Mountain Man Will Rolfe:
I wuz ridin long that afta noon on ma hoss Buck, with ma yung squaw wife, Long Hair in the Wind, ridin’ on Donell bahine me, and wuz leadin ma mules, Old Nell and Ship Rock, long the slickkery, slate trail that led down offa Sleepin’ Injun Mountain, up in the Hole. I coudn’t hep but peek on down the long, steep slope we wuz crossin’, some 1,000 feet or so, all the way ta the bottom. It wuz a fur piece fo one to fall down offa there, that no man no beast would liv ta tell ’bout it.
Sleeping Indian Mountain, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Woof! One slip and down we’d all would roll, lock, stok and tea kattle, and we would be all dun jus’ like one big pile o’ buffla guts.
Twasn’t to long, tho, an we made it ‘cross that tight peece, and follerin’ an ole’ elk trail, we slowly moved inta a mess a tangled timber on the fur side o the slope. Thankful wuz I, that I had ma sure-footed critturs to haul me, Long Hair in the Wind, and ma load a’ furs ‘cross that fool place.
Hoback Canyon, south of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Wen wez jus comin’ outa the timber inta a small park, Buck pulled up an’ raised hiz head asudden, an stopped dead in hiz tracks. In hiz own way, Buck wuz tellin’ me that somethin’ wuz off up ahead.
Az I squinted hard lookin’ yonder ‘cross the park, I seen a lurge brown crittur muv from behine a big ole bunch o’ bushes. It wuz a big ole mama grizz! Then there wuz two smaller brown spots what muvd out baside her, hur two youngin’ cubs. The mama grizz stood up high, muvd hur head ’round and sniffed the air. Then she dropped down on hur paws a-gin and they muvd on ‘cross the fur edge of the park and headed inta the heavi timber.
Woof! I couldn’t hep runnin’ ma fingarz over them grizz claw scars on ma face from so long ago, an membrin’ how I com ta gettum. Itza good thang wez wusn’t no closa ta that mama grzz an hur youngin’s then we wuz, or we’da hada hot time fur certan.
This wuz a warm, early July day, in the year 1825, that seen me an Buck, Long Hair in the Wind and Danoll and ma mules makin’ our way south outa the Gro Vants, on down thru the Hole, down ta the Green, where, rumur in thez parts had it, they wuz fixin’ to have a big meetin’, ina coupla days. I hearrd tell they wuz a buncha other montin folks who wuz a comin’ there, and also som fur buyin’ fellas from the Merican’ Fur Company, maybe soma them Astor fellas, that wuz afixin’ ta pay good money for ma furs I got up lass fall an thiz spring.
Site of 1825 Rendezvous, Henry’s Fork of Green River, western Wyoming.
Don’t know who else mighta bein’ sho up there, but I reckon I’ll fine out juss purty quick like.
I had me a good ’nuff spring runnin’ traps on the cricks an streems here ’bouts, and I got me a bunch a prime pelts tied on Old Nell and Ship Rock that I’d shur like ta make me a good trade on, if I can. ‘Bout three or four more days traveling ‘long the Snake and then the Hoback, shuud get us down there ta the Green, and that there meetin’ place. Gotta keep me a sharp eye out tho, so I can keep ma hair up on top o’ ma head where it blongs. Lotz a sign around…”
Site of 1825 Rendezvous, Henry’s Fork of Green River, western Wyoming.
Wen we stopt ta make a camp fur the night, baside the swiff wattars of the Hoback Rivr, I set the hobbles on Old Buck, Danoll and the mules, an Long Hair in the Wind went an brung in sum mahag brush an had a good fire goin’ in no time. She went ’bout cookin’ sum elk meat, beans an coffee vittles fur supper. Long Hair in the Wind had been ma squaw wife fur ’bout two monts, and wuz juss all a man could wont fur a squaw. She wuz 18 an frum the Shoshone tribe, frum east a the Hole a fur piece.
She wuz named fo hur long, wavy black hair, that stretched down hur sleek, yung body purt near on down ta hur waist. Frum the furst time I laid eyes on hur, I knowd I had ta have hur as ma squaw wife. Hur purty face an big, soff brown eyes jus set me off, an rite away I went an made a trade ta hur brother an made hur ma squaw. Shez good at cookin’, too, can work a nife ok, and always seems ta have a smile fur me.
