From 1825 to 1840, the trappers of the Rocky Mountains would meet annually to sell their furs, buy needed supplies for the coming year, and let down their hair with their fellow mountain men. This gathering was known as the Rendezvous and could attract hundreds of trappers as well as allied Native Americans from the Flathead, Nez Perce, Iroquois and Delaware tribes.
The Mountain Man Rendezvous
In the summer of 1832, the Rendezvous was held in Pierre’s Hole. A hole was a term used by the early mountain men and fur trappers to designate a flat valley ringed by mountains. This valley beneath the Tetons is named for le grand Pierre’ Tivanitagon, a beaver trapper that was killed in a gunfight with men from the Blackfoot tribe in the winter of 1828. Twenty miles long, and averaging ten miles wide, this hole makes up present-day Teton County, Idaho and is known more for it’s agricultural history than for the trappers that once traveled its rivers.
Today, the people of Pierre’s Hole raise livestock and grow crops. The local drive-in displays an enormous potato out front and to the casual observer it seems as if this has always been a peaceful farming community. The only remnants of the trappers’ time here is the name and the story of the Rendezvous of 1832 and the bloody battle that took place there.
To set the scene, here is a quote from The Adventures of Captain Bonneville:
“In this valley was congregated the motley populace connected with the fur trade. Here the two rival companies had their encampments, with their retainers of all kinds: traders, trappers, hunters, and half-breeds, assembled from all quarters, awaiting their yearly supplies, and their orders to start off in new directions. Here, also, the savage tribes connected with the trade, the Nez Perces or Chopunnish Indians, and Flatheads, had pitched their lodges beside the streams, and with their squaws, awaited the distribution of goods and finery.
There was, moreover, a band of fifteen free trappers, commanded by a gallant leader from Arkansas, named Sinclair, who held their encampment a little apart from the rest. Such was the wild and heterogeneous assemblage, amounting to several hundred men, civilized and savage, distributed in tents and lodges in the several camps.”Captain Benjamin Bonneville.
The rendezvous broke up on July 17th and one group of trappers camped eight miles southeast of the main site that night. When these men awoke the morning of July 18th, still woozy from the 450 gallons of whiskey provided by William Sublette, commander of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, they were confronted with a fearsome sight. Two hundred Gros Ventre natives were riding toward them carrying a British flag stolen from the Hudson’s Bay Company, whom they had recently ambushed. Two men were sent back to Pierre’s Hole for assistance and brought Sublette and his men within the hour.
The Gros Ventre Chief, Baihoh, approached the trappers unarmed with a white flag, apparently believing that he had encountered the American Fur Company with whom the Gros Ventre had struck a peace agreement. Sadly for him, the men that went out to meet him held a deep hatred of the Gros Ventre and one man, Antoine Godin, shot him as he shook his hand. With this, a battle broke out between the two groups of men, and the Gros Ventre quickly erected a makeshift fortress in the available timber.
The fighting carried on for most of the day with the Gros Ventre Natives well outnumbered but also well fortified, leading Sublette to the decision to burn them out. Luckily this did not come to pass thanks to some quick thinking by the Gros Ventre. One man shouted out to Sublette’s fighters that some 800 warriors were currently attacking the main rendezvous. Sublette and his men rushed off to defend Pierre’s Hole. They realized that they had been fooled and were late to catch the fleeing Gros Ventre who were long gone by the time they returned.
The casualties on the side of the trappers included five killed, and six wounded. The allied Natives who fought alongside the trappers lost seven and had six wounded. For many years it was uncertain how many Gros Ventre were killed in the fighting, but it is now believed to be as many as 26 warriors. One day of fighting, but the valley still remembers. The trappers eventually left the area or shifted to other work as the beaver trade dried up; but many of their names, like Pierre’s remain. Absent the gallons of whiskey, a version of the rendezvous is still held in Jackson Hole every summer.