The location of the Green River Rendezvous, as viewed from Trappers Point. Image Source: American History Central.
For nearly 40 years, the Western Fur Trade played an important role in shaping the American West and opening the land west of the Rocky Mountains to Westward Expansion. One of the most important events associated with the Western Fur Trade is the annual Rocky Mountain Rendezvous, which was held from 1825 to 1840. Six of the last eight Rendezvous were held at present-day Trappers Point near Pinedale, Wyoming.
Trappers Point Facts
- Trappers Point is a historic site managed by the Sublette County Historical Society that covers 10 acres.
- It is located 5 miles west of Pinedale, Wyoming, off U.S. Highway 91.
- Trapper’s Point overlooks the confluence of the Green River and Horse Creek where six of the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous were held.
- The Trappers Point monument was dedicated on July 14, 1968.
- The entire Wind River Mountain Range, which stretches from the South Pass to the Union Pass, can be seen from Trappers Point.
- Trappers Point was added to the National Register of Historica Places on May 14, 2007.
- The area was historically used by Native American Indians to hunt Pronghorn Antelope. Known as Trappers Point Archeological Site, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007
- The trail along the Green River is known as the “Green River Drift” and has been used to herd cattle to summer pastures since 1896. The Green River Drift was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.
Mountain Man Rendezvous Historic Site
This video from the Oregon-California Trails Association discusses Trappers Point and the historic events associated with the site.
Origin of the Rendezvous System
The Rendezvous System was created by William Henry Ashley, who is famous for placing an ad in St. Louis newspapers in 1822 for 100 “enterprising young men” who were interested in joining a fur-trapping expedition up the Missouri River.
Rocky Mountain Fur Company
Ashley had a partner, Andrew Henry, and the company was technically called the “Ashley-Henry Company.” However, it is often referred to as the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. The reality is that the company was not called that until 1830 when Thomas Fitzpatrick, Jim Bridger, Milton Sublette, Henry Fraeb, and John Baptiste Gervais bought it.
The Mountain Men
Ashley’s ad attracted a number of men who became legends as Mountain Men, Frontiersmen, explorers, and guides, including Jedediah Smith, Thomas Fitzpatrick, William Sublette, and Jim Bridger.
The first expedition ran into trouble with the Arikara on the Upper Missouri River, leading to the 1823 Arikara War — the first armed conflict between Plains Indians and the U.S. Army.
The Rendezvous Pattern
Soon after, Ashley devised the Rendezvous System, which followed this pattern:
Fall/Winter — Ashley gathered supplies back east and shipped them to St. Louis. Meanwhile, trappers carried out their fall hunt for beaver and other pelts, then took shelter for the winter.
Spring — Trappers carried out their spring hunt, while Ashley led a “pack train” to the designated Rendezvous site with the supplies. The pack train was made up of horses and mules that carried the supplies.
Summer — Ashley, the trappers, and Indians converged at the Rendezvous to trade with each other. Ashley usually purchased the pelts from the trappers. However, he also sold them the supplies he brought with him. This allowed the trappers to remain in the mountains and earned Ashley an additional profit.
Facts About the Rendezvous at Trappers Point
- In the 1820s and 30s, young men from St. Louis traveled to the American West to trap beaver fur for the hat industry, leading to what can be considered the first gold rush in the region.
- These trappers stayed in the mountains year-round, adapting to the native lifestyle and even intermarrying with Indian tribes.
- Once a year, a supply caravan from St. Louis would meet with the trappers to exchange goods for furs they had trapped in the past year — known as the Annual Trapper’s Rendezvous or the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous.
- The Rendezvous took place from 1825 to 1840 and attracted hundreds of mountain men, traders, and thousands of Native Americans.
- Key factors in choosing a Rendezvous location were the availability of water, wood, and most importantly, grass for the livestock, as there could be thousands of horses present. Safety was also a concern, following the Battle of Pierre’s Hole, which took place after the 1832 Rendezvous.
- Trappers Point became one of the prominent Rendezvous locations, with six out of the last eight rendezvous held there, primarily due to the availability of grass and water.
- The Green River, which converged with Horse Creek, served as a marking point for the rendezvous, with camps set up 5 miles upriver and 5 miles downriver.
- Trappers Point features interpretive signs and a mural of Alfred Jacob Miller’s paintings, depicting mountain men and Shoshone Indians from 1837.
- Notable events at these rendezvous include a rabid wolf attack in 1833 and the arrival of missionaries Eliza Spalding and Narcissa Whitman in 1836.
- The 1840 rendezvous marked a turning point with the presence of Joel Walker’s family, one of the earliest examples of a family immigrating westward. It also saw the arrival of Catholic priest Father Pierre De Smet, indicating a shift in religious influence.
