Buckskinned: the Jefferson Longrifles live the lives of early Americans

Ashley Hunter
ECB Publishing, Inc.

When people hear the word 'historical reenactment' in regards to American history, the first thing to mind is usually actors who don military uniforms and recreate the events of history, such as a battle or military conflict.
Reenactors provide an opportunity to share their knowledge of a time period and offer an opportunity for others to learn more about the history of a particular people, era or culture.
Whether through battle reenactments, renaissance fairs or regency balls, history is preserved by those passionate about different time eras and periods.
Those who preserve the lifestyles and traditions of the American mountain men who explored, hunted and lived in the American wilderness and frontiers between the time period of 1640-1840 are called 'Buckskinners.'
While one of the less-known historical groups that seek to preserve history, Buckskinners pay heed to a great many historical and factual details during their meets, which are called 'Rendezvous.'
Visitors to a rendezvous camp will find pitched canvas tents of varying sizes, wooden furniture, cooking fires, and members dressed in 1600-1800's attire – which ranges from a tricorn hat and buckled shoes to fur caps, leather moccasins and cotton long shirts.
The term 'rendezvous' when referring to a gathering of hunters and trappers dates back to the 1800s.
A rendezvous would serve as an opportunity for hunters and trappers to come together, meet with guides, and sell their furs to interested buyers.
Today, the rendezvous is less about trading and restocking, and more about accurately remembering a time in history that is often turned into fantasy and fiction.
One such rendezvous group that seeks to preserve that historical memory is the local club: the Jefferson Longrifles.
After getting their start over 20 years ago in 1993, the Jefferson Longrifles is a nonprofit organization that practices the guidelines of the National Rendezvous and Living History Foundation (NRLHF) and the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association (NMLRA) during their meets.
Longrifles' media liaison Wendy Reynolds is one of the many individuals who regularly participate in the club's rendezvous and is passionate about the act of buckskinning.
Reynolds was introduced to rendezvous and buckskinning reenactments after visiting a rendezvous that a family member had become involved in. According to Reynolds, she visited her relative's camp during a public day, which is how many rendezvous groups gain members.
Public days for rendezvous offer a chance for non-club members to learn more about the history of rendezvousing as well as the club itself.
Reynolds and her husband have now been rendezvousing for many years now and have been involved in more than one buckskinning group.
Despite the fact that most rendezvous club members have advanced campsites, complete with linen wedge or wall tents, wood furniture, tin dishes, fur items and more, Reynolds says that getting started in a rendezvous requires little more than a wardrobe.
“A lot of people have the misconception that you have to start out with a full camp – you don't," said Reynolds. “You can start out with just one outfit, one set of period clothes and you don't have to go too far to find that stuff.”
According to Reynolds, it is possible to find plenty of simple cotton clothing that is sold in stores or costume shops that can replicate 1800s frontier or mountain men wardrobes, and online resources are plentiful.
Common buckskinning clothing is a calico dress or unbleached cotton shirt, inexpensive moccasins, and leather belt with brass period-correct buckles.
Many buckskinners also eventually invest in historically accurate knives, tomahawks, bows, arrows, and caplock or flintlock rifles.
At rendezvous, members will participate in a variety of activities, such as tomahawk throwing, rifle shooting, archery, knife sports and more.
One of the founding members of the Jefferson Longrifles, Dave Anderson, emphasizes the fact that a rendezvous is a valuable experience for history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts of all ages.
“Rendezvous are definitely a family situation," said Anderson. “When a family brings a child to a rendezvous, every participant becomes a parent; everybody looks out for those kids.”
Anderson's own children grew up in rendezvous, with his daughter, Krista McMullen, being the 2019 rendezvous booshway (rendezvous director) for the Jefferson Longrifles.
“It gives [kids] an appreciation for history that they'll never get out of a textbook.”
A rendezvous is a place for socializing, connecting and learning, but also to preserve an often overlooked part of history.
“This is interpretive history. We are interpreting how we believe and how we know that people lived out in the wilderness," said Anderson.
“It can be challenging," concedes Reynolds. "But there's such a sense of accomplishment when you build a fire for the first time, learn to cook or pitch your first tent."
Anderson adds that participating in a rendezvous inspires people to learn new skills, experience new adventures and become masters at new crafts.
But above all - “It's fun. We have a good time," said Anderson.
A rendezvous is for those who are curious about American history or historical weapons such as black powder firearms, tomahawks and bows, and interested in learning more about the people who "hacked their lives out in the wilderness, so far away from civilization," said Reynolds.
The Jefferson Longrifles welcomes anyone interested in history and the frontier lifestyle to inquire about learning more about their rendezvous.
Club members are also available to conduct educational programs for civic and youth groups.
To learn more about the Jefferson Longrifles, contact Wendy Reynolds at wendy_reynolds
@aol.com or visit the Longrifles' Facebook group at facebook.com/groups/JeffersonLongrifles.