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Rendezvous, Muzzle Loading and Black Powder

Rendezvous Family Portrait
That's Linda kneeling on the right, Michael is beside her, wearing blue, and George, in brown with a big black hat, is standing behind Michael.

What's Here?

Bibliography of Linda's Rendezvous Stories

Here's where to find Linda's stories of Rendezvous camp life, horse-packing, and tipi-building in her various non-fiction books.

Land Circle
Between Grass and Sky
No Place Like Home

Book information for Journal of a Mountain Man: James Clyman

Book and publication information.

Editing James Clyman's Journal of a Mountain Man

Linda edited and introduced this journal and correspondence of James Clyman, a fur trapper and explorer of the 1800's. Read Linda's essay about James Clyman, mountain men, western myths, forgotten westerners, and how she came to put together this book.

The Life of the Tipi

Photos and stories of the tipi Linda and George used in their rendezvous camping. How it was constructed, from poles to canvas. How to set up a tipi. Daily life in a tipi-- a description of the furnishings, why a liner is critical, as well as tipi-living etiquette. And where the tipi is now.

Bibliography of Rendezvous Stories by Linda M. Hasselstrom

Linda has written of her rendezvous camping, as well as other related experiences, in the following books. Here's where to find Linda's stories of Rendezvous camp life, horse-packing, and tipi-building:

Land Circle
Between Grass and Sky
No Place Like Home

Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains
Published 1987 by Barn Owl Books

Journal entries for July 10 through July 23
pages 177 through 189

In which Linda, George, Michael and Cuchulain the dog leave the ranch behind for a few days to take a rendezvous camp vacation near Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Utah. The entire camp responds to a fire, Linda teaches some little girls about edible plants, Michael manages to cut himself with his hatchet, Linda and George help dig the latrines, the family hopes not to encounter a bear while bathing, and Linda plays a joke on George over the purchase of a rifle.

* * *

Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
Published 1991 by Fulcrum Publishing
Anniversary Edition published 2008

The chapter called "Rendezvous!"
pages 35 through 47 (Anniversary Edition)
pages 34 through 44 (original edition)

In which Linda explains rendezvous re-enactment camping: describing the tipis, the period clothing, the articles of daily living, how camp life works, and why people are drawn to it.

The chapter called "The Cowboy and the Ride"
pages 49 through 67 (Anniversary Edition)
pages 46 through 61 (original edition)

In which Linda, George and Michael take a 75-mile horse pack trip with a group of buckskinners on the way to a National Rendezvous near DuBois, Wyoming. The route they take, through grizzly country, is perhaps the same one taken by John Coulter in the winter of 1807–1808.

Along the way, Linda has just a little bit of trouble with a hapless horse.

* * *

Between Grass and Sky: Where I Live and Work
Published 2002 by University of Nevada Press

The chapter called "Black Powder Smoke and Buffalo"
pages 112 through 125

In which Linda and George, Jim and Mavis, and another friend called Jack, are on a private ranch in Nebraska in order to shoot buffalo with period weapons. Is George’s .50 caliber cap and ball rifle up to the task? After the hunt will they survive the night in the rustic cabin in the 20-below-zero winter weather?

The chapter called "At the Rattlesnake Rendezvous"
pages 126 through 131

In which the rendezvous campers along the Bad River in South Dakota find themselves in prime rattlesnake habitat and Linda plays a stalking game with a modern-day deer hunter who is not where he should be.

The chapter called "Sleeping with the Grizzly"
pages 132 through 142

In which Linda revisits the buckskinner horse pack trip described in Land Circle and tells some tales of bear encounters.

The chapter called "The Second Half of Life"
pages 145 through 150

In which Linda and George, and Mavis and Jim cut tipi poles in the Uinta Mountains of northern Utah. And Linda and George take a side trip from a rendezvous camp, still in their buckskinning garb, in order to attend one of Linda’s family reunions.

