Vol. 1, November 2006

Southern Cross Free Trappers Inc. was established and incorporated for re-enactors, living history devotees, and black powder Muzzleloading enthusiasts who wish to gather and camp in the fashion practiced by early Americans involved in the fur trade. It’s for folk who combine this passion to step back in time with an earnest desire to completely leave behind all that is modern, at least for a few days – Rendezvous days.

For some time, it had become apparent there was a need to formally constitute a new club within Australia, to meet more definitive Primitive guidelines. At a general meeting, a committee was elected and then documentation prepared for incorporation with the Department of Consumer Affairs.

A tentative list of desirable standards has already been developed and these can be further refined as necessary to meet the majority of member’s expectations. Arrangements are currently in hand to provide Public Liability Insurance coverage for all members.

We selected the name Southern Cross Free Trappers to identify our “down-under” southern hemisphere aspect, at the same time announcing that we are unbridled by the restraints of other “range bound” clubs. We are a free and independent group of re-enactors who are serious about portraying the Mountain Men of the hey-day of the fur trade era and of the great Rocky Mountain rendezvous gatherings prior to 1840.

Free Trappers were Mountain Men who chose a mostly solitary existence in the Rocky Mountains. They trapped animals for their pelts which they traded at the end of a season in exchange for essentials and luxuries – like whiskey, gun powder and lead, or a luxurious linsey-woolsey shirt. They were independent men and they possessed all their own stock in trade. Trapping beaver was their prime occupation!

Other trappers of the era were equipped and financed by the fur companies and hence they were Company men, who worked as part of a team under an overseer. In other words, they worked to a schedule and for a boss! Whereas, the Free Trappers could please themselves as to when and where they hunted, and they answered to no one.

Being Free Trappers, we will choose the dates and the best locations for our various rendezvous, whilst endeavouring to suit our member’s busy schedules. We have established our own Guidelines as to acceptable shelters, arms, accoutrements, apparel and behaviour. Continuous research for authenticity in individual persona and our overall portrayal will be encouraged.

To join this exciting new club or to receive further information, readers should contact the Secretary or any other Committee member. See elsewhere in this newsletter for names and contact details.

We hope you will rendezvous with us – AROUND THE TRAPS

Southern Cross Free Trappers (S.C.F.T.) – Rendezvous Plans

Initially, we have conducted several successful forays in search of a variety of ideal locations for Primitive Rendezvous encampments, just as the original Rocky Mountain rendezvous sites varied from year to year. With travel costs in mind, the best sites will be central to the majority of members.

Planned for 2007 are several one week long rendezvous’ as well as over Easter and the Queen’s Birthday holidays. We realise some folk will not be able to attend some of the events, but hope that all will be able to make it to a couple at least. Regular editions of our Around The Traps newsletter will keep all members well informed.

Due to litigation trends, Public Liability insurance will be a requisite and attendance will be restricted to members joining Southern Cross Free Trappers, and will be by written invite only. There will be a modest joining fee to cover the premiums, and low camping rates. All fees will be kept to a minimum as there is no perceived need for large club finances.

Rendezvous ?

Or rendez-vous – as it appears in the French, meaning an appointment, or literally – to meet you. The English have borrowed its use, dropped the hyphening of the two words, creating one of three syllables, often slurred in pronunciation to become ron de voo. In use it can be a noun, naming the place of meeting, or as a verb, in the act to meet with someone.

Searching the history of immigration by Europeans to Australia, one seldom, if ever, sees the word used, except maybe today, in ultra modern use, where two lovers might “rendezvous” at some restaurant or perhaps at a shady nook. But, there is no recorded
history of an Australian rendezvous such as the American fur trappers meetings with the company supply trains (either pack mule or wagon trains) and buyers.

And there was no rendezvous at Vinegar Hill, or at Eureka Stockade, although two opposing sides did “meet” at these locations – with monumental results. The word was not even used for the ill planned meeting that didn’t occur at the “Dig” tree. So what we are saying is that Rendezvous, in the re-enacting black powder world, is purely an American western fur trade icon referring chiefly to the 1825 – 1840 period.

Rendezvous Comparisons

Although we have acknowledged that the Rendezvous icon belongs to the 1825 -1840 era, and that muzzleloaders are in fact re-enacting a bygone era, not all muzzleloaders want to get right into Living History. Some new-comers to black powder, greenhorns, and many a seasoned shooter also, just want to shoot with that nostalgic black stuff.

And there’s nothing quite like the smell of a charcoal burner for us all, and that alone is sometimes enough for many. These folk aren’t interested in dressing-up the part to compliment their prized firearms. Here in Australia, some people refer to them as sheep-station-shooters, in a rather uncomplimentary manner.

Others do feel more comfortable shooting black powder if they wear a cowboy hat, or an Akubra, even a “Davy Crockett” style ‘coon skin. They might also invest in the popular heavily fringed buckskin jacket and wear a long knife with a fancy antler grip, and consider that is just right, and quite enough of dressing-up.

