A winter event at Fort Niagara. 39kb JPEG


Ever watch Davy Crockett? That's the way buckskinning used to look.
Ever watch a really good historical movie about the Colonial Period? That's the way it's beginning to look. Buckskinning offers a chance to relive an earlier period of our history. At it's best, it gives a feeling of reality that is rarely a part of reenacting. It's done for the participants, not for an audience. In fact the public is usually excluded. This makes it much easier to feel you are really in the period you are portraying. To some extent it is real, because you really are living in conditions quite different than our usual day-to-day life. You share good and bad times, and weather, with a community of excellent folks.

Buckskinners are a loosely associated group of people who enjoy reliving the North American fur trade era. In the eastern part of the country, that means the Colonial Period. In the West, it means the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Era. Actually both groups are represented in most camps. Officially, it's pre-1840, unless an earlier time frame is specified. That means that participants clothing, firearms, camps and anything else visible, must appear to be from the period. Again it's done for the participants, not the public, so it's much easier to feel that you're really in the period.

Buckskinning was started by people who shot muzzle-loading firearms. They started to dress to match the period of their rifles. Then they went on recreate the entire lifestyle. Since the original interest was shooting, the early participants were light on research and historical accuracy. With time this has improved tremendously, and an influx of reenactors has helped. There's still a strong emphasis on shooting however.

The gatherings are called Rendezvous, and are modeled after the Rocky Mountain gathering where the trappers met with the dealers to trade their furs, get supplies and party. The original sponsoring body is the National Muzzleloading Rifle Association, and membership is required for attendance at sanctioned events.

Politics are everywhere however, and recently there has been a splintering of the groups, so that most areas have both sanctioned and independent events.

How to get started

The best way to get started is to attend a Rendezvous and see what it's all about. The big ten-day events are closed to the public as a rule, but have one or two visitor's days. The weekend events often allow visitors for a few hours on Saturday. If you're on site any other time you must be registered and dressed for the period.

Where to get your kit

The least expensive place to get outfitted for rendezvous is at a rendezvous. You can often buy used, and even new items are usually cheaper. In the beginning you should buy as little as possible. After a while you'll have a better idea of what you need, and what styles you want to adopt. There are quite a variety of approaches. An 18th century longhunter, an 18th century farmer and a 19th century trapper all have different outfits. It's much cheaper to think first and buy later. A minimum outfit could be a loincloth and a shirt. Tailored Colonial clothing, or western "mountain man" clothing, can be at least as expensive as modern clothing, so you want to look around a bit first.

At a large rendezvous you can compare styles, quality and prices. But if you can't get to a rendezvous, many of the same traders attend the larger reenactments. You want goods suitable for the French & Indian period, or the Revolutionary War period, NOT the Civil War period. If you can't do this, there are several mail order sutlers (merchants) that can set you up. Jas. Townsend & Son, inc. has an online catalog. He has just about everything you might need to get started. His prices are fair, quality is reliable, and service is very good.
Another excellent supplier is the Smoke and Fire Company. They are still getting their on-line catalog up, but you can get a free hardcopy by calling them at 1-800-SMOKE-FI. Their catalog isn't quite as extensive or slick, but their quality is excellent, and so are their prices.

Any of the journals will have ads for whatever you might need as well.

How to find the events

There's several magazines devoted to this period. One of the best is Muzzle Blasts, which you will get with your membership to the N.M.L.R.A. (see above). Another is Muzzleloader, which always has some excellent articles. The Smoke & Fire folks (1-800-SMOKE-FI) put out an excellent newspaper listing events both large and small.

More information

Here's a good introduction from the White Oak Society. The Coon 'n Crockett Club is strong on the shooting and hunting aspects, and the American Mountain Men are seriously into outdoor skills from the later Rocky Mountain fur trade era. If your interest is in this later period you'll want to read the Northwest Journal.

If you'd like more links, see the bookmark list, or try a Google search.

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Period wheels (15kb JPEG). 39kb JPEG