* * *

No Place Like Home: Notes from a Western Life
Published 2009 by University of Nevada Press

The chapter called "Watching for Grizzlies Anyway"
pages 69 through 76

In which some clothing traders come to the Rendezvous camp to peddle their wares. When they break some camp rules, people are willing to nudge them in the right direction. But when the three adult traders drive off for a couple days, leaving behind a small, wild boy to fend for himself, the entire camp reacts in a surprising way.

* * *

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Journal of a Mountain Man.
Linda's dog-eared copy with a powder horn from her Rendezvous days.

Book information for Journal of a Mountain Man: James Clyman

Journal of a Mountain Man: James Clyman
Edited and introduced by Linda M. Hasselstrom
Win Blevins, General Editor
One of the "Classics of the Fur Trade" series

ISBN: 1-886609-09-8

Published 1984 by Mountain Press
Reprinted 1998 by Tamarack Books

295 pages; 6x9
With chapter notes, bibliography, map and index.

Now available as an E-book from Amazon.com

This is a journal and correspondence of fur trapper and explorer James Clyman. In his own homey words, he relates his experiences in the heyday of the American fur trade and during the peak of immigration to Oregon and California. Clyman was a member of Jedediah Smith's first brigade, which discovered South Pass and opened the inter-mountain West to the beaver hunters. Crossing the country during the great migration of 1846, he encountered the Donner party and gave them sound advice that they tragically ignored. A "keen, thorough, and precise observer."

For more information:

Journal of a Mountain Man: James Clyman is one of four books in the "Classics of the Fur Trade" series.

Win Blevins is the General Editor of all the books. See www.meredithandwinblevins.com

Journal of a Mountain Man by James Clyman.
"Classics of the Fur Trade" 1984 edition edited and introduced by Linda M. Hasselstrom.
Clyman's own account of his years with Jedediah Smith, Tom Fitzpatrick, and other early explorers.

River of the West by Frances Full Victor.
Joe Meek’s own story of his mountain years, as told to Ms. Victor.

Personal Narrative of James O. Pattie by James Ohio Pattie.
1831 edition edited by Timothy Flint with a historical introduction and footnotes by Milo Milton Quaife.
"Classics of the Fur Trade" 1988 edition edited by Richard Batman.
Pattie’s own story of his early expedition to the Southwest.

Edward Warren by Sir William Drummond Stewart.
A British lord’s tales of his travels with the mountain men. "lightly fictionalized" in this true-to-life novel.

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Editing James Clyman's Journal of a Mountain Man
--- an essay by Linda M. Hasselstrom ---

I met James Clyman not in a book but at a rendezvous intended to imitate the life he lived. Sponsored by the Yellowstone Mountain Men, the gathering of muzzle-loading enthusiasts was held on a beautiful plateau near Cody, Wyoming during the early 1980s.

I've written about the YMM several times. This is the club that voted George in as a member the first time we camped with them, but waited a year before accepting me.

This is the club which loved to set up camp in the same area where Yellowstone National Park’s rogue grizzly bears-- those which broke into campers or cabins-- were dumped because they were too dangerous to keep in the park.

This is the club whose members were strict about the camp looking as it might have in 1840, but some of whose members, understanding the dangers of those grizzlies, kept high-powered weapons under their pillows. You didn't want to startle these guys in the middle of the night.

Despite their rough exteriors, however, these folks were a community of friends; I've written another story that took place during the time I spent with them in my book, No Place Like Home.

Their camps were always as far as possible from civilization, and no one was allowed in who wasn't prepared to observe the camp rules of dressing and behaving as if it were 1840. On one night in camp, however, club members as usual brought to the central camp fire several dozen bottles of cheap wine. The lids had been removed, someone told us solemnly, because they were metal, and thus not "authentic to the rendezvous period." Removing the lids also assured that all the wine would be imbibed. "No waste," grinned our informant.

As the wine circulated, some families with children went quietly home, but many people stayed to renew friendships from past years. Dog soldiers-- members who volunteered for the duty of camp police-- stayed sober enough to watch for trouble.

