Caleb Smith pulls the trigger on his antique muzzle loader, and the crack of gunpowder is deafening.
Sixty-five feet off the trail, there’s a distinct plink as the lead ball strikes a metal rabbit in the underbrush.
Smith spits. “That’s a hit,” he says.
At this moment, it’s not hard to imagine that Smith is a genuine 19th-century mountain man, surrounded by his fur-trapping buddies at a summer rendezvous. They’re all wrapped in buckskin and laden with frontier-era hardware – powder horns, tomahawks, black-powder pistols and knives.
In fact, Smith and his friends are among about 50 Western Washington mountain men and their families camped out for the weekend at the Tacoma Sportsmen’s Club near Frederickson for the club’s annual rendezvous.
Activities center on various marksmanship competitions with antique guns, knives and tomahawks. But the weekend also includes raffles, poker and a Dutch oven cook-off and potluck.
“Members of the public are more than welcome to join us,” said Dwayne Anderson, dressed head to toe in buckskin and carrying a rifle nearly as tall as himself. “We want them to come in and see what we do. It gives them a knowledge of what’s not taught in the school system.”
Anderson, who in real life lives in Graham and works for an armored car company, introduces himself as the gathering’s “booshay.” A booshay, he says, is what trappers called the heads of trading companies who organized 19th-century rendezvous in the West.
This event is sponsored by the Tacoma Mountain Men, headquartered at the Frederickson club. But it’s just one of hundreds of similar events that take place throughout the West each year.
They’re attended by people whose passion is the pre-1840 era of the American West, and who do their best to recreate every aspect of that time.
Back in the old days, the rendezvous were partly about camaraderie, Anderson explained. But they were mostly an opportunity for the mountain men to turn in furs and stock up on gear.
Traders from the East Coast typically set up shops selling clothing, guns, ammunition and assorted other equipment the trappers would need on their next outing.
That’s part of the modern rendezvous tradition, too.
At this weekend’s rendezvous at the Tacoma Sportsmen’s Club, eight different vendors are displaying wares that range from historically accurate reproductions of muzzle-loading pistols and rifles to beadwork and buckskin clothing.
Don Abel, 81, and his wife Margaret, 73, have a mountain of early 19th-century replicas set up under a white canvas awning with a hand-painted sign that says “Ram’s Lodge.”
The name comes from Don, who says his frontier name is “The Ram Who Walks.” The Abels live in Kenmore and say they have been going to rendezvous for 35 years, usually hitting somewhere between 12 and 15 gatherings each summer.
“It started out as an interest,” Don said. “Then it became a hobby. Then it became a way of life.”
Margaret makes all the hunting frocks, shirts and buckskin outfits by hand from replicas of old patterns.
“If we stopped doing it, we wouldn’t have anything to do but sit and watch the boob tube,” Margaret said.
Plus she said she loves the people at frontier gatherings and considers them her family.
“There’s two places where you can really trust most of the people,” she said. “That’s church and a rendezvous.”email@example.com