Rendezvous “High Jinks”

Sir William Drummond Stewart and his entourage passed several rousing weeks encamped in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains during the summer of 1837. Stewart, a Scotsman, had returned to the American West to participate in the annual Green River rendezvous, a gathering of trappers, Native Americans, and goods purveyors. Bartering was the impetus for the congregation as trappers prepared for another year in the backcountry and reaped the rewards of the last season. But it wasn’t all business; the exchange of supplies, furs, and Native-made goods was accompanied by a fair amount of fun and amusement.

For a brief time each summer from the 1820s through the 1830s, a quiet corner of an expansive, remote valley in the heart of the Rocky Mountain West took on the air of a bustling jamboree. Fur traders led relatively solitary lives for much for the year, and so most gladly welcomed the singular opportunity for conversation and companionship provided by the rendezvous. Entertainment was readily available to those who sought it; there was game playing, tale-telling fueled by drink, and horse racing.

Artist Alfred Jacob Miller, who accompanied Stewart, described the opening event of the rendezvous as a day “devoted to ‘High Jinks,’ a species of Saturnalia, in which feasting, drinking, and gambling form prominent parts.” Miller portrayed the festivities in sketches made on site, some of which he later reprised as studio oil or watercolor paintings. Three works among the Alfred Jacob Miller Online Catalogue depict horse racing at the rendezvous (CR#s 181, 182A, 183). In Indian Race (CR# 181), Stewart is pictured at left watching three Native riders compete.