Monday, September 5, 2016

Rendezvous, and the misunderstanding of "Mountain Men"

Rendezvous is an event unique to Wyoming. Experiencing it helps one understand what makes people tick in this state. The fierce pride in self-sufficiency for both men and women (remember, this is the Equality State) is evident in the different Rendezvous that occur this time of year around the state.

Rendezvous was a regular yearly event in the 1820s though 1850. Europeans and Indians all gathered in a valley "below the Green River"(near modern day Pinedale) and bartered, traded, sold, and swapped various items such as skins, pelts, guns, jewelry and whatever else they needed. 

Though it needs to be mentioned that this type of traders meet-up comes to us from Native American traditions. Meeting on neutral ground in order to benefit from the activities of tribes in the region had been happening for at least 500 years before European contact.

This year, it occurred to me, as I participated, that society has confused what "maniless", "macho", or whatever term you want to use means for the true behavior of the rugged Mountain Man. this happened as I listed to men talk to each other, and even to other women. The crude jokes, and implication that women waiting to be taken by "true men", had me explaining to whoever would listen that this was not the conversation of a "true" Mountain Man.

Men in the 19th century were raised to believe that women were delicate and in need of protection, except for the women in the West. Women living in the West were respected for their skills and toughness. Still, any man that people would associate with and regularly trade with would never have spoken about a woman that way. In general, men didn't speak about women at all, and then only in reverent tones. It was considered completely unacceptable to refer to a woman in terms of sexual conquest at all. Heck, men didn't talk about prostitutes that way.

Historical documents show us that how men spoke about women in general changes in the 1950s, most likely due to WWII and the changes that occurred in the power dynamic between the sexes, with a need to reassert male dominance.

As a side note to the image of the Western woman, I had a friend who was from the East. She had identified as a "tomboy" growing up. She moved out to Wyoming as an adult, and had an identity crises. "These girls make ME look girly!" she said, both horrified at the label and fascinated by difference in feminine expression. "These girls in the West are rough."

I think that's a pretty good indication of how the West was won.

Thought y'all would appreciate a picture....
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