Buckskins, tomahawks: ‘Mountain men’ gather for rendezvous at Virginia City

2013-06-01T00:00:00Z Buckskins, tomahawks: ‘Mountain men’ gather for rendezvous at Virginia CityBy Piper Haugan of The Montana Standard Montana Standard

The smell of smoke and buckskin drifted through Virginia City on Friday morning as the historic town’s Daylight Creek Rendezvous got underway.

At about 11 a.m., only a handful of visitors wandered through the block-long clearing across from the Virginia City fire station.

It may have been for the better, as the rendezvous’ “Booshway,” or headman, who goes only by Rabbit, was standing outside of his tent, letting arrows fly partway across the clearing. Many of them landed neatly on an old target; some fell short, and some of them went a considerable distance farther. The wind likely didn’t help.

Buckskin-clad from head to toe, Rabbit, who comes from near Greybull in Wyoming, demonstrated what he says is the correct way to shoot a bow: Off the hip, the bow parallel to the ground, with the arrow resting on top. Rabbit said Native Americans shot that way from their horses. His neighbor protested vigorously.

“Rabbit’s the only one who shoots like that,” the neighbor said playfully.

Behind him, Rabbit’s tent was filled to the brim with items he’s created or found, from buckskin bags and tomahawks to chunks of sinew, which sat waxy-looking but tough on top of a table.

Rabbit hand-makes the bows, arrows and arrow strings he sells, too. And one of the long bows he was shooting with? He’d made that just the day before, out of a pliable piece of willow.

Rabbit’s tent was one of about a half-dozen set up around the clearing, where you could find anything you’d ever need to set out on your own adventure into the wilds, and much more to decorate your home after you’ve returned.

Artisans from all over the West brought their best creations, including beads, handcrafted clothing, moccasins, old-fashioned children’s toys, coonskin caps, buckskin quilts, gloves,

One thing many of the mountain men and women enjoy during the rendezvous months is the camaraderie with other likeminded craftsmen. Maurice Brown, an ex-Navy furniture builder who goes by “Lodgekeeper,” said spending time with and around other artisan work helps him get inspired to work on his creative pieces, which incorporate antlers and moose paddles he finds, from pieces of art to buckskin rocking chairs with antler legs.

“Iron sharpens iron,” Brown said.

Brown and his wife, Susan, travel around the West attending rendezvous gatherings in the summer months, about four to six in a season. They’d set up their cozy teepee in one corner of the grassy lot, and their white pit bull puppy, Casper, frolicked near the entrance, chasing his tail and rolling around.

Brown explained that he was born in Virginia and moved around before becoming a state park ranger in Pennsylvania. He headed west in 1994. The lifestyle had gotten a hold of him, he said, and when he moved to Idaho he got involved in the rendezvous scene.

Many mountain women pitch their wares at rendezvous around the country, and more than a few of them were in Virginia City Friday morning. Doris Harvest is selling the hats she makes from scratch, so to speak, when the wool comes off the llamas and alpacas. Harvest spins the wool herself, and it only takes her about a day to finish a hat, which she boasts is all natural – no chemicals involved in the process whatsoever, a rarity these days.

“Everyone kind of has their own niche,” Harvest said.

These wanderers may make a healthy living selling their wares around the country at gatherings, but some of the mountain men and women fear the rendezvous circuit is going the way of the Wild West.

Gesticulating with a half-whittled pipe in one hand, Sonny Capek, who goes by Two Step when he doesn’t have to use “the one you got to fire off for the government,” lamented about the dying breed of the rendezvous’ mountain men.

“The young ain’t taking an interest,” he said. “These young people, they don’t ever look at nothing. Technology has won. This (rendezvous culture) is going to die out just like real mountain men.”

But for the weekend, in Virginia City at least, the Mountain Man reigns.

The Daylight Creek Rendezvous continues Saturday and Sunday in Virginia City, with traditional displays of mountain man skills, and plenty of things to look at. The rendezvous is free to the public and is open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

— Reporter Piper Haugan: 496-5572, piper.haugan@mtstandard.com or Twitter.com/Piper_Haugan

Copyright 2015 Montana Standard. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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