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Public invited to final Whidbey Island Rendezvous
KELLY PANTOLEON and RON NEWBERRY
Earl Irish, who goes by the mountain man name of “Scratch,” has been coming to the Central Whidbey event known as the Rendezvous for nearly two decades.
He was sad when he learned the event this weekend would be the last one staged on Whidbey soil because of diminished interest.
“I knew I couldn’t miss it,” he said.
The Rendezvous, an event that resembles the North American gatherings between trappers and traders during the early 19th century, began Friday and will continue Saturday and Sunday at the Central Whidbey Sportsmen’s Association grounds.
The event, which is free and open to the public, is held on the grassy area just off State Highway 20, where tents and teepees are set up with merchandise for sale and friendly competition will take place involving blackpowder pistol and rifle shooting, archery and knife and tomahawk throwing.
“It re-enacts an era that’s long gone,” said Orly Murie of Tonasket. “It used to be you could go to a rendezvous every weekend. Little by little, we started losing places to have them. It’s kind of sad to see that happen.”
The Central Whidbey Sportsmen’s Association has put on the event near Coupeville for about 25 years but the number of Rendezvous organizers in the 500-member club had dwindled to only two.
“The club is not opposed to the Rendezvous,” said Chris Eliassen, who runs the event along with David Hollett. “We just don’t have the interest.”
Longtime attendees such as Irish, who’s from Bellevue, expected to see a lot of familiar faces among the camps and spotted two immediately in Don and Margaret Abel of Kenmore.
Don Abel, 83, got his mountain-man name of “Ram” by saving a Mescalero Apache medicine man.
Abel said he and the medicine man were hunting for obsidian and other rocks in the mountains when the medicine man “went white-knuckled” and froze on a narrow ledge.
The medicine man called for Ram to help him.
As he maneuvered his way over to his friend, Abel said, “Watchin’ me get to him, he lost his fear.”
The medicine man told Ram that he had never seen anyone, except mountain goats and rams, move so comfortably on a mountain the way he had just seen Abel do.
And that is how Ram got his name.
Ram was among a group of “mountain men” who come from other parts of Washington to set up a rendezvous similar to those found pre-1840.
Rendezvous are held nearly every weekend around the state during the summer.
They are based on three- to four-week meetings during the early to mid 19th century in which trappers from the mountains met the traders of the cities at an agreed-upon location.
The mountain men would pick up ammunition, black powder for their guns, flour and salt, and other supplies. They would then make their way back to their mountain homes and remain until the rendezvous next summer.
City dwellers would trade for beaver skins, which mountain man Hollett says were for the “fancy folks on the East Coast.”
Hollett, who goes by Rabbi, said he has been setting up at the Coupeville site at 397 Safari Lane for a week.
Hollett said he made everything but his Cheyenne medicine teepee.
Twenty-five years ago, he didn’t even know what a rendezvous was.
Hollett was then president of the Sportsmen’s Association and saw the mountain men setting up outside, so he asked if they needed help.
That was the first year he and his wife Tammy started participating.
The mountain men invited the couple to stay that night. There were fiddles and guitars, and Hollett and his wife had a good time.
“The following year I had a teepee,” Hollett said. The year after that, he was dressed up and he was hooked.
“People don’t think about the pre-1840s any more,” Hollett said.
This weekend, the reenactors will cook everything on open fires, shoot black powder rifles and pistols, wear animal hides, and have nothing visible that isn’t pre-1840.
Clothing made of animal hides and furs, jewelry, cast-iron cooking supplies, leather goods, beads, bags, furniture, clay pots, and more will be available for sale.
While the rendezvous is open to the public, Primitive, which is in the back, is just for people who are in character.
Among the mountain men are construction workers, doctors and office workers, Hollett said “There’s a lot of bragging … competition … storytelling.”
You won’t find a more friendly, honest group of people because they go out of their way to help each other, Don Abel added.
“I’ve done it since I was knee high to a grasshopper. I’ve been an outdoorsman all my life. I don’t like concrete jungles.
“It’s the love of history,” Abel said.
“It’s a wonderful life … After 40 years, this is our family.”