McKinnon, Wyoming: First Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Rendezvous

The first annual rendezvous in Wyoming brought traders and trappers together, allowing for an exchange of furs and supplies in a centralized location.

McKinnon is a small town in southwest Wyoming, near the Utah border. Fur traders held the first Rocky Mountain Rendezvous north of present-day McKinnon, along the Henry’s Fork River. Founder William Ashley chose the site in 1825 for its proximity to a major river and abundance of open space, necessary to host such a large event with thousands of people and their horses. For this first rendezvous, Ashley wrote in his diary that he planned to leave directions for trappers buried underneath a mound of vermillion-painted rocks near the junction of two rivers.

Three years earlier, in 1822, William Henry Ashley and Andrew Henry had partnered to form the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, and they advertised that they sought to hire one hundred “enterprising young men.” This call to adventure drew individuals to the mountains, some of whom later became the stuff of legends. Ashley decided that a movable meeting would be a more efficient way of trading, rather than an established trading post to which trappers would have to travel and return. Merchants journeyed from St. Louis to meet with Euro-American and indigenous trappers in their own environment, exchanging pelts for guns, knives, beads, traps, and other necessary supplies. The rendezvous were to be held annually at locations throughout the interior West in the summer, when beaver pelts were of lower quality. The location for the next rendezvous would then be shared before the current meeting adjourned.

Ashley’s first fur trade rendezvous proved a financial success: in all, there were around 120 men in attendance at the first rendezvous, including both white and Native American trappers. Jedediah Smith—a famed mountain man and explorer credited with rediscovering the South Pass—accompanied Ashley on this trip. Other famous mountain men were said to have also attended, including Etienne Provost and a young Jim Bridger. Although the rendezvous system was originally planned as a solely economic exchange, it also became a time of festivities for the mountain men. They gambled, told stories, drank alcohol, and played games. After the 1825 rendezvous ended, William Ashley packed his pelts onto horses, brought them to the Bighorn River, and shipped them off to St. Louis. That year, their load of pelts valued $50,000.

Today, McKinnon is a census-designated place with a population of less than sixty people. Near where the 1825 rendezvous was held, there is a roadside marker commemorating the significance of the event and the rendezvous system as a whole. It describes the rendezvous as a “raucous social event” where “mountain men swapped stories, tested their skills, and shared news of friends.” This event remains an important part of the area’s history, and it marked a significant moment in the history of the American West.

Images

Rendezvous road marker
Rendezvous road marker A road marker in McKinnon, Wyoming commemorating the 1825 rendezvous. Source:

Jimmy Emerson, August 2, 2013. Via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). https://www.flickr.com/photos/auvet/9524829173/in/photolist-yLGbhH-75V4Z-75V63-fvFfGF-9P3EyG-fvVvZW-fvFgbT-fvFeSD-fvFqVP.

Drawing of Jedediah
Drawing of Jedediah Jedediah Smith, famous mountain man who attended the 1825 rendezvous. Source:

Sketch by unknown friend of Jedediah Smith, ca. 1835. Via Wikimedia Commons (public domain). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jedediah_Smith.jpg.

Beaver Dam
Beaver Dam A photograph taken by William Henry Jackson in 1870, in Wyoming Territory near the site of the 1825 rendezvous. Source:

“Beaver Dam on Henry’s Fork.” William Henry Jackson, 1870. In Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection (catalog ID b11708935). Courtesy of the New York Public Library. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-b75e-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.

“One hundred men”
“One hundred men” Advertisement put out by William Ashley and Andrew Henry Source: William H. Ashley, advertisement in Missouri Gazette, February 13, 1822. Via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Henry_Ashley_advertisement_1822.jpg.
The goods
The goods A beaver pelt from the Museum of the Fur Trade. Source: Napa (pseud.), August 2008. Via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fur_trade_museum_beaver_pelt.jpg.

Location

A road marker at this spot tells the story of the 1825 Rocky Mountain Rendezvous.

Metadata

Emily Roth, Northern Arizona University, “McKinnon, Wyoming: First Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Rendezvous,” Intermountain Histories, accessed May 18, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/609.