Along the banks of the Hoback River, south of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Afta we had et the elk steaks, an things wuz put away, Long Hair in the Wind laid out the blankets near ta the night fire, put moor wood on the blaze, an crawld inta the blankets, ta wait fur me ta join hur. Layin’ ma rifle closs up, I went ta lay down in the warm nest Long Hair in the Wind had made up fur us.
Az I lay down in the blankets, a soff breez wuz wisperin thru the tops o’ the nearby trees, an the stars up in the sky twinkled ther lites, it seemed jus fur us. The rushin’ the nearby rivr made as it run down past us, juss a few feet away, covered up the small sounds that Long Hair in the Wind made as she muved hur soft, yung body up agin mine, hur fingurs slowly movin’ over me as hur breethun’ got faster. The rivr an the breeze covered up our sounds, an later, sleep finnly took us in.
Tamorra’ wuz on its way. Rendezvous wuz one day closr.”
In the early 19th Century, the western United States was inhabited mainly by Native American tribes, with very few “foreigners” living among them.
Those who were among the Native Americans there, were primarily a rugged, self-sufficient, independent breed of men, men like Will Rolfe, called “Mountain Men.”
Most Native Americans in that region tolerated the Mountain Men, because they did not feel threatened by them, as they understood that the Mountain Men were interested in trapping furs, not in taking their lands.
The Mountain Men mainly trapped for beaver and muskrat, in the early spring and fall, when the furs were in their prime. During the summer and winter, this rugged men didn’t do much of anything, except eat, sleep, hunt, and if they had an Indian squaw or two, spend time with her or them.
The challenge they had after accumulating large numbers of prime pelts, was to get them to a market place, which could be hundreds of miles away, and hopefully, sell them for a decent price, which could be anywhere from $3.00 to $10.00 per pelt, in a good year.
There were businessmen in the central United States who decided to take the market place closer to the Mountain Men, to try to get a jump on purchasing and trading for the best furs available, and, in the process, make a tidy, if not large profit.
In early July, 1825, fur buyers and traders traveled to extreme southwestern Wyoming, on the Green River system, to a place along a river bank called Henry’s Fork, a branch of the Green, south of what is today known as Pinedale, Wyoming, and just north of the Uinta Mountains.
According to Gary Spina, in his rich, revealing volume concerning mountain men, entitled: Mountain Man’s Field Guide to Grammar, 2006, Sourcebooks, Inc., “The Henry’s Fork Rendezvous came about because General William Ashley saw a backdoor war to profit from the fur trade. Summertime offered wide, dry prairies across which an enterprising man could roll a packtrain of supplies to the trappers who stayed year-round in the mountains. Ashley was one of the first to realize that the supply-and-buy side of the fur business could be as profitable as trapping itself. Ashley’s wagons rolled in loaded with rifles, rifle ball, powder, traps, knives, coffee, sugar, tobacco, whiskey, and mirrors, combs, and trinkets for white man and Indian alike. The wagons rolled out on the return trip loaded with furs that would bring a handsome profit in St. Louis.”
“The first rendezvous lasted only one day, but it proved a profitable day, indeed, for Ashley. The general paid the trappers an average of three dollars a pound for their furs and carted out almost four and a half tons of beaver pelts worth nearly fifty thousand dollars in St. Louis.”
“The 1825 rendezvous was a church luncheon compared to subsequent rendezvous. In some ways it was the end of innocence for the mountain man. Future rendezvous were pure diversion, a celebration of camaraderie and ribald decadence. It brought together mountain men and company agents, trappers and supply wagons, scouts, Indians, Indian squaws, tobacco, whiskey, games, riotous singing and dancing, and things better left to the imagination, as well as drinking, gambling, storytelling, news-gathering and rumor-spreading, and tradingand selling – knives and rifles.”
“Rendezvous separated men from their senses, their money, and sometimes from a season’s worth of plews, their best horse, and their best wife.” No self-respecting mountain man would miss a rendezvous.”
Several years ago, during a brief visit to western Wyoming, I was privileged to visit the location on the Green River where the first western Rendezvous was held in early July 1825, and to take the images above.
In a later installment, what was it like to be at a Rendezvous?
And, more adventures of Mountain Man Will Rolfe and Long Hair in the Wind.
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