A Brigham Young University professor adjusts his feathered headdress and talks about recreating the 1800s and re-educating people about Indians.
John Maestas, a public relations professor, has made the trek from Orem to Fort Bridger for 16 different rendezvous, each a re-creation and celebration of the fur trader era."It gives me a chance to get back in my Indian clothes, gives me a chance to dance, gives me a chance to trade," said Maestas, who ran BYU's Indian Culture program for several years.
Maestas, whose Indian name is "Standing Elk," sports a white leather outfit decorated with beautiful beadwork and a headdress draping down his back. The Utah County man says he, his wife, two sons and daughter come to the rendezvous every Labor Day weekend dressed in traditional leathers and feathers to have fun and do a little educating.
"I'm still concerned about all the misunderstanding and misinformation about Indians," said Maestas, who is half Pueblo. Educating people is "a real easy thing to do."
"But we're trying to get over what television has done to us the last 25 years," he said, adding that educating children about the American Indian is easy.
And educating people about the lifestyles of the likes of Jeremiah Johnson, William Sublette and Jim Bridger is a benefit at the rendezvous, where more than 1,000 participants wear period dress and compete in black-powder shoots, tomahawk throwing and Dutch-oven cookoffs.
Nearly 50,000 people descend on the tiny, high mountain town of Fort Bridger, population 140. Bikers and black-powder aficionados meet every September for the largest rendezvous west of the Mississippi in a re-creation of the first Green River Rendezvous, held 150 years ago near the historic fort and trading post.
"We do this every year," said Stan Barabas, a Harley-Davidson rider from Salt Lake City. "We have our friends come up here and have a party."
Barabas is one of about 200 bikers who eat Navajo tacos, swill a nasty-tasting alcoholic beverage called "whistle" and buy and trade goods and clothing offered at the rendezvous.
"You walk in here and see these people with kids and walk out and see us - something for everybody," said Barabas, who sports a hand-made fox hat, complete with head and tail.
All the clothing, jewelry and weaponry offered for sale or trade is made from animals or minerals used by the trappers who roamed the Rocky Mountain West in the early 1800s. The rule is to use the techniques and materials available to the mountain men in making the items.
"I think the visitor from the city finds it intriguing," said Linda Newman, curator of the Fort Bridger Museum, who has seen six rendezvous held at the state historic site east of Evanston. "I mean, these people wear dead animals on their legs and heads."
The dress for the three-day celebration includes deer, elk, buffalo and antelope hides, fur hats and leggings, beads, bones and knives.
Knives adorned with coyote jaws and fur are spread about brightly colored Indian blankets along with beads, leathers and black-powder muzzleloader pistols and rifles.
"I think it's kind of a touch in the past," said Travis Bennett, southwest Wyoming field representative for the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association, a 25,000-member group representing black-powder shooters' interests.
"It's a way to step back. Tomorrow it'll be a big disappointment because we have to face the real world," Bennett said, as city folk meandered past trader's row and gazed at the hand-crafted wares. "Nobody's going to get killed here on a Saturday night."
The crowds are well-behaved, said Uinta County Sheriff Leonard Hysell.