I had lost track of George but knew that he was visiting nearby and keeping an eye on me. I sat on a rock away from the fire for awhile, enjoying the stars with no interruption from street lights.

Eventually, I fell into conversation with Winfred Blevins, who specializes in books about the fur trade. (www.meredithandwinblevins.com) He was planning the Classics of the Fur Trade Series, hoping to publish journals of mountain men, as well as reprinting older works related to the fur trade. Journals written by men who were actually trapping beaver in the 1800s would come as close as possible to eyewitness accounts of some of the West’s most intriguing history.

That night, besides discussing the fascinating and elusive history of the original “beaver men” (as Mari Sandoz later called them), Win and I exchanged ideas about Western history and myth in general. The first folks who wrote the Western story stuck with one myth: White Man Subdues Entire West, Including Savage Animals, Savage People, and Savage Landscape.

The truth is much more interesting: plenty of other people came west with the white men bent on subduing the place, and many of them learned how to coexist with the native inhabitants, as well as the wildlife, finding beauty and satisfaction in all its true conditions. The real heroes haven’t, until lately, been given much movie time or space in novels, because they were Indian, black, women, or otherwise in the minority.

However, one of the ways to learn about the real west has always been through the journals of the people who explored it. Among the most interesting of those explorers were the "mountain men," adventuresome fellows lured west by the promise of riches to be earned by trapping beaver to make top hats for Englishmen. Many of them were among the physical and mental elite of their time, best-educated and smartest citizens. Men like Joe Meek caught the spirit of the west in The River of the West-- but he had so much fun exaggerating his gaudy lifestyle we can't trust his details.

James Clyman, by contrast, had the mental bent of a surveyor. A keen, thorough, and precise observer, he took measurements and noted facts. He lived through plenty of wild times, but modestly understates his own participation. Besides the Classics of the Fur Trade series, I recommend my bibliography in the Clyman Journal to learn more about the mountain men.

* * *

So there we were, two bookish, bespectacled scholars (we’d both attended the University of Missouri), historians, writers, beside the dying embers of the big council fire. I don’t recall our words, but I can see us in memory. The night was cool; we were both wearing capotes, long coats made of the colorfully striped wool blankets white traders brought into the mountains to trade for beaver pelts. Around us, the cone-shaped tipis glowed with the soft lights inside. The murmur of voices around us must sound, I thought, just like a real rendezvous or Indian camp.

I remember the firelight dancing in Win's eyes, and how his smile flashed, his enthusiasm for the project, how we tossed names back and forth about which of the mountain men should be included in the stories, and what sources existed.

He told me James Clyman's diaries had been edited by Charles L. Camp and published by the California Historical Society in its Quarterly, and then in book form, in 1928. Only 330 copies were printed, and only 300 offered for sale. In 1960 Camp put together a new edition, also now out of print, adding historical details and documentation.

None of these editions, though, were intended for the general reader, so Win proposed to prepare a readable text, using Clyman's journals and commentary that helped put them in context. It was my privilege to add additional notes with corrections, comments and amplification at the beginnings and ends of chapters-- giving me an opportunity to enjoy bringing readers my own interpretations of some of his experiences, as well as to provide additional references.

I used my rendezvous experiences to bring Clyman's story to life, complete with sights, sounds and, especially, smells and stories. New rendezvous camps, just like the old ones, were colorful, noisy at times, full of folks telling tall tales around smoky fires. I've written elsewhere about how, since men, women and children were armed, everyone seemed a little more polite and careful that disagreements not escalate. We cooked over open fires, leaned against tipis, ate a lot and really listened to one another.

By the time we broke camp after that rendezvous-- shouting the mountain man's warning "Watch yer topknot!" and "Watch yourn!" to one another-- Win and I had an informal agreement; I'd edit the Clyman journals, he'd be general editor for the whole series, perhaps writing some of the books or finding other writers to help him edit already-existing journals.

