Rendezvous Stories: Liberating Buckskinners

For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change.
–Ingrid Bengis, Combat in the Erogenous Zone.

The buckskinners we knew wouldn’t have sent Christmas cards even if we’d known each other’s names and addresses, so our first task at rendezvous was finding out everyone’s news from the past year. Snort was out of work again and trying– again– to make a living as an artist while his wife worked full-time at the refinery. They’d rented out their house and were living in their tipi in the back yard. Fred was taking classes at the junior college while Mimi toiled at the packing plant. Iron Woman had lost a premature baby.

RDV men big kettle 1987Red had gotten a promotion, and his wife Sandy still worked in the supermarket. That year, Red was club president, and booshway [buckskinner slang for the original French word for the guy in charge, the bourgeois]. The night was half over by the time he worked his way around the circle and sat down near me. I hadn’t yet seen Sandy at the fire, so I leaned over and asked Red, “Where is your devoted wife? Didn’t leave you, did she? I thought she was starting to act liberated last year.”

“She’ll be up tomorrow. Had to work this afternoon and then shop and get the food packed up.” Red grinned at me, knowing what my response would be.

“Gee, Red, I hope you didn’t strain yourself just driving up here.”

“She’ll get the kid from school and he can help her. I brought the lodge.” Red saw the look on my face and added, “I remember it when she’s not yapping at me.” His jaw tightened, but he was grinning as I laughed.

The year before, Red and Sandy had entered modern mountain man legends when he drove two hundred miles to a national rendezvous and realized–- as he pulled into the parking lot-– that he’d forgotten his lodge. Dumping his gear on the ground, he’d ordered his wife to wait and turned around. She sat on the food chest while hundreds of other buckskinners streamed into camp. As snow fell out of the darkening sky, she wrapped herself in a blanket and ate a couple of candy bars. Several people who knew her, and a few dozen who didn’t, offered to stand guard over the stuff or haul it to their lodges. Several men suggested she set fire to the pile and run away with them. Women offered her knives and pistols along with advice on correcting Red’s shortcomings if he ever came back. When Red drove into camp at two in the morning, after two flat tires and a detour around a snowstorm, Sandy still sat on the food chest, huddled in all the blankets they owned. Many of us were watching from our darkened lodges, but none of us ever found out what she said to him.

I shook my head. “I still think she made a mistake, Red. With your gear as a dowry, she could have done lots better.”

“That’s why I ain’t married to one of you liberated women. I trained Sandy right. When I tell her to jump, she asks, ‘How high honey?’ on the way up.”

“I’d come down with my knife in your brisket.” By now half the circle was listening to us, cheering for one or the other.

“Linda, you know women can’t handle complicated thoughts. You’re trying to act against nature. Probably why you’re grumpy all the time. Do it my way, you’d be happier.”

RDV LMH hat woman 1987“Let me get this straight, Red. Women are so stupid they should listen to a guy who can’t remember his tipi when he’s planning to live in it for a week?”

Red handed me a wine bottle and patted my shoulder. “Men occasionally make little mistakes because we have to think of everything. Women have all they can handle just cooking and cleaning house.”

Without drinking, I passed the wine over my right shoulder. I never drank the wine after the first time I saw most of the camp hung over after one of these potluck sprees. Forty people “calling buffalo”– buckskinner lingo for throwing up-– is not an inspiring sight.

Then a fist clamped around my wrist. I turned and faced a stranger. He cradled a sleeping child; a big white dog sat in shadow behind him. “Hey, bitch, are you one of them liberated whores that made my wife run away?” the man said.

“I don’t know your wife, but if you talked to her like that, no wonder she left.” I tried to jerk away but my hand went numb as his grip tightened. The dog lifted his lip to show his fangs.

“He’s a new club member.” Red whispered close to my ear. “A teensy bit hostile to women just now.”

RDV George sittingHe raised his voice, enunciating carefully, “Frank, this is Linda. She’s George’s wife”–- he pointed elaborately at George, who had stopped talking and loomed across the circle– “and a friend of mine.”