For most of the above folk attending Rendezvous can be described as a caravanning holiday at a rifle range, with many similarly dressed paper-target shooters, and their families, enjoying the crowded atmosphere of trade blankets wedged between generator powered camper vans with recorded country music, and nylon tents well lit by gas lanterns at night.

This means that those who truly wish to recreate the atmosphere of early rendezvous have had to produce a separate event and define it as a “Primitive” Rendezvous. Really an unnecessary definition as all the original rendezvous’ were “Primitive”.

At that extreme are the hard-core dedicated living history buffs. A flintlock rifle is usually their basic entry tool into this arena. Next acquisition will be a period style bullet pouch and powder horn. This may be followed up by a period of intense study of history, to ascertain just what other accoutrements and what style of clothing was worn by those hardy souls who actually had business attending the original R’voos.

These re-enactors actually like sleeping on the ground, rain or snow doesn’t bother them! They prefer a very primitive Rendezvous!

Somewhere in between are the more genteel living history enthusiasts. Softies like me, who admire the former hard-core types, but want a little more comfort from what after all is only a hobby. A primitive styled shelter can hide the most comfy camp stretcher for sleeping without backaches. Point blankets can be used to conceal an ice-filled esky, keeping food stuffs from spoilage in our harsh climate, and protecting our health.

Fans of living history want their rendezvous to outwardly appear like an artist’s painting from those bygone years. Transport vehicles are removed from the area – preferably completely out of sight. Tepees and canvas tents are acceptable shelters. Nylon tents, caravans and camper trailers are shunned like the plague.

Borrowing once again, that well oiled cliché from our North American adherents: – If someone else can see it, hear it, or smell it, and it is modern (Post 1840), it has to go. That is what a Primitive Rendezvous gathering is all about.

Looking Back

Rocky Mountain fur trade era living history enthusiasts organised a dinkum Primitive Rendezvous over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June 2005. Members from four muzzle-loading clubs scattered the length and breadth of Victoria gathered at Highlands to have fun. Dubbed the Southern Mountain Winter Rendezvous, it was highly successful! In fact, so much so, that a return Rendezvous for June 2006 was organised 12 months in advance. It was to become yet another resounding success!

The one chord that struck with all attending both events was that we must not loose the closely woven friendships gained at Rendezvous’. S.C.F.T. was formed with this target in mind. We aim to nurture these bonds, and with definite goals and a selection of wonderful new sites, this new club can only prosper from those humble beginnings.

S.C.F.T. Inaugural Committee

President – Ian Convey, phone (03) 5367 8450
Vice President – Bob Ellis, phone (03) 5796 2753
Secretary – John Fowler, phone (03) 5753 4455
Treasurer – Myrtle Barrett; phone (02) 6059 3951
Committee member – Justin Fletcher, phone (03) 9763 1080
Committee member – Robyn Norris, phone (03) 5753 4415

Around the Traps Tattler

(Gossip from recent happenings)

Don’t ya go to Rondyvoo no more? Not for 10 years! A warm welcome back, Murray.

Blanket sale. There were bargains aplenty outside the Trapper’s cabin on a Sunday morning. Everyone had a great Saturday night in the cabin and left behind a pile of belongings when they staggered off to bed down. Kev, ever the entrepreneurial Mountain Man, quickly set up his trade blanket – and all at give away prices.

Seems Justin was filming a documentary on Primitive Rendezvous on a Sabbath morn, when his magic lens caught one Grey Wolf attacking a plump piglet yarded outside of Trapper Norris’s cabin. Ol’ Blind Fox Norris merely turned his blind eye, whilst several pious pilgrims prayed for Deliverance. Burt Reynolds – I thought he was dead!

Hear tell No-Mocs’ squaw has been busy chewin’ moccasin leather. No-Mocs thought he should have a new name to match his new footwear (try Two-Feet-Frozen) but was told he’d have to do something really Brave before he would earn a new moniker – perhaps something like that big bad wolf’s huffing and puffing with one little pig?

Seen at Primitive recently – a carton of milk; one modern squarish bottle of olive oil; one large jar of green stuff – dish wash? Several metal beer bottle tops; one windswept blue esky; one plastic drinking water container; elastic sided “moccasins” and emigrants.

Tattler will mention any anomalies reported – purely as part of the fun, to laugh at ourselves, to encourage a greater awareness, even to raise a few eyebrows, and or to stimulate ideas to enable general improvements of our overall portrayal of Primitive.

The 1837 Green River versus 1838 Popo Agie Rendezvous

Why this comparison you may well ask? We know the 1838 Rendezvous was the last big, in fact biggest ever Rondyvoo, with wagons of trade goods, plenty whiskey and white women? Isn’t there an 1838 Rendezvous Association in the USA? Yes, answers all questions. Well, the 1838 Rondevoo was also immortalised in the 1980 film The Mountain Men starring Charlton Heston and Brian Keith, and it got a slick Hollywood work-over from the film makers, as it has from other modern interpretations.

