Kahn, also known as Doc, grasped the steel striker in his right hand and let fly with his left, raining sparks on char cloth and shredded hemp. When the cloth began to smolder, Kahn put the fiber to his lips and blew smoke.
“I believe chert gives a hotter spark than flint,” he said. “Nine seconds is about average.”
Time had slowed at the Del Norte Rod and Gun Club on Sunday. Kahn and dozens of others had put aside their 21st century trappings and donned the buckskins, furs and calicos of early American life. Shooting, archery, knife and tomahawk-throwing would come later, but the second morning of the 36th annual Jed Smith Mountain Men Tall Trees Rendezvous was calm.
Richard Hawkins added to the introspective atmosphere. Known as Reverend Hawk, Hawkins called the faithful to church with a blast from a ram’s horn.
“This is a shofar from Israel,” he said. “When you read in the scriptures that they sounded a horn, that was the horn they were blowing.”
Hawkins, preacher with the Amazing Grace Circuit Church, has held church services at rendezvous from Bakersfield in the south to Idaho in the east since 1996. Attending reenactments since America’s bicentennial, Hawkins said the rendezvous was a time for mountain men to sell their furs to the large companies of the day and purchase supplies.
The first rendezvous started around 1821, Hawkins said, and the last was in 1840. At that point, beaver had been trapped out and silk became the fabric of choice for top hats, he said.
With silver locks flowing loose over his shoulders, Hawkins looked the part of an early American preacher, but he said his message deviates from what would have been period-authentic.
“I try and incorporate aspects of what went on at rendezvous and tie that into a scriptural message,” he said, adding that mountain men probably didn’t attend many church services. “Back then there was a lot of hellfire and brimstone preaching.”
Interest in recreating the mountain men rendezvous peaked around our nation’s 200th birthday, Hawkins said. The Tall Trees Rendezvous, when it was held near Wilson Creek, was huge, he said. But interest seems to have diminished.
John Clark said it seems fewer young people are interested in learning the old ways. As a young boy in Wyoming, Clark learned about the old ways from an old Indian named Bill who regaled him with stories from his own childhood, Clark said.
Life in pre-1840s America wasn’t a picnic, Clark acknowledged, but he and the other re-enactors look at the rendezvous not only as a way to reach back to their roots but as a way to relax.
“When I get up, eight hours seems like three days,” he said. “The pace of life slows way down.”
The Jed Smith Mountain Man Tall Trees Rendezvous lasts until Saturday and features shooting, archery, tomahawk-throwing and knife-throwing competitions. The public is invited to watch the competitions and browse Trader’s Row.
The mountain men will also make an appearance at the Fourth of July Parade at 10 a.m. on Friday in downtown Crescent City.