Despite the challenges of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, organizers of the 2020 Santa Fe Trail Rendezvous were given the green light to hold the annual event at the NRA Whittington Center southwest of Raton during the week of June 14-20, celebrating the same resilient spirit of the original mountain man gatherings of the old West.
Traditional rendezvous were held throughout the Rocky Mountain region from the 1820s thru 1840s, allowing fur traders to sell their hides and pelts and replenish their supplies for the next year. Rendezvous also served as social gatherings at which participants could compete in various shooting contests and enjoy a variety of recreational events.
Today’s rendezvous allows participants to step back in time. Modern mountain men and women wear time-accurate clothing, shoot black powder muzzleloader rifles, throw hawk-and-knife, and socialize with friends and family in a meaningful way that is often difficult to do in today’s fast-paced world.
For many of the mountain men and women at the Santa Fe Trail Rendezvous, participating in the annual event is a decades-long tradition. Raton resident and this year’s lead organizer, or Booshway, Lee Briscoe has been attending the SFTR since the 1980’s. “I love the camaraderie that exists here, and the freedom from the outside world,” said Briscoe about the annual gathering.
Despite the pandemic, Briscoe said this year’s Rendezvous included a large number of vendors selling era-correct wares such as clothing, beadwork, stoneware, jewelry, and art. “We had a lot of new people come this year, more folks camping in tipis, and a good number of visitors,” said Briscoe.
One of the challenges facing rendezvous culture is a dwindling number of participants over the years. “We have lots of older folks, and lots of children. We need more of those guys in the middle, from ages 18-35,” said Briscoe. Towards that end, the Santa Fe Trail Rendezvous is geared as a learner’s rendezvous, at which participants and visitors can practice new mountain man skills. “We love to have people come out and visit; we will teach you how to shoot, how to camp,” Brisco said.
Ultimately, preserving rendezvous traditions is about holding on to the values of community, communication, and family. “Here, children can run and play all over the camp, and you know they’ll be safe,” said Briscoe. “This place is about teaching the traditional dress, how to survive in the wilderness, how to safely handle firearms. It’s about being a community, and spending time with friends.”