Oblivious to Red’s warning, the man leaned so close he fogged my glasses. “Do you think women ought to have careers instead of taking care of their kids, you damned bitch?”

“I think women who have kids ought to take care of them, buster, but if you want to discuss women’s rights, you’ve already called me a bitch once too often. And let go of my arm.”

I straightened up, aware of the Green River knife sheathed against my backbone. Across the fire, George’s blue eyes were cold; I knew if I got in real trouble, he’d be there.

“I’m gonna put my boy down,” Frank said slowly, “then I’m gonna kill you. Guard, Snowy.” He released my wrist and turned to tuck the child against the dog’s white belly fur. I heard a nervous slurp as someone sucked from the wine bottle. When Frank turned, I was holding my knife blade up in front of his nose.

RDV Buckskinner knife

Leaning past me, Red performed one of his duties as booshway. He closed one big hand on Frank’s arm, and one on mine, and spoke firmly. “Linda, I can’t let you kill him because he makes me look good. Frank, let me repeat– Linda is George’s wife. You know George.” He pointed with his chin, without letting go of either of us. “The big guy over there in the bearskin hat, watching you. Linda and me are friends. We argue as a joke. She’s really not too bad as liberated broads go.” He winked at me, and released his grip.

“I’m very sorry your wife left you,” I said slowly so my voice wouldn’t quiver. “Do you plan to raise your boy alone?”

Frank slumped. “Gonna try. She wasn’t doing much for him anyway. Spent all her time in the bars. What do you do?”

“I don’t have any kids, but I’m a darn good stepmother. I’m a rancher.”

“You believe in women’s lib?”

“I believe women ought to make up their own minds about how to run their lives. But having kids changes your life, permanently. You can’t be as independent as a woman alone. And I don’t go around telling women to leave their husbands.”

The big dog leaned forward and licked my face. Frank said, “Well, if Snowy likes you, you must be OK. He generally don’t care for women.”

“You base your judgments on what your dog thinks?” I said.

Red groaned and mumbled, “Good Lord woman, quit while you’re ahead. George,” he yelled, “can’t you shut this woman up?”

George shook his head. “No, but you’re welcome to try, Red,” he hollered as conversations resumed in the circle around us.

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Copyright 2008 Linda M. Hasselstrom

 

Rendezvous Stories: Afterword

Reading this narrative thirty years after it happened brings the memory vividly back. I haven’t seen Red in twenty-five years, and never saw Frank again, but their faces are as clear in my mind as their words, because I recorded this entire incident that night in my journal. I probably didn’t advance the cause of women’s liberation much with Red and his friends, but I’m glad to have spoken honestly. I hope Frank was able to raise his son well, and I hope the lad grew to have a little broader outlook than Frank displayed that night. I was glad to have survived the encounter, and that George didn’t have to bring weaponry to bear on the situation. I still prefer to settle hostility with negotiation if possible, though I also favor having access to weapons for emergencies.

An explanation of Rendezvous Re-enactment from Land Circle

Rendezvous was the annual trappers’ meeting during the fur trade days [1824 – 1840]; a few days in summer when trappers brought in their pelts, were paid, and bought their year’s supplies. . . . The muzzle-loading weapons of that age, either cap and ball or flintlock, are still intriguing . . . In modern times, people interested in the weapons have extended that interest to the way of life of the mountain man, and instituted dozens of such rendezvous in the United States, Canada, Germany, and other countries. . . . Everyone’s objective is to reproduce, as nearly as possible, the look and feeling of a rendezvous camp of the period. A place is set aside for the primitive camp, with running water [a stream] and firewood. Those who have authentic clothing but modern camping gear must camp in a spot reserved for modern tents and tin tipis: campers. “Pilgrims,” inexperienced participants or visitors, are sometimes allowed in camp if they make a serious attempt at dressing in period style.

