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Mountain Men Recreate 1800s Fur Trading Camp North of Julian

Reported by Katie Schoolov

Every year, a group of self-proclaimed mountain men set up camp for ten days in the mountains north of Julian and live like authentic 1800s Rocky Mountain fur traders. KPBS video journalist Katie Schoolov takes us inside the living history camp, which is open to the public October 17-26, 2014.

A group of about 150 self-proclaimed "mountain men" have set up camp for 10 days in the mountains north of Julian. Just off Highway 79 at the Mataguay Scout Ranch, the group shoots muzzle-loaded rifles, throws handmade tomahawks, and sits around a campfire strumming authentic 1800s tunes.

Their goal: to live like authentic fur traders from the 1800s.

This living history camp started 40 years ago and is meant to recreate an annual Rocky Mountain Fur Company trading fair, where trappers would sell their furs and buy supplies for the coming year.

Lon Atkinson, who goes by Weasel Breath at camp, has been coming for 15 years. "The mountain men, they're kind of heroes," he said. "They went out and captured animals and killed them and so forth, but they also made many of the trails that became the trails that the people going west followed."

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Lon "Weasel Breath" Atkinson shows off his wife's handmade 24-star 1800s era flag at the Laguna Mountain Rendezvous 20 miles north of Julian on October 24, 2014.

The camp, called Laguna Mountain Rendezvous, is open to the public until Oct. 26. Admission is $5, and visitors can try out tomahawk throwing and muzzle-loaded rifle shooting.

"We consider it a living history because we teach it to people that come," Atkinson said. "We'll demonstrate the tools that are used, we'll show them the guns that we shoot. We have competitions in muzzle-loading, rifle shooting, smooth-bore shooting, which is shotgun shooting with the flint lock. We have tomahawk throwing."

Visitors, or flat landers as the mountain men call them, can also buy handmade rifles, leather goods, and fur hats and clothing.

Retired Marine Mike "Hatman" Robinson hand sews hats out of all sorts of animals. Badger, skunk, coyote, beaver and buffalo pelts adorn his trading tent.

"I'm trying to portray what a trader would have when the mountain men would come down to buy furs from him," Robinson said.

Joining the camp costs $40 and requires setting up a camp with no modern conveniences in sight.

All of the participants dress in 1800s-era costumes, mostly homemade. They sleep on furs inside tents ranging from a 16-foot-diameter teepee to a simple canvas tent.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Campers sleep in authentic period shelters like this teepee with 26-foot-tall poles at the Laguna Mountain Rendezvous 20 miles north of Julian on October 24, 2014.

There are blacksmiths at the camp making 1800s-era rifles and tomahawks, and each night music from the era is played around a campfire — which was started with flint or a good ol' magnifying glass.

Map to Laguna Mountain Rendezvous

A Google map to the Mataguay Scout Ranch, where the Laguna Mountain Rendezvous living history camp is being held from October 17-October 26, 2014.


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