It's a French word that means "appointed place of meeting." In the early nineteenth century that "meeting" was the event of the year on the western frontier. From 1825 to 1840 mountain men and Native Americans who were trapping in the streams and valleys of the Rocky Mountains gathered annually to sell their furs and trade for supplies.
James Beckwourth, a well known mountain man, described the summer gatherings in this way: "It may well be supposed that the arrival of such a vast amount of luxuries from the East did not pass off without a general celebration. Mirth, song, dancing, shooting, trading, running, jumping, singing, racing, target-shooting, yarns, frolic, with all sort of extravagances that white men or Indians could invent were freely indulged in. The unpacking of the medicine water contributed not a little to the heightening of our festivities."
Most of the sixteen Rendezvous held during the 1800s took place in what is now western Wyoming, not far from Idaho. One rendezvous actually was held in present day Idaho near what is now the town of Driggs. That 1832 rendezvous, at a location called Pierre's Hole, was one of the largest ever held in the Rocky Mountains. It's estimated there were four hundred mountain men, hundreds of Native Americans and thousands of horses. Among the tribes present were the Nez Perce, the Flatheads and the Shoshone. In fact, all the rendezvous were held in the territory of the Shoshone, a tribe also called the Snake Indians by trappers.
Today, there are many groups in Idaho that recapture those exciting days of the mountain men. Each year they hold a number of modern day rendezvous. At these current gatherings people still get together to trade and socialize. Many are dressed in the outfits of the past, and there are also numerous competitions to test participant's skills with muzzleloaders, knives, and tomahawks.
In eastern Idaho, near McCammon, and not far from a number of the original rendezvous sites, the Portneuf Muzzleloaders stage an annual gathering. It's an event that has been taking place in various locations for more than thirty years.
According to Gordon Perry, president of the club, "Part of the fun of a club like this, besides shooting old firearms, is everything that goes with it. The buckskins, the trapping goods, the whole genre that takes place. It's a family activity. The kids get involved. We have the candy cannon where we shoot candy in the air and they race for it. The camaraderie of a group like this is special because, after a while, a lot of these people you see once a year become like family. It's like a family reunion."
Another group that has a long running rendezvous is the Idaho Free Trappers. They've held an event near Cascade in central Idaho for more than twenty years.
Other Idaho groups with long running rendezvous and other events include the Hog Heaven Muzzleloaders of Troy, the Lolo Trail Muzzleloaders, the Hells Canyon Muzzleloaders, and the High Country Muzzleloaders of Grangeville.