The insistence on authentic attire and accouterments is not mere whim; the camp’s primitive look enhances photographs, paintings, and research, and adds to the enjoyment of people who truly live the period. The mood would be ruined by seeing someone in blue jeans, scorned by modern mountain men because Levi Strauss didn’t start making them until 1851. The rule keeps away folks who aren’t seriously interested; those who are will be treated with friendliness, and almost any buckskinner will take time to help a newcomer learn how to participate. When you put on buckskins or a long dress, you put on a different mood; . . . The whole tempo of the world changes.

— from Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
(Fulcrum Publishing, Golden CO; 1991; Anniversary Edition 2008)
excerpts taken from the chapter called “Rendezvous!”
pages 35 through 37 (Anniversary Edition)

For more information:
see the rendezvous page on www.windbreakhouse.com

 

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2016, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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Feeding South Dakota: Empty Bowls

Fighting HungerRecently I contributed to the local Empty Bowls project, and I urge everyone to do so. This project helps feed hungry children in the local area– including my hometown of Hermosa. The project that helps local folks the most is the BackPack Program, which provides bags of nutritious and easy-to-prepare food for children who otherwise would not get enough to eat on the weekend. Nationwide, this 15-year-old program feeds more than 450,000 children on weekends.

Proper nutrition is critical to a child’s development mentally and physically; hunger reduces academic achievement and even future economic prosperity. A hungry child will never achieve full potential. In the U.S. today, 15 million children are hungry– that’s one in five. Contribute locally to improve the future of our nation.

My contribution this year was modest: I painted a bowl that will be part of the Celebrity Auction at the local Empty Bowls event.

Bowl painted by Linda 2016

My painted bowl, which proves that I am no artist, will be sold at silent auction along with a signed copy of my most popular book, Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains, at the Empty Bowls luncheon March 23 at the Surbeck Center at the S.D. School of Mines. This photograph was taken before the bowl was fired, so the colors should be more vivid.

In 2009, at the invitation of Ruby Wilson, I drove to Brookings, S.D., for an Empty Bowls fundraiser sponsored by the United Church of Christ, to benefit Heifer International. (Heifer International is one of my favorite charitable organizations, and yes, they give cows to people to help them become self-supporting– also pigs, chickens, turkeys and other critters that translate into more long-term help than one meal.) I read a new poem dedicated to the event, and the poem was first published on a poster advertising the fundraiser. “Those Thanksgiving Pie-Makers” subsequently appeared in my book Dirt Songs, with Twyla M. Hansen.

Here’s how you can help this year:

March 23, 2016
11-12pm, 12:30-1:30pm, 5:30-6:30pm
SDSMT Surbeck Ballroom

Leadership Rapid City Class of 2013 invites you to participate in the 4th Annual Empty Bowls Luncheon benefiting the BackPack Program of Feeding South Dakota.

Empty Bowls is an international project to fight hunger. The premise of the Empty Bowls Project is straightforward. Patrons are served a simple meal of soup and bread. At the end of the event, guests choose a ceramic bowl (crafted by artists and community participants) to keep. The Empty Bowls are a reminder of the many bowls we have filled, and the bowls we still need to fill to provide nourishment and food to the hungry.

Empty Bowls began in Michigan in the spring of 1991. Due to the tremendous success of the project and the work of thousands of participants, Empty Bowls projects now occur many times throughout the year, all over the world, raising millions of dollars to fight hunger.

There are many different ways to get involved and participate in the message of the Empty Bowls Luncheon. Here are just a few ways to help make this event a success:

Become an Empty Bowls Sponsor. Consider sponsoring the Empty Bowls Luncheon as a business, a local organization, or as an individual. Various levels are available from a BackPack Buddy Partner of $150 to a major sponsorship of $10,000. We would love to partner with your business or organization!

Create and Donate a Bowl. You don’t have to be a professional artist to participate! Leadership Rapid City and Feeding South Dakota have teamed up with Pottery 2 Paint so that individuals and groups of all ages and skill levels can take part and share in the fun. Individuals can paint a bowl and purchase at ticket to the luncheon for just $15!

