Fort Union, a break from Wilderness survival
This isn’t the 21st Century — it’s life in the early 19th Century. Enduring and surviving inhuman weather conditions, hundreds of men and women left their isolation and separation. They trudged and floated to a landmark of relative civilization and the Fort Union rendezvous. Here, they would reconnect with others like themselves, make a few deals, maybe pocket a little money and gather up supplies for the next months of wilderness survival.
The “safe harbor” that drew together the mixed group was an intersection of several nations and two major thoroughfares. The nations included Canadians, French, British, English, German, Assiniboine, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Crow, Cree, and Blackfeet. The thoroughfares were the “Yellow Stone” River and the Missouri River, both bringing mountain men downstream from the Rockies.
It was a private establishment set up by a wealthy businessman. John Jacob Astor expanded his holdings by dealing with a culture of people who did not fit into modern life such as those at Saint Louis. Many of them had come up through that gateway city on the river that divided the American continent into west and east. By foot, by mule, by horse, by canoe these people were now escaping the lawlessness of “the west” and descending on the commercial enterprise called Fort Union Trading Post. Here, they would swap goods and stories. They would stock up on essentials and head back home to their teepees, dugouts, earth lodges, and cabins.
Their remarkable endurance, stamina, and self-reliance of 1830 are marked once a year at Fort Union Trading Post on the Missouri River. Rebuilt and reborn, the John Astor shopping center for mountain men is just a few miles from where the Yellowstone joins the long water highway across America.
The annual Fort Union Rendezvous in early June brings reenactors from the northwest and upper Midwest of America and southern Canada. Driving by the National Park Service site, it would be impossible to not notice the tent city where woodworkers, potters, fur traders and leather workers. They gathered to demonstrate, educate and pontificate on the life of voyageurs, traders, and trappers who set up their tents here 200 years ago.
Every year, when possible, we make a point of stepping into this modern version of 1800 America. Stories are swapped and tales are told. It’s a family event; children’s laughter and vigorous play easily fit in the day. Some who were more studious learned how to go home and tan their next buffalo hide. Others learned how to make their own mugs and cups on a pottery wheel.
In our visits during these gatherings, it appears we are allowed to witness a gathering of friends and fellow passionate time travelers. The travel from many states to be here, just as the original participants of a rendezvous traveled from what is now Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota and North Dakota.
The Fort Union Trading Post is open AND FREE through the year; it’s the annual June Rendezvous when the energy is peak. We recommend the August and September events also. In August, it’s the Indian Arts Showcase, and in September, another reenactment weekend, the Living History and the Last Bell Tour. You can find more on the Fort Union website.
When you visit Fort Union, be sure to see modern transportation history, a lift bridge that’s still a bridge, even though it’s not lifted. Down the road, a military fort guarded the region after Fort Union Trading Post was closed. Here’s another glimpse of what happens when you enter the Fort Union time machine and science lab.
Are you in the Sentinel Butte area?
We’ll be in the Sentinel Butte area this week, looking for “Then and Now” photo sites, Tasty Tuesday selections, and ideas to post for your next outing, road trip or family exploration. We’re excited about the story opportunities. Subscribe to get a note in your inbox when a new article is posted. Or follow us on Facebook!