I didn't know much about Clyman, though I'd read a lot of fur trade history. I was fairly new to the muzzle-loading life, in love with my buckskinner, George Snell, and the lifestyle that prohibited modern gadgets in our isolated camps. I'd always loved history, having narrowly decided not to get my MA in studies of Greek and Roman life. Not long before, I'd worked as an editor of preliminary phases of "The Great Plains Experience," a cultural history multi-media course produced at the University of Mid-America, University of Nebraska in Lincoln. The job involved editing the contributions of well-known historians and writers, including Wallace Stegner.

Moreover, I hadn't yet published a book, so editing this journal with the help of an established Western writer seemed like a great idea. Win had left a solid writing job for movies in Hollywood to write his first book, with the help of a supportive wife. And I'd read his Give Your Heart to the Hawks, a tribute to the mountain man, still one of the best introductions to the fur trade characters and their lives.

Naively, I was persuaded to do the editing job as a "work for hire," meaning I was paid a flat fee by the publisher but I would own no copyright for the book, not even for my own introduction, and earn no royalties.

These days, I advise writers never to sign WFH agreements unless they are specifically guaranteed continued credit and protection for their work by the contract. At that time I was presenting talks and workshops all over the Great Plains, so I sold the book briskly in my travels. But Mountain Press didn't let me know when, in 1997, it decided not to reprint the book. When I protested, I learned that the Clyman book had been the best-seller of the series. At that time I offered to buy any unsold copies as well as copyright to the book so I could arrange for its reprint. Two months later, Mountain Press informed me that they had sold the entire Classics of the Fur Trade series to Tamarack Press. (No books of any kind appear on the current Tamarack website.)

My September 1997 letter to the publisher of Mountain Press reads in part that "I promote the book as vigorously as I do any of my books," though the sales "put no money in my pocket." I also outlined how dissatisfied I was with Press treatment of its authors. By then I had written Roadside History of South Dakota (published in 1994) for the same company; I reminded the publisher how unpleasant that experience had been.

The long writing history of the Roadside History book included a series of demands from changing editors, long silences followed by sudden deadlines, an out-of-house proofreader who deleted material earlier editors had insisted I add. I'd dedicated the book to my husband George, who had warned me not to work with Mountain Press again: “For George, who knew better,” I said. (George died in 1988.)

In my September 1997 letter, I sympathized with the money problems the press was experiencing and suggested that one way to keep smaller regional publishers going might be for them "to think of authors not as sources of revenue or antagonists but as colleagues." Authors, I suggested, could be "an army of salespeople" for readers, especially in the West, who don’t get to bookstores often and who rely on authors for information. I have no record of a response from the Press.

* * *

But I digress from the real story of how I edited Clyman's journals, another learning experience.

I obtained a copy of the 1960 Camp publication and got to work. As soon as I started reading Clyman's life story, I was hooked on the man. By the end of his journals, I was retrospectively furious at the daughter who was too busy to write down his reminiscences at the end of his life. Sure, my feminist side realizes the poor woman was uneducated, overworked, had too many children, and didn't understand how important it might have been for us to know more about Clyman, but I haven’t forgiven her yet for not having her priorities straight. I probably resented her more because my mother agreed with her, always urging me to stop writing to clean house more often. Keeping the loss of Clyman's words in mind, I still make a point of cleaning house much less often than I write.

Born on George Washington's lands as a tenant farmer, James Clyman was 31 years old when he went to the mountains with the second Andrew Henry expedition in 1823, recruiting his fellow enlistees from, as he put it, "grog Shops and other sinks of degredation." (He was an astute observer but his spelling adhered to the old adage: "I have no respect for a man that can't spell a word more than one way.")

I loved exploring Clyman's life, discovering little-known facts, supplying commentary from what I knew about the region and its history. Clyman is worthy of considerably more historical research than has been done on him even to this day. He was fairly well-educated, wrote well, was intelligent, and he lived through nearly every experience a man could have in the West in those early days.

