OGDEN — Poodles were wearing buckskin at Saturday’s Easter Rendezvous, and if you weren’t sure where buckskin came from, you could watch some guy scrape guts from the inside of the hide of a freshly killed deer.
Children watching that said, “EEW!”
But Fort Buenaventura was full of much else to please the ear or eye: a banjo’s strum, white Indian lodges reflected against the lake, the jangle of beads and bells on an intricately decorated Indian dress, some guy wearing a top hat and breechcloth and nothing else, the “whack!” of an ax hitting wood.
Most noticeable was the flat loud “BOOM!” of black powder rifles going off.
Modern guns have a sharp “crack!” Black powder is a broader sound, and if you are nearby, your nose gets a load of stinking blue smoke before your ears have stopped vibrating.
Hundreds of people got to hear and smell all that as they crowded the fort for the annual Easter Rendezvous.
The event is held by the Free Mountain Trappers, a Weber County organization for people who like to dress up as mountain men and women and camp out, swap lies, buy and sell gear and shoot their guns.
The rendezvous continues until 2 p.m. today, with more shooting, swapping, lying and an extensive “trader’s row,” where everything from guns to knives to beads, bullets and bangles can be had.
One seller was Alan Wanner, who sat outside his small white canvas lean-to, enjoying the sun glinting off a highly polished brass sword hilt at his belt.
Wanner stood out because was not dressed in fringed buckskin. He was wearing blue military clothing that he said is that of an U.S. Army 1833 Dragoon, a kind of mounted soldier, not cavalry.
“It’s the outfit of Johnston’s Army when they came to Salt Lake City,” he said.
Wanner travels to all the rendezvous to sell a line of enamel cooking wear that rendezvous attendees like when they aren’t using cast iron.
Wanner admitted that, after 30-plus years, his own outfit would make Jim Bridger jealous.
Behind his small lean-to with his wares was a larger white canvas lodge with an awning. Wooden deck chairs, a table, a stove and even a dish rack spoke of a man practiced at roughing it in style.
If you have a black powder gun or rifle, you are even welcome to bring it to the rendezvous and take part. Know what you’re doing, however. These folk welcome visitors and are happy to teach, but expect you to learn.
People who go to rendezvous use “mountain names” such as “Ax Hurler” or “Bluebird” because real mountain men like nicknames.
Some attendees also tell you their real names. Some don’t. Thor didn’t.
Thor, one of the organizers of the event, looked with disgust down the shooting line of buckskin-clad and bead-bedecked shooters where a guy wearing regular street clothes — slacks and a dress shirt — was trying to shoot a black powder rifle.
He stood, he aimed, he pulled the trigger, and it went “Pop!” The firing cap went off, but not powder.
Thor muttered, “Powder-patch-ball,” a couple of times. That’s the order in which a black powder rifle is loaded.
Every shooter learns it as a mantra, but Thor said, “We’ve had a few forget that already,” and nodded down the line. “I’d like to staple it to his head, but you can’t fix stupid.”
Thor lives in Ogden and works as a contractor. He takes shooting very seriously. His rifle is hand-built with a silky smooth, tiger-striped curly maple stock, browned barrel and metal parts, and a finely-honed flintlock.
A flintlock rifle uses a piece of rock to strike a spark to shoot the gun. It is a lot more fiddly than the more modern percussion rifle, which uses a small cap.
When a flintlock doesn’t fire, which happens often, it’s called a “flash in the pan.” Getting it to work all the time takes dedication.
Thor is dedicated.
“A lot of people like percussion,” Thor said. “I have percussion guns, but all I shoot is flintlock. You go through all the stuff it takes, you take your time.”
He poured black powder from a carved buffalo horn into a small bone measuring tube, then carefully poured the powder down the barrel of his rifle.
He took a small lead ball wrapped with greased cloth, set it on top of the barrel, pushed the ball in with his thumb, then took the wooden ramrod and shoved the ball down, tapping it several times.
Cradling the rifle, he pulled the gun’s hammer halfway back, poured more powder into a small pan under the hammer, pulled the hammer the rest of the way back, closed a lid called a frizzen over the pan, raised the rifle, aimed and pulled the trigger.
“Flash-BOOM!” Sparks and smoke, and another small hole appeared in a paper target against the hillside.