In the early 19th century, the fur trade flourished in the American West. Peaking in the early 1840s, trappers and traders began roaming the Rocky Mountains in numbers, beginning about 1810 and continuing through the 1880s. These many mountain men were mostly interested in beaver pelts, which, at the time, were used to make the tall, shiny hats of well-to-do eastern gentlemen.
The trappers transported their furs from the Rocky Mountains back to St. Louis, Missouri, where the furs were sold or traded for supplies and equipment needed for the coming year. Beginning in about 1825, some traders also began transporting supplies back to the mountains, where they traded them for furs. This allowed the trappers to remain in the wilderness without personally taking their goods back to Missouri.
In addition to trapping and trading, these mountaineers were also instrumental in opening up several trails, which would later be widened into wagon roads, allowing thousands of emigrants to settle in the far west.
Representing the North West Company, Donald Mackenzie, a Scottish-Canadian explorer and fur trader, held one of the first rendezvous in the Boise River Valley in 1819. A regular rendezvous system was later implemented by William Henry Ashley of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, whose company representatives hauled supplies to specific mountain locations in the spring, traded with trappers, and brought pelts back to communities on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in the fall. This rendezvous system with trappers continued when other firms, particularly the American Fur Company owned by John Jacob Astor, entered the field.
These annual gatherings were held at various locations beginning in 1825. The large fur companies put together teamster-driven mule trains that packed in whiskey and supplies and set up a trading fair called the “rendezvous.” These events were lively, festival-like affairs open to free trappers, Indians, and families alike. Not only was the Rendezvous a place where the trappers could sell and trade their furs for all sorts of commodities, such as clothing, saddles, bridles, tobacco, and whiskey – – but it was a place to meet traders who might wish to engage their services for the coming year. Famous mountain man, Jim Beckwourth, described them as: “Mirth, songs, dancing, shouting, trading, running, jumping, singing, racing, target-shooting, yarns, frolic, with all sorts of extravagances that white men or Indians could invent.”
In about 1835, ministers also became a regular feature at the Rendezvous. Over the years, a few of these included the Reverend Samuel Parker, Father De Smet, and Dr. Marcus Whitman.
The annual rendezvous, referred to as the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous, was often held at Horse Creek on the Green River, now called the Upper Green River Rendezvous Site, near present-day Pinedale, Wyoming. Subsequently, the annual event was also called the Green River Rendezvous.
By the mid-1830s, the annual event would attract up to 500 men, essentially all the American trappers and traders working in the Rockies and numerous Native Americans. However, this, like so many other endeavors of the Wild West, was soon to change when the Canadian-based Hudson’s Bay Company determined to destroy the American fur trade. Beginning in 1834, the Hudson’s Bay Company visited the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous to buy and trade for furs. The Canadian company was able to offer manufactured trade goods at prices far below that with which American fur companies could compete. This competition and a decline in demand for beaver pelts effectively destroyed the American fur trade system. The last rendezvous was held in 1840.
Of the 15 annual meetings held, eight of the Rendezvous took place at a Green River site, and five convened near the junction of Horse Creek and the Green River.
Today, the main Rendezvous site near Pinedale, Wyoming, is a National Historic Landmark. Each year, a reenactment of the Rendezvous is held on the second Sunday in July at the Museum of The Mountain Man in Pinedale. The celebration is part re-enactment and part living history.
The actual Green River Rendezvous site is located four miles west of Pinedale on U.S. Highway 187.