Of course there were no cinematographers in 1838 or 1837. However, a Captain William Stewart was preparing an American Fur Company supply wagon train to meet the trappers, when he met the artist Alfred Jacob Miller and was inspired by his obvious talents. Stewart hired Miller to accompany the expedition and to document the rugged lifestyle along the journey and at the rendezvous of 1837.

Miller’s work is perhaps the only authentic “snapshot” of the entire rendezvous era. We can study the artwork of Alfred Miller, confident that he painted only what he saw, and that what he omitted was perhaps those things that Hollywood and the romantics (sounds like an all-girl rock group) added at some later date.

By careful examination of the 1837 rendezvous, and earnest attempts to re-create the scenes, we can indicate to all our desire to make authenticity our standard. Whilst some art students have suggested that Miller’s interest in the ancient Greeks shows through in his subject poses, but I have yet to see a Mountain Man wearing a toga.

On the other hand, I do not have any problems with festivities at Popo Agie a la 1838 rendezvous – with plenty whiskey, white women or other, or anyone who just wants ter have fun! Nothing could be further from the truth! But the challenge of constantly striving for authenticity can indeed be a large part of everyone’s fun.

Your local library may be able to help with titles such as –

“The West of Alfred Jacob Miller” edited by Marvin Ross
“Alfred Jacob Miller, Artist on the Oregon Trail” edited by Ron Tyler (a relation of Bill Tyler, perhaps?)

Or contact Allan Vaisham of Green River Rifle Works, phone 08 8293 3686, or email vaisham@picknowl.com.au to order your copy of “The 1837 Sketchbook of the Western Fur Trade” by Rex A. Norman. Cost is less than 20 bucks.

In this little sketchbook, Mr Norman examines details of interest to Rendezvous fans. It is a good low-cost starter for anyone interested in Alfred Miller and in particular his authentic scenes – actually sketched whilst at the 1837 Rendezvous.

Primitive Shelters

Bojo Products can quickly accommodate you in fine canvas tentage of authentic style. Proprietor – Bob “Buggered-Knee” Ellis has been making buckskins and canvas tents for as long as most of us can remember. Contact Bob for a quality tent, lean-to shelter, or tepee in time to proof it ready for next Rondevoo. Telephone – mob. 0412 368 034

S.C.F.T.’s Proposed Guidelines for Rendezvous events

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  1. All S.C.F.T. rendezvous’ will be “Primitive” unless otherwise advertised.
  2. All shelters and visible equipment must be of the type in general use between 1750 and 1840. All non-period equipment (Food & Beverage Coolers, Water Vessels, Containers, etc.) must be kept out of sight at all times.
  3. There will be no area available for modern camps, camper vans or caravans. (See guidelines 1 & 2.)
  4. If arriving on the designated date, you are expected to set up basic camp within 1 hour of arrival and promptly change into primitive dress and remain in primitive dress until breaking camp. (Note: some American rendezvous’ expect you to arrive and depart in your primitive attire.)
  5. Vehicles are to be removed from the camp area once unloading is completed, or promptly. If you take too long to unload you may be asked to move it.
  6. Please turn the radio/player off prior to driving in to unload your vehicle.
  7. Participants are to remain in primitive style clothing at all times for the duration of the event.
  8. There is no public visitor day. Members wishing to invite visitors to witness the primitive side are asked to provide them with sufficient period clothing and suitable accommodation.
  9. Dogs must be kept quiet and under control or on a leash at all times. Collar and leash should also be in keeping with the era. Owners must dispose of their animal’s litter appropriately. Animals possessing a threatening nature should be kennelled elsewhere.
  10. Flintlock firearms are preferred, however cap lock arms designed for round ball will be accepted. Round ball and open iron sights only. Bows should be primitive style longbows or recurve, of wood or bone & sinew. Wooden arrows with natural nock and natural fletching only.
  11. No alcohol is to be consumed prior to or during shooting activities. Foul language and drunken behaviour are unacceptable. Drugs, other than prescribed medicines, are prohibited.
  12. Displayed trade blanket items should also conform to the pre 1840 spirit

General Etiquette – All shelters must be constructed of pre 1840 type materials, such as uncoloured canvas, oilcloth, hides or wool blankets. Wooden tent poles. Tent ropes should be hemp or sisal – no nylon. Clothing materials and patterns should conform to the pre 1840 fashions. Cooking and eating wares should be made of iron, tin, pewter, wood or horn. Enamelware is not historically correct, but may be tolerated for new chums. Oil lamps (not kerosene) and candles are the appropriate lighting.

No portable television, radios, ghetto blasters or generators. Please, no chopping of firewood during early morning hours. Chain saws not to be used during the scheduled event. It is not etiquette to leave modern cigarette butts, empty drink bottles or cans littering any camps. Actually, none of these items are correct for the era. Please try to use period style alternatives.

Contributing articles most welcome. All correspondence and enquiries to John Fowler 252 Pini Lane, Mudgegonga 3737. Email chookster@vfowler.com Tel. 03 5753 4455.