In his first year, he sewed Jedediah Smith's ear back on after a grizzly attack, saved William Sublette's life in a blizzard, and walked across most of Wyoming and Nebraska alone. He clubbed a badger to death with a couple of bones when he was hungry enough. He later met renowned Western historian Francis Parkman, author of The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life who didn't realize he’d missed questioning one of the early explorers of the region that so fascinated him. And Clyman advised the Donner party to go by Fort Hall rather than the route they chose, which led them to the doom of eating one another that made them infamous. Clyman not only trapped beaver, he participated in the Black Hawk Indian War, traveled the Oregon Trail, and settled in California just in time for the gold rush of 1849.

And, while mapping his travels, I discovered that after the trappers left the Missouri river at Fort Kiowa, they may have ridden right through what is now my ranch on their way to the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming in 1823.

All these years later, after reading the stories of dozens more of these Western pioneers, I still consider Clyman to be the ultimate, quintessential mountain man.

My voluminous file of the Clyman research materials reminds me how I went far beyond a simple editing job for the book, researching obscure publications and journals, examining maps and conflicting accounts of the fur trade travels. I bought dozens of books about the fur trade to provide corroborating evidence or background. My letter to Win Blevins on March 26, 1984, says I had delivered the manuscript to Mountain Press and hoped that it was on schedule. At Win's request, I commented on an article he'd written and provided suggestions about where he might publish it.

And the book's reviews were gratifying. Nebraska History said, in its Winter 1985 issue, that while I had not discovered any new material by Clyman, "before each of Clyman's units she has included a historical and geographical background of the area he covered which makes the account more interesting and understandable. At the end of each unit, she has also included a section of notes which clarifies some of Clyman’s vague statements. . . . Hasselstrom's easy, readable book is recommended."

* * *

In my editing notes, I find several pieces of material taken out of the book by the publisher, including the following:

Charles Camp, who first edited and published Clyman's diaries, said in tribute to him: "The moving force in his career was an intense love of the freedom of the wilderness. He, and probably his father before him, typified that class of borderers who were never satisfied with a patch of land if there was a chance of finding something better a thousand or three thousand miles farther on. He wandered restlessly for forty one years over the breadth of the continent and into the farthest recesses of the mountains, carrying with him an intimate knowledge of the geography of the regions he explored."

Here's a description of how beaver were trapped, also deleted from the published book. I supplemented my research on this topic by helping my husband George set his own beaver traps in icy Wyoming streams, sniffing his homemade beaver lures, watching as he skinned the trapped beaver, listening when the prey escaped.

Around the campfire, eating ribs if the day's hunt had been successful, repairing moccasins, making bullets or cleaning rifles, they must have exchanged information about their profession-- after all, trapping beaver was new to most of them.

The first trick was to find them-- first the stream, then the dams that they built. Traps had to be placed at strategic locations along the beaver's daily route: at the base of his slides into the water, or near the path along which he dragged his wood for dam building. Most of the trappers picked another method: making the animal "come to medicine." Castoreum, the beaver's own secretion, was mixed in with other ingredients in various exotic combinations and carried by the trapper in a box or stoppered bottle, often carved of horn. Once the trap was set, a twig was dipped in the musky mixture and placed in such a way that the beaver would have to step in the trap to sniff the twig. Often traps were set in shallow water, then anchored with a stake driven into the stream bed, so that once the beaver was caught, his instincts to head for deep water would drown him.

* * *

In 1984, the year the Clyman book was published I received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship for poetry, and my own first book of poetry, Caught By One Wing, was published by a San Francisco letterpress. At the time, it seemed natural to concentrate on my own poetry and nonfiction.

I've never regretted the time immersed in the Journal of a Mountain Man editing project; I learned a great deal about the fur trade, about editing, and about the publishing business. I still miss some of the more romantic aspects of rendezvous.

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The Life of the Tipi

Here are stories and photos of Linda and George's tipi, from birth through its golden years, and what happened after.

George at the van:
"I think the women are getting testy."

