In 1980 I went to my first Rendezvous -- that modern day celebration of the fur trade era out west between 1821 and 1840, when the Native People of the Plains and the mountain men would meet at huge camps set up by the Hudson Bay Co. or the American Fur Co. The purpose was to trade, resupply and engage in a whole host of activities that had grown up on the frontier for the past 100 years: contests between warriors both White and Indian, story telling, consumption of various spirituous liquors, and others which I'll leave to the immagination. I went as a musician with members from the North Fork Rounders and Blue Eagle String band. I shared a tipi with Ken Weiss, another fiddler from the area, and the whole group of us attended many Rendezvous from local events to NMLRA events: Yankee Peddler, Feast of the Hunters Moon, Eastern Primitive, Old Northwest, OVIB, Killbuck, Great Trail, Piqua; I even went to the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous one year to see how the west was run. I began to read Allan Eckert's "Winning of America" series and historical novels by James Alexander Thom. These works all started with the Colonial period and the Eastern Frontier in the early 1700's, thus my interests slowly shifted from simply having a good time and playing music in a "pre- 1840" setting to studying the colture of the Eastern Frontier and the interplay between the frontiersmen, settlers and Native Peoples.
I studied how the man in the wildernes would have survived by reading the exploits of Mark Baker, a "modern" frontiersman whose journey into the realm of experimental archaeology has prepared him to make extended treks into the woods in all weather conditions with the same equipage common to a hunter in the 1760's. And he is but one man within a movement of many who pursue the same goal -- to try to experience, as closely as is humanly possible, the everyday life of an 18th century white man on the Eastern Frontier, which in 1760 would have included Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, Western Virginia and parts of Kentucky. These time travelers read and study period accounts, journals and letters; they pour over accounting statments of period traders and their companies to determine what was sold and traded and what supplies they used. A whole culture of modern suppliers has evolved to make and sell many of those needs, but in the spirit of frontier ingenuity, these trekkers make much of what they use, including their clothing. Some of the more "committed " participants strive to use only period language on their treks into the 18th century, which may be tactical, i.e. two groups dropped at different spots in the woods with the goal of military engagment, an actual battle reenactment, or just a period trek through the forest. My admiration for these reenactors is total.
My own trekking expirience has been quite lacking in skill and excitement, preferring to stay on my own land and in fair weather -- my first trek being quite comical and ending in a horrible case of poison ivy. But there is tremendous satisfaction in walking the forest in moccasins I have made in clothing I have fashioned, starting a fire with flint and steel and cooking meals in the same way those frontiersmen did it 250 years ago.
Now, 25 years after having read Eckert's Frontiersman about Simon Kenton, hero of the Revolution in the Ohio frontier, I've written my own account of one of the pivotal characters on the stage, Christopher Gist, hero of the French and Indian War in the same Ohio Valley 30 years earlier. My studies of the period, the history, the cultures, my limited treks and an active immagination have given me the tools to write about this man and his contribution to the colonial struggle against the French. Equally important, though, are Gist's efforts to mitigate between the Colonials and the different Indian tribes in his official capacity as Deputy Indian Agent of the Southern Department, meaning Virginia. His understanding of Indian protocol was probably second only to Sir William Johnson and George Croghan.