Spring Rendezvous celebrates historic trading post

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One of Montana’s oldest structures came to life last weekend, as history enthusiasts gathered for the annual Spring Rendezvous at Fort Connah outside St. Ignatius.

Dressed in outfits reminiscent of life in the American west, participants reenacted daily activities at the former Hudson’s Bay Company trading post that served as an important regional hub from 1846-1871.

“We really want to make this a living historical site,” said Susie Williams of the Fort Connah Restoration Society. “We want to show both the hardships and the good times.”

Exhibits taught a variety of frontier skills, from traditional flint knapping and archery techniques to spinning wool into yarn. Young visitors also received a hands-on lesson in the practice of trade, roaming from booth to booth swapping goods and bartering with vendors.

Williams said the activity was designed to teach children the important role trade played in early Montana history.

“We always want to add one or two more opportunities for involvement,” Williams.

Starting with a dozen eggs, Lydia Trickey was able to trade with Williams for an ornate necklace with amber beads and a stone arrowhead.

“She runs a hard bargain,” Williams said.

For Donald Safford of Hot Springs, the rendezvous was an opportunity to share his passion for traditional weapons. An avid flint knapper and competitive spear thrower, Safford lead demonstrations on crafting useful items from natural materials.

“Every rock I see I think of what I can get out of it,” Safford said.

This practical nature of the exhibits impressed Terrace Steward, who was visiting the fort with his family on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

“It’s interesting to come and actually touch the stuff,” he said. “It really makes you feel like the place is alive.”

Such a reaction was welcome news to event organizers, who have worked over the past three decades to share the fort with the public.

Centered around the original trading post building, estimated to be the oldest standing structure in the state, the site has grown to include additional cabins donated from an early-1900s homestead in the Jocko Valley.

Restoration society President Al Williams said donations and community support have allowed the organization to shore up the historic buildings and continue bolstering the facilities. He said work is planned to begin this week on rebuilding the fireplace in the original trading post building.

Williams said this year’s spring rendezvous drew strong crowds, a trend he hopes will continue during the fort’s next event scheduled for the fall.

“We’ve seen it grow over the past few years,” Williams said.

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