Cutting the Tipi Poles

On my thirty-ninth birthday . . . we obtained a permit to cut tipi poles in the Uinta Mountains of northern Utah. A tipi eighteen feet in diameter requires eighteen to twenty poles to hold it up, and since George had promised to cut a set to a friend, we needed to cut at least forty trees. While George and his friend Jim searched for perfectly straight lodgepole pine trees to cut, Jim's wife Mavis and I took charge of transport. Dutifully, we followed the men, tramping miles through the deep woods. As soon as they'd cut two slender pines, our job was to haul them back to the van.

The trees weren't heavy, at first. But we soon discovered an unusual botanical fact: straight trees grow only on top of the highest mountains. . . . A lodgepole pine that achieves thirty-five feet of height in this arid country always stands in a crowd. Mavis and I would each grab a tree butt and lunge in the direction of the van. Approximately thirty feet into the woods, I'd veer around a cluster of trees so closely packed I couldn't slide between them. Turning while dragging a long, straight object isn't easy; ask any long-haul trucker. Each detour hooked my tree's branches on some protrusion, yanking me to a stop. I'd pull my log hard, and stumble on. At first, Mavis and I kept track of one another by hollered curses. As our stamina waned, we were too short of breath to swear. Resting, we counted closely-packed rings-- a sign of the arid climate-- to determine the tree's age. At two hundred, we gave up, knowing these slender saplings were mature when the real mountain men camped in these peaks.

Several times I reached the truck, dragging a tree, and found the men chatting, seated on a comfy rock. "Just drop it," George said. "Not enough straight trees here; we're going to look somewhere else."

"Don't you want to load this one?" I'd pant.

"Naw. We'll wait till we have enough for a whole set." We changed locations twice, abandoning five trees we women had hauled a couple of miles through the underbrush, before I managed to get back to the van before the men. I shoved my tree crosswise through the two front windows, and sat behind a bush to catch my breath. As soon as Mavis saw what I'd done, she dropped her tree and joined me.

"Hmmm," said George when he and Jim emerged from the shady woods. "I think the women are getting testy."

From Between Grass and Sky: Where I Live and Work
the chapter called "The Second Half of Life" (pages 145-146)
Published 2002 by University of Nevada Press

* * *

George peeling tipi poles.
"A miserable job."

Peeling the Tipi Poles

A modern lodge may be ten to twenty-six feet in diameter, supported by poles twenty-five feet long. Tipi poles are usually lodgepole pine-- that's how it was named-- because they're straight. The poles are peeled by hand with drawknives, a miserable job. In our Cheyenne-style tipi, three poles are tied together and set up in a tripod, and the other poles laid against them in particular order, then bound into place with a rope. For extra stability, the rope is tied down in the center of the lodge, just behind the fire pit.

From Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
the chapter called "Rendezvous!" (page 38 original edition; page 39-40 Anniversary edition)
Published 1991 by Fulcrum Publishing; Anniversary Edition published 2008

* * *

George and friends painting the tipi canvas.

The Tipi Canvas

A traditionalist, George decorated our lodge according to his vision, painting the bottom third deep blue for the sky, interrupted by a line of yellow circles representing the sun, moon and stars. The conical top was plain yellow. When we married, I added red dragonflies copied from petroglyphs near my grandmother's ranch.

From the essay "Crossing Dead Indian Pass"
copyright 2008 by Linda M. Hasselstrom

* * *

Lifting the canvas onto the poles.

Setting Up the Tipi

After burning down his first lodge on a winter trapping expedition with his friend Jerry, George had just bought a new tipi. He had never set it up, and we had never set up a tipi together. We’d camped together a couple of times in a leanto, but this was a new experience.

George set up the central tripod of pine poles and started pulling the rest of the thirty-foot lodge poles off the van’s carrier while I unloaded sleeping bags and clothing trunks.

When we bumped into each other behind the van, he whispered, “Where's the book? Can't remember which pole comes next.”

