WRITTEN AND PHOTOGRAPHED BY TENLEE LUND
HERE’S A FUN WAY TO LEARN HISTORY — stroll through an early-1800s encampment, complete with artisans, musicians, and games, right in Pine River. It’s held every year on the weekend after Labor Day, and it’s free. Just stop by Forbes Park on Highway 84 during the city’s Heritage Days celebration.
This year’s “rendezvous” is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 8 and 9. Saturday hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday there will be a Sunrise Service at 8 a.m. and the rendezvous will be open till 2 p.m.
The main purpose of the event is to acquaint people with what life was like almost two hundred years ago. “We are serious about being authentic,” explains Carl Anderson, the “booshway,” or person in charge.
Participants use authentic tools, materials, and methods whether they are preparing food, blacksmithing, making barrels or wood shakes, tanning animal skins, or flint knapping. For example, eating utensils need to be made from steel, not stainless, and the beads used by artisans need to be glass, not plastic.
“We try to make everything period-correct,” says Darrell Holtz, the “dog soldier” in charge of keeping the peace. “No plastic, no aluminum, no stainless steel.” Dinner forks have three tines and butter knives have rounded tips, just like they did in the 1830s. There are also no rubber-soled moccasins or plastic tents and, if people want to use coolers to keep their food fresh, they need to cover them with a blanket or put them behind their shelter “so it’s not visible to the public.”
In fact, Holtz says of his abode, “I don’t own a tent. It’s a teepee or a shelter.” When Anderson’s brother, Jerry, was building his first lodge, Holtz gave him teepee poles “to keep it authentic because he was going to use 2-by-4s and I didn’t want him to do that. Those are the little quirky things that we notice.”
Even the term “rendezvous” has historical meaning. “In the pre-1830s, buckskinners, typically mountain men, would rendezvous where they came to replenish their supplies. They would sell or trade their furs for gun powder, lead shot, whatever they might need for the winter,” explains Holtz. “The trapping season actually went from September, October, and into the winter, so they would come during the summer to trade furs for the things that they needed. That’s how the word ‘rendezvous’ got started.”
Two centuries ago, the buckskinners would lay out a trade blanket and put whatever they had to sell or trade on that blanket. Just as they did back then, participants at the Pine River event often sell their wares.
“We’re actually reenacting the 1830s,” says Holtz. “We’re trying to pick up the end of that era. The 1840s is when the fur trade era wound down to nothing.”
“The beaver were trapped out about that time,” says Anderson, to which Holtz adds, “That’s when the demand for beaver hats on the East Coast dropped off.”
Holtz then explains that the hatters didn’t even use the beaver skins. They shaved the hair off and felted it to put it on the hats. This was news to Anderson.
“That’s the first I’ve heard that,” he laughs. “I just learned something. I haven’t been at this very long but, if you go to these rendezvous, guys will start talking about things. Some of them have so much history it’s just interesting to listen. There’s always something you can learn.”
Holtz, who has been rendezvousing since the 1970s, agrees. “You learn by going to these things. I used to do seven or eight rendezvous a year.”
He grew up in LeSueur, Minnesota, and says he has been “throwing tomahawk and knife since I was ten years old. I’d stick it in the old wood shed at home all the time.” So, when he joined the 1862 Volunteers, Inc., in New Ulm, being their range officer and overseeing the knife, tomahawk, and shooting activities came naturally.
With his years of experience, it was also natural that he would get a call from John Wetrosky, executive director of the Pine River Chamber of Commerce, asking him to set up his teepee near the visitors’ center on Highway 371 during the town’s annual Heritage Days. That first year, 2010, Holtz’s wife, Ruthy, counted more than seven hundred people at their teepee in two days.
The next two years Holtz again set up along Highway 371. Since he was “basically in the road ditch” along a busy highway, it became apparent that the location was not a good one for participants or attendees. In 2013, the event moved to Forbes Park, which gave it the opportunity to grow from an “encampment” to a “rendezvous.”
Holtz and Anderson then sought vendors and demonstrators who could bring authentic wares and activities to the event. It’s been a slow process and somewhat of a challenge. For one thing, parking is limited at Forbes Park and, when the free hobo stew is being served at noon on Saturday, parked vehicles on both sides of the highway can make it difficult for traffic to get through.
They are also keenly aware of the delicate balance between participants and attendees at public events — “if there’s not enough to see, the visitors don’t come back, and if there aren’t enough visitors, the participants don’t come back,” says Anderson.
But now in their ninth year, the Pine River Rendezvous is a popular part of the city’s Heritage Days celebration and an entertaining way to learn more about our Lake Country history.