1833 — First Green River Rendezvous
- The 1833 Rendezvous was spread out along a 10-mile stretch of the Green River.
- The primary rendezvous location was Fort Bonneville, however, the American Fur Company established a separate camp about five miles below Fort Bonneville.
- The Rocky Mountain Fur Company set up their camp roughly five miles further downstream from the American Fur Company.
- The rendezvous in that year featured 250-300 trappers and a sizable contingent of Indians, primarily Shoshones.
- The Rendezvous broke up on July 24, 1833.
- During the Rendezvous, the camps were attacked by a pack of rabid wolves.
- At least 12 people were bitten, and at least one died from hydrophobia.
- The 1833 Rendezvous was successful, yielding over 165 packs of beaver with an estimated total value of around $60,000.
- However, the profits from this harvest were distributed between four competing companies. The four companies were: the American Fur Company, the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, the St. Louis Fur Company, and Benjamin Bonneville.
Christy Joins the Rocky Mountain Fur Company
- On July 20, 1833, the partners of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company took on a new partner, Edmund Christy, and the name of the company was changed to Rocky Mountain Fur Company and Christy.
- The company needed an investor because it had incurred substantial debt for supplies provided by William Sublette and Robert Campbell for the Rendezvous.
Rocky Mountain Fur Company vs. the St. Louis Fur Company
- Fitzpatrick and Sublette wanted to find another supplier for the Rendezvous, other than the St. Louis Fur Company.
- On August 14, 1833, Thomas Fitzpatrick and Milton Sublette agreed to a confidential contract with Nathaniel Wyeth to provide supplies for the 1834 Rendezvous
- The contract required the Rocky Mountain Fur Company to continue its operations until the next 1834 Rendezvous.
American Fur Company vs. the St. Louis Fur Company
- In the fall and winter of 1833, Kenneth McKenzie, who was in charge of the American Fur Company forts along the Upper Missouri River, took deliberate actions to undermine the St. Louis Fur Company.
- Using the financial resources of the American Fur Company, McKenzie overpaid for beaver pelts, sometimes as high as $12.
The St. Louis Fur Company
- McKenzie’s move forced William Sublette and Robert Campbell to cease their fur trade operation.
- Sublette and Campbell sold their assets to the American Fur Company.
1835 — Second Green River Rendezvous
- By the spring of 1835, William Sublette and Robert Campbell sold Fort William to Fontenelle, Fitzpatrick, and Company, which was formed after the break up of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company at the 1834 Rendevous.
- On April 9, Campbell and Fitzpatrick set out for the fort, arriving in May.
- Soon after, Campbell returned to St. Louis with all pelts and buffalo robes from the winter, accompanied by 12 men, including Andrew Sublette, a brother of Milton Sublette and William Sublette.
The First Missionaries
- On June 27, while on his way to St. Louis, Campbell encountered Lucien Fontenelle, who was leading a pack train to the 1835 Rendezvous.
- The pack train included 50-60 men, 6 wagons, and roughly 200 horses.
- Traveling with Fontenelle were Dr. Marcus Whitman and Samuel Parker, missionaries who intended to establish missions with the Flatheads and Nez Perce.
Fitzpatrick Leads the Pack Train
- Fontenelle reached Fort William on July 27, and the supplies for the rendezvous were transferred from wagons to pack animals for the final leg of the journey.
- Fontenelle remained at the fort, and Fitzpatrick led the supply train to the Rendezvous.
- Fitzpatrick left Fort William on August 1 and arrived at the Green River-Horse Creek Rendezvous site on August 12.
Attendance at the 1835 Rendezvous
- Approximately 300 trappers and company personnel, as well as 2,000 Shoshoni Indians and around 40 lodges of Flathead and Nez Perce, attended the 1835 Rendezvous.
- A small group of Hudson’s Bay Company trappers, led by Francis Ermatinger, were there. Sir William Drummond Stewart was with them.
Whitman and Parker
- Dr. Whitman conducted several surgical procedures, including the removal of an arrow from Jim Bridger’s back, which had been lodged there for roughly three years.
- Whitman and Parker were so positive about their opportunities with the Flathead and Nez Perce that Whitman decided to return east to secure financial support and more missionaries.
End of the Rendezvous
- The breakup started on August 21 when Jim Bridger and approximately 50 men left for Pierre’s Hole.
- Samuel Parker went with Bridget part of the way, intending to go to the Oregon Country with the help of Indian guides.
- Fitzpatrick left for Fort William on August 27, with the furs and took them to Fort William. His expedition had 85 men, including Jean Gervais, Henry Fraeb, and Dr. Marcus Whitman.
- At Fort William, Fontenelle took over the pack train bound and led it to St. Louis, while Fitzpatrick remained at the fort.
1836 — Third Green River Rendezvous
- Fitzpatrick led the pack train to the rendezvous, departing Bellevue, Missouri on May 14, 1836. Milton Sublette was with him.
