When torrential rains and lighting from a thunderstorm knocked out power Friday night in downtown Waynesville, Debra (“Dusty”) Beatty and Lora (“Leather”) Dean never noticed the outage.
As participants in the annual Mountain Man Rendezvous in the Waynesville City Park, they spent the last half of the week camping in a canvas tent, cooking over wood fires in open pits, and wearing traditional Native American attire. A few dozen yards away, other participants wore clothes from Missouri’s pioneer days in the 1820s and 1830s, representing the settlers who entered the backwoods of the Ozark foothills to trade with Native Americans and trap for furs.
Beatty said their tent held up well.
“It got pretty wet; everything got wet except inside the tent, but we haven’t had any leaks,” Beatty said.
Dean said that’s due to much hard work.
“We’ve smoked the tent for the last seven years. We built our campfire underneath it to smoke it, and that’s why the tent doesn’t leak,” Dean said. “We don’t use any chemicals for waterproofing, we do it all the old ways.”
While they had no electricity to go out, they did have to restart their fire — again, using traditional methods after the rain ended.
Beatty and Dean live in the Big Piney area of southeastern Pulaski County — cut off by Fort Leonard Wood from the rest of the county, they’re used to isolation and quiet even when they aren’t attending Mountain Man events.
“We like a primitive life,” Beatty said.
“We love it; we wouldn’t trade our life for anything,” Dean said. “Even today, when we’ve been having our things dry out.”
Dean said she began coming to the Mountain Man Rendezvous events in 1992, and quickly learned to love the simple lifestyle as fellow participants taught her the skills needed to survive in an era before electricity, running water or most modern conveniences.
For Beatty, the lifestyle involves returning to her own roots and learning how her ancestors not only survived but thrived.
“My dad was half-Cherokee and my grandma was full Cherokee, but I’ve never looked into getting enrolled (as a tribal member),” Beatty said. “But all this technology is killing morality and family values. Back when that wasn’t there, you stayed with your family, you had to rely on your family.”
Not everyone with Native American blood at the Mountain Man Rendezvous chose to re-enact the Native American part of their heritage. Many of Missouri’s earliest pioneers intermarried with the Native American tribes and adopted some of their lifestyle, and Bill Roberts of Waynesville donned full buckskin attire as he worked on a forge set up outside a lodge with buffalo painted on the outside. His campsite looked much like the hunters and trappers of isolated pioneer Missouri in the 1820s, when even “white men” lived much like the Native Americans whose survival skills they had learned to follow in the wilderness.
“My grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee and we are descendants of the Cherokee who went right through here during the Trail of Tears relocation to Oklahoma,” Roberts said.
The canvas lodge has lasted for decades, Roberts said, partly because of good hand-made construction techniques and partly because it’s been cared for well.
“My sister painted the grizzly bear and my daughter was 8 years old when she painted the buffalo and my daughter is 34 now,” Roberts said.
While Roberts used his anvil to craft metalwork and Dean has become an expert in throwing a tomahawk, some advanced technology was present at the Mountain Man Rendezvous.
“Advanced” by the standards of the pre-Civil War era, that is.
Harold Rakop of Clementine carried a Hawkins-style percussion-ignition muzzleloading rifle to the Mountain Man Rendezvous. Dressed in a broad-brimmed hat with Native American beads as a necklace and the cloth shirt and pants of a settler or trader, Rakop said his weapon shoots a half-inch ball, .50-caliber in modern ammunition sizing, that was the best hand-carried firearm available to most people traveling in Missouri during the pioneer era.
“The modern weapons are loaded by a cartridge, but this has to be loaded by a ball down the muzzle, one shot at a time,” Rakop said. “It was made in St. Louis for people on their way west. They took this with them because of the size of the bore — the barrel was short and the ball could take down a buffalo or an attacker.”
Rakop, who spent 23 years in the United States Marine Corps and retired as a master gunnery sergeant, cautioned against romanticizing the pioneer days. Good weapons were important, Rakop said, because dangers were abundant. The lure of the west — in those days, places like Missouri and Arkansas — was great, but so were the threats from natural, animal and human causes.
“In the 1820s and 1830s, people were just going west; they had opened up all this land and people said they could make a living out here, but there was no water and they couldn’t grow vegetables and they had to live off meat they hunted, and if you made it past 20 to 30 years old, you were an old man,” Rakop.
However, Rakop is used to being invited to teach about Missouri’s pioneer era in area schools and said he understands why people who live a very modern lifestyle are attracted to the simplicity of Missouri’s earliest days.
“I got to talking to some of the people at the rendezvous a few years ago, and one had a Ph.D. and another was a doctor, but you’d never have known it because here, we’re all mountain men,” Rakop said. “I do genealogy for my family and I’m 75 and I love learning about my past.”