Spirit of adventure found at Rendezvous
Coupeville’s plains shimmered in the mid-summer heat Saturday morning.
At least the wind wasn’t blowing clouds of dust around which would have made the Central Whidbey Sportsmen’s Club just like the plains of Wyoming for the annual Mountainman Rendezvous. But everyone agreed it was a scorcher of a day.
Men and women along with children adorned themselves in buckskins and beads and left their regular lives behind for the weekend, to relive the time when bands of hardy adventurers roamed the western United States trapping beaver, trading with the Native Americans and exploring a new land.
Just like Fort Bridger circa 1830, there were some interesting characters to be found who were eager to share a story or two and teach the tenderfoots new tricks.
The first trader’s tent visitors came to was the weekend home of Earl Irish from Bellevue, known as “Scratch” to the mountainmen.
Irish was showing visitors how he starts all his fires by using a tool called a fire piston.
“It came before the match and it’s basically a hollow tube made of wood and a wooden piston,” he said. “The piston has a cavity in the end where you insert a piece of charcloth.”
Irish said the secret to making the device work is speed.
“You have to hit the piston as hard as you can and then pull it out of the tube as fast as you can,” he said. “The end part of the piston is wrapped with cotton string and sometimes the compression is so great the piston will pop right back out.”
The friction ignites the charcloth and that’s what is used to start your fire.
“It’ll light a cigar in a 50-mile-an-hour wind. You can’t do that with a Bic,” Irish said with a laugh.
In the next tent down traders’ row, Evy Haland from Langley was closing a deal on some leather with Nancy Moore from Olympia.
“I saw the camp on my way home so I stopped by,” Haland said. “I love it here.”
Moore said she has been trading at rendezvous since 1989.
“I do most of my trading at various locations in Washington, although I go to two events which are in Oregon,” she said. “I’ve been as far as Fort Bridger, Wyoming, for the rendezvous. I’ve been there four times.”
Moore said she tries to come to the Coupeville rendezvous every year.
“It’s nice to be right on the road with all the big signs,” she said.
In addition to traders’ tents there was a large encampment with various types of primitive shelters inhabited by folks who were there for the weekend festivities.
One of these was the temporary residence of Tammy Hollett from Oak Harbor.
Hollett, known as “Rope Cutter” to the mountainmen and women, was camped with her husband, Dave, whose alias is “Rabbi.”
“This is our fifth year camping out here,” Tammy Hollett said. “We always have a good time.”
Lugging black powder rifles and headed for the encampment were Patrick Haas and his wife, Karen, from Tacoma.
“We started doing living history and several folks told us, ‘Hey, you’ve got all the stuff, why don’t you do black powder,’ so we did,” Karen Haas said. “There are a great group of people who shoot black powder and it’s a lot of fun. We don’t scare the targets very much, but we have a good time doing it.”
Getting lessons on the rifle range in the art of black power shooting from Port Townsend native Willy Eyl was 12-year-old Duncan Huber from Sedro-Woolley.
Eyl emphasized the need to make sure the round ball is properly lubricated with a “spit patch” and to try and tamp the ball and patch down the gun’s barrel on the power charge with the same force every time.
Firing his mentor’s .50 caliber Thompson Center Hawken rifle, Huber was a quick learner and was soon nailing the metal triangle target he was aiming at with resounding clangs.
Another black power shooter was Randy Adams from Mount Vernon, known as “Griz” to his mountainman buddies.
Adams was hitting the target with regularity with his 54 caliber Great Plains rifle.
“I’m president of the Skagit Valley Muzzleloaders, a sister club,” he said. “I’m doing okay with the rifle but you should have been here a little earlier when I was on the pistol range, I couldn’t hit anything.”
Whether you were a trader, a trapper or a primitive camper, one and all had a good time at the 2008 Rendezvous on the Coupeville plains.