He meant the buckskinner's bible, The Indian Tipi: Its History, Construction, and Use, published in 1971 by Reginald and Gladys Laubin, still the primary source for anyone who wants to live correctly in a Plains Indian lodge. I scrambled inside to look for it as a voice boomed from the campfire, “Hey pilgrim! Next pole is number four. Page 45.”

“Oh God,” George whispered, “Don't embarrass me.”

“Watch your language, dear; we’re still on our honeymoon. I haven’t embarrassed you yet.”

I was exaggerating; in that September of 1979 we’d been married seven months, after five years of loving, splitting up, and getting together again. I was enthusiastically learning how to be a real buckskinner, a person who sincerely longs to have been an adult when the most elite profession in the West was trapping beaver to be made into hats for Englishmen. Since we can’t travel back in time, “skinners” gather in camps where we pretend it’s 1840. George often wondered if, transported to the past with all his gear, he’d have survived. Maybe, but most modern buckskinners wouldn’t.

Laughing and talking, the group called out advice while we raised the poles and leaned them into the central tripod. When George picked up the eighteen-foot canvas lodge and carried it to the lift pole, I heard someone mutter, “That pilgrim's a big boy, bigger than Snort.” Unrolling the lodge, George whispered, “I think I hurt myself.”

“Shall we tell them now?” a child yelled.

“Not yet,” a man yelled back.

“Tell us what?” I yelled.

“Stand on the bottom,” George snapped, “while I lift it.”

A man yelled, “Hey pilgrim! Don't forget to tie those poles first!” while several people tried to shush him.

Another called, “Way the wind blows down this cut you'd be back in South Dakota before morning.”

“Sumbitch,” George mumbled, “I've never forgot that before.” He grabbed the rope dangling from the tripod and began to walk around the outside of the leaning poles.

“Run, pilgrim!” everybody bellowed. “Bad medicine to walk!” Somebody banged a drum and the group clapped in rhythm as George lumbered in a circle, breathing hard. His trachea narrowed by radiation treatments for Hodgkins’ disease, he had trouble sucking enough thin mountain air to move very fast.

A tall man with a black beard took the rope and tied it off, saying, “I’m Snort,” as he helped George hoist the lift pole. By the time I located the bag of lacing pins, strangers swarmed around us, carrying gear inside. Men pounded stakes, while women showed me how to fasten the liner inside.

A hawk-nosed man with brown eyes said, “I'm Fred. We do that to everybody the first time they come to camp. If they can’t take a little hoorawin’, they shouldn’t stay here."

From the essay "Crossing Dead Indian Pass"
copyright 2008 by Linda M. Hasselstrom

* * *

We begin leaning the poles against the tripod for the lodge framework. Everyone rests or grabs a beer while George makes the required run to wind the tripod rope three times around the gathered poles. He puffs in the thin air of ten thousand feet. The lodge cover is tied to the lift pole, and Jim stands on the butt while George lifts it into place. Then Jim grabs my legs and hoists me up to tie the front edges together, commenting loudly on how well I wintered.

From Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains
Journal entry for July 11 (page 179)
Published 1987 by Barn Owl Books

* * *

The front of the tipi showing the door and the smoke flaps.

Living in a Tipi

The lodge is as unlike an ordinary tent as you can imagine. For one thing, ours, at eighteen feet in diameter, is almost that high at the peak. . . . Despite its canvas walls, the tipi is also a private place. When the door flap is down, no one would think of entering a lodge without permission. To ask entrance in the Indian manner, scratch on the canvas and say "Hello the lodge." If no one hollers, "Come in," you do not enter.

From Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
the chapter called "Rendezvous!" (pages 38-39 original edition; pages 40-41 Anniversary edition)
Published 1991 by Fulcrum Publishing; Anniversary Edition published 2008

* * *

I get up, pull a long cotton dress out of the cedar-lined clothes chest, find my moccasins, and step out to a camp just waking up. I put a few shavings on last night's coals, fill the pot with fresh water-- only a pilgrim would wash a coffeepot-- and hang it over the fire. While waiting for it to boil, I like to lean against the lodge in the sun and brush my hair, listening to the birds and watching for deer in the high meadows.

From Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
the chapter called "Rendezvous!" (page 35 original edition; page 37 Anniversary edition)
Published 1991 by Fulcrum Publishing; Anniversary Edition published 2008

* * *

The back side of the tipi. The crossed poles hold the smoke flaps open.

The Tipi Interior

[During a Rendezvous] There may be foam rubber and sleeping bags inside, justified by the often-heard refrain, "If they'd had it, they'd have used it," but once the lodge door is open, modern goods are neatly hidden. Hides or blankets are thrown over coolers; wooden chests hold clothes, food, and cooking utensils. Some folks have rawhide chests (parfleches) like the Indians used, painted in the traditional manner.

From Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
the chapter called "Rendezvous!" (page 38 original edition; page 40 Anniversary edition)
Published 1991 by Fulcrum Publishing; Anniversary Edition published 2008

* * *

While George staked the tipi cover, I turned our pile of supplies into a temporary home. I hid our modern sleeping bags under the buffalo robe so our feet pointed to the door, and placed food and clothing trunks around the edges of the circle for seats. I always left space by the door for dry kindling, and placed Mike's tall trunk as a divider between his bed and ours. The lodge’s medicine bag hung on the rope at the lodge’s center, and I hummed as I hung the liner.

From the essay "Crossing Dead Indian Pass"
copyright 2008 by Linda M. Hasselstrom

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The liner of the lodge, tied to the poles about five feet up, helps draw cool air inside; if we want more breeze, we can roll up the lodge cover a bit. In cold weather, the liner acts as a dead air space, helping to insulate, and as a privacy shield. Without it, if the lodge is lit, you project your actions on a big canvas screen for a fascinated audience. The lodge seems incredibly light and spacious, and the feeling of the circular shape, with the cone above and the gold poles meeting at the smoke hole, is so mystical that many lodges have bits of the sage sacred to the Indians, or other traditional ceremonial objects, hung somewhere inside.

From Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
the chapter called "Rendezvous!" (pages 38-39 original edition; pages 40-41 Anniversary edition)
Published 1991 by Fulcrum Publishing; Anniversary Edition published 2008

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Smoke flaps.
Linda's petroglyph-inspired dragonflies are visible to the right and left of the horizontal lacing.

The Smoke Flaps

Two more poles are placed in pockets in the smoke flaps, which regulate air flow and keep the fire in the center of the lodge drawing, instead of smoking. Because a tipi can act like a giant chimney, fires inside a lodge must be kept small, and sparks watched closely. George learned the hard way that a lodge burns to the ground in about thirty seconds; he barely escaped.

From Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
the chapter called "Rendezvous!" (page 38 original edition; page 39-40 Anniversary edition)
Published 1991 by Fulcrum Publishing; Anniversary Edition published 2008

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Rendezvous: the sun peeps through the open smoke flaps of the tipi, slides down the golden poles, and wakens the sleepers under the buffalo robe.

From Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
the chapter called "Rendezvous!" (page 35 original edition; page 37 Anniversary edition)
Published 1991 by Fulcrum Publishing; Anniversary Edition published 2008

* * *

Tossing the weathered poles on the burn pile.
Photo by Susan, who also helped haul the poles.

The Demise of the Tipi?

In 2002 the twenty-year-old tipi poles, having been stored outdoors on a rack attached to the side of the garage, were in poor shape. Linda and some writing retreat participants spent some time one fine afternoon breaking up the poles. They hauled the shortened pieces to the burn pile on the ranch.

That's Linda on the left, in the photo, and Maura on the right. The windbreak trees around Homestead House are visible in the background, with the Black Hills on the far horizon.

The tipi canvas, having been stored inside, was still in fine shape. It was given to a friend who uses it for Rendezvous camping.

So the tipi lives on.

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