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The Rendezvous
    When the maps of North America were still rough, sketchy, and untrustworthy, it could be said that the same description held true about most of those who resided west of the thin sliver of settlements hugging the eastern seaboard. The crude maps, along with the equally rough edged inhabitants, were a part of what defined the area of the frontier. This area was not static, but moved westward, sometimes slowly and steadily, often in fits and starts. During certain periods, it would occasionally remain centered on a given area, generally while important events occupied civilization further east, but always it would resume it's progress. Depending upon the mood, needs, and personality of the individual, frontier areas could be considered areas of chaos, freedom, opportunity, refuge, or some combination.
    The culture of these areas tended to be based upon an odd combination of violence, enmity, cooperation, and independence. A stranger could be depended upon to offer aid, or to attempt murder and robbery. Rarely were men complacent when meeting in the frontier. Indigenous people might trade with a white man, offer him their full hospitality as an honored guest, or scalp him. Generally the first people into the frontier were traders or trappers. The first great incentives to enter a new area were given by the great fur companies.
    Another of the many contradictions of the frontier areas were the motives of the men who found themselves drawn there. To some it was an escape from the bonds of an all too restrictive civilization, for others it was a chance to make their fortunes and become respected upon their return home. For many it was a chance at solitude, and a fresh start. For a very few, the frontier acted as a sort of a testing ground, and offered the opportunity to explore, build, and conquer. These conditions and motivations tended to make the inhabitants of the frontier a varied and colorful lot. Nowhere was this better expressed then at the annual rendezvous.
    The annual rendezvous was one example of cooperation and of a bit of civilization transposed to the relatively uncivilized area of the frontier. This was the great gathering of trappers, fur company agents, merchants, Indians, peddlers, scoundrels, tenderfoots, adventurers, and assorted visitors and residents of the frontier. Early examples were small gatherings of trappers selling furs, and representatives of the fur companies buying them. The time and place of the next year's meeting were generally set before the last day. This allowed trappers to work their traps for longer periods of time, with no need to travel all the way to civilization to sell their skins. Saving trappers the trouble, and especially the time involved in traveling back to civilization could double output during a period when the fur companies could sell all of the furs they could lay their hands on. At a time when there were no railroads out west, travel to the trapping areas involved steamboat travel, and then travel by coach or wagon. Manufactured goods, and staples such as tobacco, flour and sugar were in short supply in these areas, and could be sold to trappers at a bit of a mark up. A man could sell off his years catch and buy himself food ammunition, a new gun, an Indian wife, new traps, tools, a fine time at one of the many liquor tents, and perhaps some small luxury.
    The most famous rendezvous' were those held in the Rocky mountains in the early to mid part of the nineteenth century. These tended to center around the Green River, though the location could vary a bit according to where the trapping was good. These yearly gatherings continued as long as the trapping remained good, and as long as there was a market for furs. Much of the demand ended when production of felt hats ended the popularity of beaver hats. Still, at about the time the need for beaver skins ended or the trapping areas were all trapped out, new waves of men continued to move out past the frontier, this time in search of gold or farmland.
    The Small city of Prairie DuChien sits on the eastern side of the the magnificent upper Mississippi River. The role of this river in the transport, commerce and growth of the United States can not be overstated, nor can it's role in the history, or culture of western civilization in North America. This mighty river has been claimed, in part or whole, by the French, English, Spanish, and now the United States. Up until some time after the Lewis and Clark expedition, this area was the western frontier of the known world. For over two hundred years, the frontier remained static at the river. Before the Louisiana Purchase, few white men ventured across the river. Before Lewis and Clark, it was not even known with any certainty how far the lands extended or what they contained.
    Prairie DuChien greatly predated these explorations, and was established on the site of an Indian village in the late sixteen hundreds. The rendezvous started here were some of the first in the country, and are considerably older than the more famous ones in the Wyoming area, and throughout the Rocky Mountains. As the juncture of the Wisconsin, and the Mississippi rivers, the site of Prairie DuChien would seem to be a natural trade center. It got off to a very good, and very early start, but was soon overshadowed by St. Louis, Chicago, the Twin Cities, and other places which were also strategically placed, but offered easier access, and were easier to build on. The magnificent bluffs which give the area it's natural beauty make it almost impossible to construct a town of any size, particularly when using the techniques available 200 years ago. St. Louis ended up being the great gateway to the west, the Twin Cities were the jumping off point for the north, and Great Lakes Traffic ended up being routed through Chicago. Still, all of these events did not occur until 100 years or more after the town was started. In it's day this was one of the main trading centers along the river.
    The present day reenactment of the rendezvous takes place on a large, low island to the west of the present city of Prairie DuChien. This island was the original site of the town, which was latter moved to it's present location on the heights above, because of the occasional flooding of the river. This island is now a park, and the site of a number of historical structures, including Villa Louis, built in the early 1800's and one of the oldest permanent structures in the area, and the original old railroad station. The island is a pleasant place to visit during the summer, and provides good access to the river. From time to time, a river tow boat will tie up here. In contrast to the peace of the park during most of the year, it becomes quite a busy if not raucous place, during the rendezvous.
A classic teepee, complete with open top to vent the  firepit inside. The genuine article tended to be made from skins, rather than the cloth of which this example is constructed. Still, the technique, and details are accurate, and an Indian of 200 years ago would find nothing unfamiliar here. 
The camp is still mostly asleep. Visitors have not really begun to arrive, and the participants are still preparing for the day. 
Visitors begin to arrive. The day is sunny, and will be comfortable without being too warm. It is early enough in the summer that mosquitos are not yet a problem.
This old log cabin is one of the few permanent structures in the area. It is presently being used as a sign up and staging area for the black powder competition scheduled for latter in the day.
A modern blacksmith plies his trade in classic fashion. His hearth and tools sit under a protective tent, while he displays his items for sale.
Looking though the various wares, and examples of the blacksmith art, this traditionally attired couple seek something "authentic".
A would be mountain woman straightens up, and puts the finishing touches on her homestead, before starting the day.
Antlers on the grass (alas). In earlier times, such a display would be for sale, not as curios, but as raw materiel from which to make everything from buttons, to knife handles, to fish hooks. 
A couple of rough hewn "trappers" pass a tent serving beer and liquor. early trappers would likely have not passed by so quickly.
A native American in traditional dress, walks along side of a somewhat less splendidly attired man obviously from the twentieth century. A girl looks at trinkets in a skirt short enough to   have caused riots at one of the original gatherings in the sixteen hundreds.
Ye Olde Public House Tavern, along with dozens of other small tent businesses, caters to the stomachs of the crowds. Most of these places are open early for breakfast, and stay open well into the night.
Fresh squeezed lemonade, along with some snacks can be had in yet another tent. 
Doc's wild rice stew, at the end of the street,  also served a nice breakfast. This is pretty much fashioned after the trapper style diet of meat, starch, and gravy. 

If Doc's doesn't appeal, there is always the Two Eagles kitchen offering native cooking including traditional fry bread.

A bit less traditional, but probably more comfortable, this is a more modern style of teepee, with an awning, and a selection of european style wood furniture. This is not to say that the styling is not authentic. During the trapping and settling days, there was much trading of technique between Whites and natives. A teepee such as this would as likely house a white trapper and his Indian wife, as an Indian family. 

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