Fort Union Trading Post is abuzz with activity this weekend as history comes alive, giving visitors a taste of what life was like at the fort in the 1800s.
For 37 years Fort Union has hosted the annual Rendezvous, bringing in visitors not just from all parts of North Dakota, but from nearly every state in the union. The event kicked off on Thursday, June 13, at 10 a.m. with Kids Day, and by 11 a.m. staff was already directing visitors to the overflow parking area, something Park Ranger Lisa Sanden hasn’t happened before.
“It’s fantastic,” Sanden told the Williston Herald. “Last year we had about 600 kids, this we were projecting about 1,000. Every year it’s about double, and I am pretty darn sure we’re going to hit it if we haven’t already.”
In the first hour of the day, nearly 400 kids had already been to the fort, taking in all the fun and activities the Rendezvous has to offer. Nine different stations were set up, demonstrating the art of blacksmithing, carpentry and how to create fire with flint and steel, as well as hands-on activities teaching beadwork, weaving and doll-making.
Piper Keck, 10, comes to the fort nearly every year for the event, and said she enjoys learning about Native American history and crafts, particularly when it comes to bead work.
She said she was interested in the “purposeful mistakes” the artisans would add to their pieces.
“When they make it, only the spirits can make things that are perfect,” she explained. “So you don’t want to offend them, so you make yours purposefully wrong, like by adding a different color bead so that it doesn’t match.”
Keck was off and running, making herself a beaded bear-claw necklace and enjoying the merchants set up in tents around the fort’s walls.
Sanden said she loves seeing how much the kids get into the various workshops throughout the day, and added that having an interactive aspect to the day helps youth get excited about history.
“If you get kids interested in history in a tangible way, in a way they can feel, a way they can touch, a way they can actually experience it, they care about it.” She explained. “If you just read it in a book, it’s just written down and it doesn’t mean anything. And for kids, their whole life is an experience. If they can tough it, feel it, paint it and experience it, then it means more to them.”
Thursday was just the first day of the weekend-long event, which is packed full of things to do for the whole family. Friday through Sunday, the fort opens its gates at 10 a.m., with activities happening throughout the day, so people can learn some old-fashioned life skills, such as beaver skinning, frontier cooking and gunsmithing, all free of charge to the public.
This year’s featured speaker is Hasan Davis, author of “The Journey of York, The Unsung Hero of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.” Davis is an author, performer, youth adv ocate and motivator whose goal is to bring to the forefront the stories of people of color who have been present at various points American history. Davis will be presenting both Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Another popular returning feature of the Rendezvous is the 28th Annual Rendezvous Run, sponsored by Williston Parks & Recreation. Participants can register for the 5k walk, 5k run, 11k run, Heavy Weight run, Fur Trader run or Kids 1 mile. Registration is still available for the run, which can be done by visiting Fort Union’s website.
The Fort Union Rendezvous runs until Sunday, June 16. For a full schedule of daily events at the Fort, visit www.nps.gov/fous/planyourvisit.