STERLING — Beginning today, a group of local history buffs will trade suits and ties for buckskin and boots for three days to pay tribute to the past.
Members of the Beaver Creek Freetrappers will gather today through Saturday for the annual Beaver Creek Free Trappers Fall Rendezvous near Sterling. The event will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
“This is all about the excitement of getting out there wearing old clothes and living like our ancestors,” event organizer Al Hobbs said. “It gives us a chance to take a break from the stress and troubles of the real world and leave our cellphones and other technology behind for a while.”
The event is modeled after the “Rocky Mountain Rendezvous” of the early 1800s, when fur trappers would gather to resupply, sell their furs and meet with old friends. The modern rendezvous draws upon the competitive nature of people with black powder shooting competitions, knife and tomahawk-throwing and fire-starting with flint and steel with prizes awarded for the top winning members in each event. For the less competitive who just want to see how people lived, there will be historically accurate camps set up for people to walk through and talk with re-enactors.
According to Steve Strickland, media relations coordinator for rendezvous, the first rendezvous was hosted in 1824 by William Henry Ashley and Andrew Henry, co-founders of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. The pair decided traveling via waterways left fur trappers too vulnerable to Indian raids, so they decided to start taking supplies to trappers across land on wagons.
“It was a pretty rowdy event,” Strickland said. “These men (trappers) would live out in the wilderness for months, so it was a chance for them not only resupply to but to socialize as well. Of course there was gambling and whiskey, but it was also about bragging rights. The trappers would dress in the best clothes they had and get rifles and see who could shoot the best. And shooting black powder rifles and pistols takes more skill than your modern firearms.”
Strickland said this is a chance to relive a rich history that played a major role in the Nation’s expansion westward.
“Beaver trapping didn’t last long, only a few decades,” said Strickland, “But these guys went on to work as scouts and lead wagon trains west into Oregon using their knowledge and experience gained from living in the wilderness and trapping beavers. Many opened up trading posts along the to help get the wagon trains westward, also.”
Saturday is open to the public to visit with and observe the free trappers in action. Stricklan encourages families to make the trip to the campsite and participate in the living history of the event.
This year, because of COVID-19, the event will require social distancing and the annual potluck supper and Mountain Man Walk has been canceled.
The public is invited to come out Saturday to the rendezvous area outside of Sterling. Begin by traveling east of Sterling on Oklahoma 17, take a turn north on County Road 195, turn right onto Welch Road after a mile and follow the signs to a secluded gated path on the south side of the road.