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Mountain men, women, rendezvous on Whidbey
People born a couple of centuries too late are making the best of it by reenacting the lives of Mountain Men and Mountain Women this weekend south of Coupeville.
They’re having their annual Rendezvous Days Saturday and Sunday to bring back the days before the West started getting civilized in the 1840s.
Mountain Men hunted, trapped and made what they needed from wood, leather, fur, flint and obsidian. What they couldn’t make they’d trade for, using pelts from beavers, wolves, foxes and other animals as currency. At the trading post the furs would become iron pots, steel knife blades or the few other things they couldn’t make themselves using their own ingenuity or skills picked up from Indians.
At the Rendezvous Saturday and Sunday, some 20 tents filled with Mountain Men and Women will display their wares and way of life. Motorists will see the tents pitched just off Safari Road. Pull in and enter a different time. The kids will be amazed by the lack of cell phones, iPads or other electronic equipment.
Well, that’s not precisely true. A Mountain Man who goes by the name of Ram shows off an array of arrowheads and spearheads he knapped himself out of black obsidian, but one piece is white and seems to be made of modern glass of some type.
“That’s an arrowhead I made from a computer screen,” he laughs. “It’s the only good use for it.”
Kids won’t feel comfortable thumbing out Twitters as they walk through the tents, but they will see buckskin clothing, knives in leather sheaths, leather satchels with animal images stamped on them, and beadwork, jewelry and clothing made by Ram’s wife, who prefers Margaret to Mrs. Ram. “The wife and I make 50 percent of what’s in here,” Ram said of their two tents. “Leather, knapping, arrowheads; my wife does all the jewelry and bead work.”
“We don’t get bored,” Margaret added.
Chris Eliason, who has organized the event for the Central Whidbey Sportsmen Association for years, says the number of participants is down because Mountain Men move away or pass on. Some of their skills are in danger of dying out. But there will still be about 20 tents and plenty of education available for curious Mountain Kids.
Ram figures he’s taught some 60,000 kids through organized tours over the 38 years he’s been a Mountain Man. There used to be a lot of black powder shooting and knife throwing, but 9/11 changed that for teachers. “They got paranoid so no guns, knives or sharp instruments,” he said regretfully.
Not that such instruments won’t be available. The Mountain Men will compete in black powder shooting, hawking (throwing tomahawks) and archery, among other skills. Duane Spangler is there with his homemade bows and arrows and his replicates of ancient atlatls. Ram can show how to start a fire with flint and a rock in 30 seconds.
Many islanders will recognize Rabbi, AKA Dave Hollett, former director of Island County Emergency Services, and his wife Rope Cutter, AKA Tammy Hollett, who set up camp Thursday in a setting that would have looked normal 200 years ago. “It’s an example of how they lived,” said Rabbi, pointing to their tent and its contents.
“I love it,” added Rope Cutter.
Hollett, who presently works on the Navy base, said he enjoys the conversation at the Rendezvous. “It’s all about the Mountain Man way of life,” he said. “No commissioners. No politics.”
Also, no computers or iPods. Just a trip back in time to show the kids how life used to be lived, and and allow modern men and women to marvel at the things Mountain Men and Women could make with their bare hands, natural materials and the simplest tools.
The event is free. Hours today are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.