Fort de Charatres Rendezvous

It's been a tough week since the last post - the destruction of my first garden here on the farm 31 years ago, lots of long hours trying to juggle work, deadlines, introducing a new garden helper to the garden and trying to keep the plants alive that were salvaged from the construction. Lots of bulbs were lost, buried, mashed by the backhoe, but some have survived. Another quite meditation garden will arise somewhere, hopefully.

The exciting thing I want to tell you about is the weekend that my friend, Adam, and I spent at the Rendezvous at Fort de Chartres, near Prairie du Rocher, Illinois. Many of you know it's an annual event for me. I'm excited by the reenactments of the 1700s when the French still controlled much of the Mississippi River valley south to New Orleans. The Rendezvous always falls on Josh's birthday weekend, June 5 & 6, so we celebrated his birthday early and he was happy to have Adam accompany me, giving Josh a quiet time at home to work on his baby chicks, worm farm and raspberry beds.

One of the very interesting people I met at the Rendezvous is Carol Kuntz, who is sort of in charge of the gardens at the Fort. In previous years there wasn't anyone on hand to explain the garden and I had wondered just how historically accurate the gardens were. Carol was on hand, along with some volunteers weeding and tending the garden, and she told me what her and the other volunteers' research has shown. Through some of the surviving documents, but more importantly, from historical recipes from the area, Carol now has a remarkable list of what was grown in the mid 1700s in that location.

There are leeks, onions, scarlet runner beans, lettuce, carrots, relatively ordinary vegetables by our standards, now. Oh, and grapes, too, certainly, for wine. But I was surprised to see eggplant. Carol explained that the French used eggplant, but the English only grew the plant as a decorative. Also cabbages and the raised beds were also authentic to the time, as well.

One of the remarkable aspects of the Rendezvous is how many of the descendants there are, from the period of French occupation. Many local families in the area, can date their history in America to the French occupation.

There are lots of reenactors of all sorts. Some portray French soldiers, others portray English military. There are the voyageurs, Coureur des bois, who were licensed fur trappers. There are always a good representation of Indian tribes, as well. I visited with a group of Indians who I'd met last year and learned more about who they are and what they do.

For example I learned about the coloring they'd painted on their bodies again this year. Out of pure ignorance on my part, I inquired why, if Indians were dark complected, would they paint themselves darker, as these fellows had done. "There's the misconception that all tribes were dark skinned," one of the men said. "The truth is, many tribes were light complected." Painting the body was a form of decoration, just as wearing feathers and beads, a way of showing their finest, and thus, being more impressive and fierce, when visiting some place like the Fort. The paint consists of red ochre, or a similar pigment, mixed with bear's tallow and beeswax (I had wondered why these guys never sweated off their coloring, now I know - it's the beeswax!)

I learned, also, about tattooing, how it had significance for status, not just a decoration as it is today. And I got to examine how the feathers are attached (threading a small tail of hair through the leather that holds the feathers in place). One of the reenactors, Josh, is a student at University of Missouri, Columbia.

Throughout the day there were presentations, a medical reenactor talked about the medicines and methods of the day. There was lots of period music, some dancing, lots of cannon firing, muzzle firing, tomahawk throwing and excellent displays of the edible plants that Native Americans relied upon in the area.
Fort de Chartres, by records of the time, was nearly 50 percent African and there had been a village near the Fort of slaves who had bought their freedom from the French. There had been considerable intermarriage between the freed slaves and the local Indian tribes, and this year for the first time, joining Josh (who's Shawnee) and his band of men, was an African American reenactor and a man who was both African and Indian in ancestry, and they were a good addition to the group.

Food, too is always a big part of the festivities, and it has to be relatively authentic. Roasted corn over a fire, buffalo (fish) from the Mississippi River, homemade ice cream, lemonade, etc. I grew  up eating the fish named buffalo (named because it's nose resembles the snout of a buffalo) and it's one of my favorites. I'd take buffalo over swordfish or grouper any day. The traditional way of cooking it, is to score, or cut, through the rib bones every 1/2 inch and when the fish fries, the bones disappear. I used to spend my summer evenings, running my trotline in the Osage River, bringing home buffalo, and carp, my other favorite.

In the afternoon I asked Adam if he'd had enough and wanted to leave. (I'm prone to spending a great deal of time talking to people and learning about what they do, and taking hundreds of photos, not everyone can be patient while I do that). He said he was having fun, had not yet seen everything and wondered if we were coming back the following day (we didn't, opting for the Missouri Botanical Gardens). The Rendezvous, this year the 40th, offers a lot of information about gardens, plants, how people lived, what they ate and a lot of history for people of all ages. It was fun to see how entire families of reenactors came for the whole week (only the weekend is open to the public). What a wonderful way for kids to experience history, vividly, with the smoke, the food and the great outdoors.

We arrived back home on Sunday evening and Adam packed his car and headed to New Mexico on Monday for his next gardening adventure. We enjoyed his company and creativity in the garden and are grateful for the progress and inspiration his visit brought.

Happy gardening to all and to all, a good night.


FushigiFox said...

WOW, thanks for sharing your experience. I had never seen these events before and so much history is in creating them. Loved the info about the gardens at the Fort, would have loved to read more on it. Also really fascinating about the beeswax in the body paint. Learn something new everyday.

Woody said...

From your pictures it appears as though this is a very detail oriented rendezvous. Very cool!

NellJean said...

Very interesting and informative, this post.

A thought on the scoring of the bony fish. My MIL called it 'gashing' and they gashed Sucker Fish. I never asked why, now I know.

Randy and Jamie said...

Well that was informative and the photos were absolutely incredible! Great job-- Randy