More than 21 million children qualify for free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program. For many of these children, school meals may be the only meals they eat. What happens when they go home over the weekend?

For more than 15 years, the Feeding America BackPack Program has been helping children get the nutritious and easy-to-prepare food they need to get enough to eat on the weekends. Today, bags of food are assembled at more than 160 local food banks and then distributed to more than 450,000 children at the end of the week. With your help, we can provide more food to more children in need.

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I was just informed of another fine event to help the Hermosa BackPack Program:

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016
11:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Hermosa United Church of Christ
Spaghetti Dinner to benefit the Hermosa BackPack Program.
 
The Hermosa School operates on a 4-day week, so each weekend is three days long. Currently, forty six children (out of approximately 180 total, Kindergarten through 8th grade) are furnished foods for breakfast, lunch and snacks for three days. Funds are running low and two months of school remain. The spaghetti dinner will be served from 11:00 – 1:00 on April 3 in the Fellowship Room. There will be a free will donation. The youth of the church will be helping to host this event.  A business meeting for the Fairburn-Hermosa Community Food Bank will follow at 1:30. All interested volunteers are welcome.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

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For more information:
http://www.feedingamerica.org/

For information on the Rapid City event:
http://www.feedingsouthdakota.org/news-events/events/rapid-city-empty-bowls/

For the history of the Empty Bowls program:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empty_Bowls

To learn more about Heifer International:
http://www.heifer.org/

 

Poetry in the Schools

Poetry Out Loud: Local

Last month I donated my skills to a couple of educational events as a way of giving thanks for some of the generous help I received from teachers in this rural area.

February 25th, the Hermosa Middle School teachers invited me to speak to the sixth, seventh and eighth grade students about writing.

When I attended the Hermosa School, it was a two-story red-brick edifice. Visitors strolled up the concrete walk and steps, past the swings that clanged against their poles in the slightest breeze. I’d wave at Henry Bale, the janitor, if he stuck his head out of the office beside the basement furnace, and climb another set of stairs to the classrooms. That old building has been replaced by a modern facility. Most of my time there lately has been spent in the kitchen of the gymnasium, serving food for various charitable events.

Hermosa School 2016--3-3

This time I hefted a crate of my books and walked up to the double doors at the main entrance. I grabbed the door handle and pulled.

Locked.

At that moment, I recalled with a shock every headline about school violence I’ve read in the past few years. Of course, Hermosa cannot assume that it’s immune.

Just inside, a receptionist asked my name, then unlocked the doors and let me into a small foyer, facing a second set of locked doors. I identified myself, and she looked at a list on her desk before unlocking the second doors, then called me into the office to sign in and receive a visitor’s badge. I understand the necessity for these precautions, but find them terribly depressing. The school, however, was light and pleasant, with busy classrooms and smiling students and teachers.

Escorted to the classroom by two of the students, I arranged my books on a table and waited while the assorted students filed in. I haven’t been in a grade school classroom for years, but the faces, the slouches, the nervousness, the tentative smiles and the chatter were all familiar. I quickly identified several species of student that have inhabited every classroom I’ve ever seen: The Mouth, the Girl Who Always Raises Her Hand, the Shy One, the Hair-Flipping Gum Chewer, The Stud (yes, even in eighth grade), and others.

After introductions, I slammed into my poem “Make a Hand,” which involves sweeping gestures and a certain amount of yelling. Things quieted right down.

Hermosa School visit 2016--2-25Now that I had their attention, I explained to them that almost everything that interests them is a story— TV programs, the news, poems, gossip. I mentioned various jobs I’ve held, and showed them the books I’ve written that have been published, explaining that every book contains what I know about this neighborhood and the stories of its people. Publishing, I told them, is hard work; I submitted my first book to 26 publishers before it was accepted by the 27th.