- The pack train consisted of about 70 men, approximately 400 head of livestock, mostly mules, 7 wagons, and one cart.
- Dr. Marcus Whitman joined Fitzpatrick on May 24, near Loup Fork. With Whitman were Narcissa Whitman, Henry H. Spaulding, Eliza Spaulding, and William H. Grey.
- The supply train reached Fort William on June 18.
- Most of the wagons were left behind at Fort William, and supplies were carried by pack animals to the Rendezvous.
- Milton Sublette stayed at Fort William, due to an illness.
Pilcher at Fort William
- On June 20, Joshua Pilcher, representing Pratte, Choteau and Company — formerly the American Fur Company — arrived at Fort William intending to purchase the fort.
- Fort William was successful, making it an attractive acquisition for Pilcher.
The First White Women at the Rendezvous
- Trappers had already started arriving at the Rendezvous around June 28.
- Nathaniel Wyeth arrived on July 1, having recently sold Fort Hall to the Hudson’s Bay Company.
- Fitzpatrick and the pack train arrived on July 6.
- John McLeod, Thomas, McKay, and trappers from the Hudson’s Bay Company arrived on July 12.
- Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spaulding were the first white women to attend a Rendezvous.
Pilcher Buys Fort William
- During the Rendezvous, Joshua Pilcher, representing Pratte, Choteau and Company, successfully purchased the holdings of Fontenelle, Fitzpatrick, and Company, including Fort William.
- With the sale, competition for control of the Western Fur Trade was essentially reduced to Pratte, Choteau and Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company.
End of the 1835 Rendezvous
- The Rendezvous started to break up on July 18.
- Whitman and his group traveled to Walla Wall with the men from the Hudson’s Bay Company men.
- Fitzpatrick and Milton Sublette took the furs back to Fort William. From Fort William, Fitzpatrick led the pack train to Bellevue.
- Sublette stayed at Fort William and died there on April 1, 1837.
End of the Golden Age of the Western Fur Trade
- The 1836 Rendezvous marked the beginning of the end of the Western Fur Trade.
- Between the two companies, the beaver populations were nearly trapped to extinction, annual harvests were slowly reduced, and changing fashion trends in Europe reduced the demand for pelts.
1837 — Fourth Green River Rendezvous
- Fitzpatrick led the pack train to the 1837 Rendezvous, but this time he was working for Pratte, Choteau and Company. Etienne Provost, Sir William Drummond Stewart, and Alfred Jacob Miller made the journey with Fitzpatrick.
- Stewart was a wealthy Scotsman who attended as a tourist and hunter. He brought Miller, an artist, with him to make sketches, which Miller later used to make a series of paintings.
- Trappers Osborne Russell, Robert Newell, and William Gray arrived at the Rendezvous site as early as June 10.
- The pack train arrived at the confluence of the Green River and Horse Creek on July 18.
- Fitzpatrick and Andrew Drips were responsible for transporting the furs to St. Louis. They arrived amid the Panic of 1837, which dramatically reduced the price they received for the pelts.
1839 — Fifth Green River Rendezvous
- In 1839, Pierre Chouteau sent a pack train to the mountains, however, there was no set location for the Rendezvous.
- The pack train was led by Moses “Black” Harris and included missionaries and other people who chose to travel to the mountains with the caravan. Two-wheeled carts were used to transport the supplies.
- Moses Harris sent scouts out to find where the trappers were congregated. They returned with Andrew Drips and Joseph Walker, who told Harris that the Rendezvous was at the confluence of Horse Creek and the Green River.
- Dr. Frederick A. Wislizenus recalled the Indians had fewer pelts for trade and speculated that the trappers would be leaving the mountains.
- Kit Carson was at the 1839 Rendezvous.
- Andrew Drips took the pelts to St. Louis, while Moses Harris remained in the mountains.
1840 — Sixth Green River Rendezvous
- Andrew Drips, Jim Bridger, and Henry Fraeb led the pack train to the 1840 Rendezvous. They were joined by missionaries, including Father, Pierre Jean De Smet.
- The pack train arrived on June 30.
- The number of pelts available was small, as many trappers in the mountains had decided to take their furs to Fort Hall, Fort Crockett, or Fort Robidoux to obtain supplies, instead of the Rendezvous.
End of the Last Rocky Mountain Rendezvous
- Around July 4, Robert “Doc” Newell agreed to guide three missionary couples to Fort Hall.
- At Fort Hall, Newell and Joe Meek discussed their prospects for continuing in the Fur Trade.
- Meek said he wanted to be done with the rough life of a Mountain Man.
- They decided to go to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, where they could settle and become farmers.
APUSH and the Western Fur Trade
The Western Fur Trade is part of Unit 4 in the AP US History curriculum.