Improvisation is the key

‘Jesse the Blacksmith’ from Big Piney works at a traditional coal–fired forge at Traders Row in 2018. For a complete schedule of Rendezvous events see inside today’s Pinedale Roundup. Joy Ufford photo

Traders Row prepares for business

Mountain men rely on

improvisation to survive, “Bud the Potter”

explained as his party members took a break

from setting up their canvas tent at Traders

Row on Monday.

“Mountain men had to make do with

what they had,” he said. Mountain men

learned to adapt to new situations and cobble

odd resources together to make things

work.

The merchants of Traders Row improvise

on a daily basis by melding tradition

with modern necessity. The original mountain

men who trapped in the Rocky Mountains

would likely approve, Bud the Potter

reckoned.

The community of canvas tents going

up at the intersection of Mill and Sublette

streets is in many ways a recreation of what

the original rendezvous was – a living,

breathing marketplace. People from all over

gather to buy, sell and trade valuable goods.

Many of the experienced craftsmen and

artisans wear period costumes, sell historically

authentic items and some live in tents

and teepees all week. Traders Row, however,

is not a living history museum but a

working business, said the camp manager

Doug Galbraith.

Many of the traders, like Bud, depend on

their craft for a living. Others, like “Jesse

the Blacksmith” from Big Piney, follow

their craft with a passion they hope to turn

into a full-time career some day. Like the

mountain men of yore, they have to impro

He uses traditional tools, but said that he has

a credit card swiper on hand when business

opens. For many of his customers, plastic is

the only way they can pay.

“Missing Link,” a native of Upton, who

now lives in Texas, is a furrier specializing

in fur hats. The hats are “fashioned after

items that people had in the 1830s,” he

said. But to keep up with demand, Missing

Link brings along his 1930s Singer sewing

machine to make last-minute alterations or

ensure that there is always more than one

hat on display.

“You can’t make a living out of an empty

wagon,” he said. “Even while I’m here

(in Pinedale), I’m putting stuff together.

There’s always work to do.”

Work, work, work

“Gofer,” a mountain woman who received

her name because she “does a lot of

running around” (“go fer this, go fer that”)

directs her grandsons on how to set up her

canvas tent where she and her family will

sell Navajo tacos, scones and desserts.

The family ran out of rope and was improvising

with other materials to get the tent

up. Elijah and Kaden, Gofer’s grandsons,

spent the better part of the afternoon with

mallets and old iron pegs.

“There’s a lot of work involved with setting

up,” she explained. “I’ve been mountain

manning for close to 30 years, but I had

surgery this year. My grandsons help out a

lot.”

Many merchants at Traders Row arrive

on Monday to get their stores in order by

opening day at 9 a.m. on Thursday.

“I’d sooner be two days earlier,” said

Bud. The potter and his family were at another

rendezvous over the weekend and had

to hurry down to Pinedale after closing up

shop on Sunday.

Some traders spend a good chunk of time

on the road, and the travel adds to the workload.

Bud usually attends 12 to 14 rendezvous

events each summer, although he is

seriously considering dropping down to 10

to 12 trips annually.

Missing Link’s large canvas tent is home

for the next week. He was a one-man party

on Monday, and it took nine hours to just to

get the enormous canvas tent off the ground.

He still had to unload his merchandise – all

3,000 pounds of it – from the trailer.

Missing Link makes part of his living remodeling

and repairing people’s homes. In

summer, he travels to different rendezvous

to sell his fur merchandise.

“My friends joke and say ‘it must be nice

to have the summer off,’” he said. “They

have no idea.”

In addition to setup and trading, Missing

Link and the others put in guard duty at

night. The guards are called “dog soldiers,”

Missing Link explained, a nod to the first

rendezvous of the early 1800s. Prowlers

sometimes show up, just like in the old

days, attracted by the valuable merchandise

or a chance to do mischief.

A good trade

Traders Row keeps the spirit of barter

alive. In addition to cash and credit/debit

cards, all the merchants interviewed said

they trade among each other and with visiting

customers.

For Missing Link, trading is an opportunity

to expand his inventory. He will only

trade for items that are historically authentic

and he can resell, he said. While Missing

Link will consider an ermine bag designed

for the fashionable set in the 1820s, he will

not take an electric guitar.

Jesse also barters with others at Traders

Row, willing to swap his skills at forging

iron into useful products for other goods.

“Blacksmiths were the first recyclers,” he

said. “They take old things, like a file, and

turn it into something new.” Blacksmiths

improvise “anything you can imagine”

out of iron, from eating utensils to traps to

squirrel cookers (a cooking device for roasting

small critters over a fire), he added.

Like Missing Link, Jesse will only trade

his services and goods for period-authentic

items. Some of the traders, however, are

more liberal in their trading policy. Bud and

his family have traded pottery for a brand

new lawn mower. At one rendezvous, they

even sold pottery to a dentist in return for

free dental work.

“We’ll definitely be returning to that rendezvous,”

said Bud.

-

vise to stay in business.

For 50 years, Bud made a living selling

handmade pottery at different rendezvous.

All of his merchandise is “traditional and

functional,” similar in design to pottery that

was used in the late 1700s and early 1800s,

he said. Yet the details in some finished

products are “stretched to accommodate the

modern housewife.”

Jesse labors over an old anvil and coal-fired

forge, like blacksmiths have for millennia.

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