I read them “Where the Stories Come From,” and we talked about ranch work; many of them are growing up in ranching families. After I read “Looking for Grandmother,” I asked, “Who peels potatoes at your house?” Several boys and girls raised their hands and proved they knew what they were talking about by describing their potato peelers, or knives. We discussed what the poem means, and how you can tell what my emotions about my grandmother are. I read them “Beef Eater,” and asked them what it meant. To my delight, several of them understood the joke of the poem: you are what you eat.

They asked intelligent questions, and then told me they have to write their biography for the classroom. So I gave them a formula for writing a poem that I’ve found effective: writing one line of action, one line that’s a quotation, one line of physical description, and then repeating each of these, ad infinitum, in any order, until you have built up enough details from which to write a poem, a biography, or another kind of story.

Here’s the poem I once wrote using that formula. And I told them that the poem is dedicated to my uncle, Harold Hasselstrom. They recognized his name, because their gym is named for him.

“What do you suppose he did, to have the gym named after him?” I asked.

“Died!” yelled someone.

True, but that’s not all he did; he was devoted to education because he didn’t have time for much of it in his life, and he served for many years on the school board, even though he didn’t have kids.

 

Uncle

He sips coffee
thick hands wrapped around the cup.
“This generation ain’t got no corner on violence.”
His sunburned hands, cracked and broken, clench into fists.
“You’d be surprised how many fellas
turned up in their own wells
in the Dirty Thirties.”

The drought was less severe, he says,
here where ranchers did not tear the sod with plows.
Most families had enough to eat.
His battered hands fixed fences,
drove the teams swathing hay,
paid out worn bills for the land of those who left.

Now they call him a land baron.
“Quitters,” he says. “They gave up.
But someone had to stay—
and that took guts. Men like that
had hot tempers, and did
their own law-making.”

© 1993, Linda M. Hasselstrom

 

Poetry Out Loud: Statewide

My second school project of the month was to serve as a judge for the Poetry Out Loud competition, in which students recite memorized poems.

Again I was struck by the profound changes in how these things are done in these modern times! I didn’t have to travel to another town and sit uncomfortably in a school auditorium to watch as the contestants stumbled in for their performances.

POLlogoInstead, I received by email lists of the contestants, information on judging, and directions to www.poetryoutloud.org, where I could watch a representative sample of performers.

Each contestant had submitted a video. Judges would watch each video while judging students on details of their performance such as physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, and evidence of understanding of the poem. I knew who the other judges were only from their addresses on the emails we’d received, and we had no opportunity to consult one another. I chose a time to gather my materials, direct my computer to a YouTube channel dedicated to the performances, and began to listen.

Again, this was familiar territory. I participated in contests like this in grade school, I think, and certainly in high school, back in the dark ages when it was called Oral Interpretation. Memorizing the poem was relatively easy, and my parents were encouraging. Standing alone on a stage in front of judges in a darkened auditorium was hard, but I knew it was “good for me.”

Watching these videos, shot variously in classrooms, against blank walls, and other locations, I was impressed. The twelve participants included students of varying ethnicities from high schools both large and small, and some who are homeschooled. Each of them deserves praise for their hard to work to memorize the poems, and the courage to stand up and recite it. Dedicated teachers and others encouraged these young scholars, and took time to videotape the performances.

While I did both these jobs, I was thinking of teachers who encouraged me when I was an awkward adolescent— people like Elsie Enders of Hermosa, Ed Hartman of Custer, Hazel Heiman and Josephine Zamow of Rapid City— and offering them my thanks in the only way left to do so.

 

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

 

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Here’s where to find my poems mentioned in this blog:

“Make a Hand” and “Where the Stories Come From”
Bitter Creek Junction (2000, High Plains Press; Glendo, Wyoming)

“Looking for Grandmother”
Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet, with Twyla M. Hansen (2011, The Backwaters Press; Omaha, Nebraska)

“Beef Eater”
Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land (1991, Fulcrum Publishing; Golden, Colorado)

“Uncle”
Dakota Bones: The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom (1993, Spoon River Poetry Press; Granite Falls, Minnesota)

 

© 2016, Linda M. Hasselstrom