to purchase supplies for the year ahead and to swap stories. After a long, solitary, and dangerous year trapping beavers and other animals to make into fur hats and coats, the mountaineers welcomed the opportunity to get back together, rest, and tell tales between each other. Most of the people hired to work for the fur companies had little experience roughing it and few survival skills. Those who survived to make it to the annual rendezvous truly had earned the chance to take a break.
Locally, the Pearl City Buckskinners have hosted a shorter rendezvous of their own at Wildcat Den State Park for about 34 years. Their annual tradition, which attracts fellow buckskinners from across the Midwest, now offers them a chance to retreat from modern life and enjoy a weekend of roughing it while also giving people of all ages a peek into the past.
A well attended event, Pearl City Buckskinners Booshway Todd Stammer estimates that most years, the rendezvous consists of between 40 and 50 different campsites. Over the course of the weekend, visitors can stop out and see demonstrations of all kinds of skills mountaineers and pioneers would have had, including practical skills such as starting a fire with flint and timber, cooking meals over an open fire, and blacksmithing, as well as flashier demonstrations, such as knife and tomahawk throwing. Participants, dressed as fur traders, merchants, and pioneers can help give them an idea of how people lived in the 19th century.
Additionally, many vendors will sell or barter food and historically themed goods. Typically, vendors stay open from sunrise to sunset, giving people many opportunities to stop out and look at their wares. Because different people attend each rendezvous, guests will always find something new to discover each time. “Every year is different–we don’t know who will come until we get here,” said Stammer. “Now it’s pretty family oriented, and there’s lots of fun to be had.”
This year’s Pearl City Buckskinners Rendezvous will take place from Friday, Sept. 17 through Sunday, Sept. 19 near the upper picnic area in Wildcat Den State Park, located at 1884 Wildcat Den Road, Muscatine. As Stammer prepares for this annual meet up, he looks forward to, “getting together and seeing friends you haven’t seen in a long time,” and getting to enjoy a slower pace of life. “It’s just fun to get back to the old ways,” he added.
He also encourages curious folks of all ages to stop out to learn a little bit about this particular chapter of the United States’ past. “If you’ve never been out before, you can see what life was like in the 1800s,” he emphasized. For additional up to date and decidedly modern information about the Pearl City Buckskinners and the upcoming rendezvous, Stammer encourages you to visit the Pearl City Buckskinners Facebook page.