JACKSON -- Perched at the top of the hill overlooking the Des Moines River valley below, one can almost imagine what a great location the Fort Belmont site would have made in the early- to mid-1800s, when fur traders and trappers came together to barter at the end of their season.
"There was always people bragging about how good a shot they were, and it ended up becoming a competition," explained Ken Kruse, a Jackson historian and vice president of the Fort Belmont Foundation.
Fourteen years ago, the Fort Belmont Foundation established the Fort Belmont Rendezvous as a way to share the history of the fur traders and trappers and their ways of life. This year's rendezvous takes place Saturday and Sunday on the Fort Belmont grounds, drawing 1840s-era reenactors from across the region and as far away as Utah in some years.
Kruse said some of the rendezvous participants travel across the country, from one event to another. As such, he never really knows who is coming or what will be demonstrated.
"We're hoping for blacksmithing, spinning, butter churning, weaving, depending on our campers that come in," he said. "We've had some really neat demonstrations in the past. You never know who's going to show up until you see them. That's part of the excitement."
The Fort Belmont Rendezvous gets under way at 10 a.m. Saturday, with a black powder rifle shoot at the nearby Des Moines Valley Gun Range. People are asked to drive to Fort Belmont, on the west edge of Jackson, and Jerry and Gwen Fleace will provide horse and buggy rides to the gun range to watch the black powder shoot.
The Fleaces will offer horse and buggy rides throughout the day Saturday and may be on hand for Sunday's rendezvous as well, Kruse said. The rendezvous is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.
In addition to the black powder shoot on Saturday, attendees can view -- or perhaps even take part in -- the tomahawk throw at 3 p.m. There will also be a painting class offered by Creative Spirit of Okoboji, Iowa, from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday. People will be invited to paint a picture of kites flying. All of the materials will be provided, and there is a fee for the activity.
Demonstrations will be ongoing throughout Saturday and Sunday, and there will also be games for kids.
"I have a bunch of stilts made up so they can try walking on stilts," Kruse said, adding that there is also a hoop chase, tug-of-war and three-legged race for children.
No admission is charged for the Fort Belmont Rendezvous, and the entire Fort Belmont site will be open to visitors. The fort includes a replica 1860s log cabin and stockade, blacksmith shop, prairie sod house, 40-foot look-out tower, replica working grist mill, the 1873 Lysgard farmhouse and summer kitchen, the 1902 Delafield Church, a museum and a trading post.
The rendezvous is set up just north of the museum.
"(Visitors) can talk with the campers," Kruse said. "Some are pretty crafty people -- they sell stuff that they make. They also have some trade goods that they sell, pretty much like what the old rendezvous were -- furs, tomahawks, beadwork and candles."
Food and refreshments will be served on the grounds both days. There will also be a raffle drawing, slated for 2 p.m. Sunday.
Fort Belmont is located just south of Interstate 90. It can be reached by turning right at Kemna-Asa and following the street toward Belmont Lane.