Lisa Brainard: Check out Fort Union Trading Post during June rendezvous


PHOTO COURTESY OF FORT UNION TRADING POST The Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site is located on the North Dakota-Montana state line, near Williston, N.D.

PHOTO COURTESY OF FORT UNION TRADING POST Many re-enactors bring history to life at the Fort Union Trading Post each year during the third weekend in June, demonstrating traditional skills and life ways. This year’s rendezvous will be held June 13-16.
By : 
Lisa Brainard
Journey vs. Destination

The Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site – located on the North Dakota-Montana state line in the Williston, N.D., vicinity – is a place I’d like to visit for sure. I got as close to this remote location as the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in 2017. But, alas, the weeks were adding up during the great total solar eclipse road trip that August. It was time to head home, not farther west. Sigh.

You have to know this location is totally up my alley: Native American and frontier history? Check. Fur trade history? Check. In the boonies? Definite check! It’s around 20 miles southwest of Williston, so it might be able to be tied into an Amtrak trip on the Empire Builder, as well as a car rental – maybe? And if I went on this trip, it would have to tie into taking the Empire Builder to Glacier National Park, where it also stops. That’s vacationing made easy! I definitely have Glacier on my list.

But back to Fort Union Trading Post, found online at www.nps.gov/fous.

The introduction states, “Between 1828 and 1867, Fort Union was the most important fur trade post on the Upper Missouri River. Here, the Assiniboine and six other Northern Plains Indian Tribes exchanged buffalo robes and smaller furs for goods from around the world, including cloth, guns, blankets and beads. A bastion of peaceful coexistence, the post annually traded over 25,000 buffalo robes and $100,000 in merchandise.”

It seems looking into Fort Union right now has proven to be very timely. A rendezvous is coming up – and they are always fun! Website information at www.nps.gov/fous/planyourvisit/rendezvous-information-for-participants.htm includes the following:

A 19th century rendezvous from Thursday through Sunday, June 13-16, will include a variety of period arts, crafts and music. Participate in the upper Missouri's finest fur trade fair at one of the west's most imposing historic sites.

This annual gathering is the site’s largest event, a time when Fort Union comes alive and best reflects the busy trade season. Over 100 re-enactors from across the country and Canada gather every third weekend in June demonstrating traditional skills and lifeways.

Visitor info

Each day of the rendezvous will feature a variety of speakers and demonstrators. Also, an array of trade goods will be presented in Fort Union’s Trade House. Food concessionaires are also on hand.

Thursday, June 13, is Kids Day. Running from 10 a.m. through 2 p.m., kids can explore the site through free arts, crafts and game stations.

The 2019 rendezvous headliner is author, performer, youth advocate and motivator Hasan Davis. His goal is to bring to light the stories of the people of color who have been present at all points of our great history. He will present “The Journey of York, the Unsung Hero of the Lewis and Clark Expedition” at 2 p.m. Central Time on Saturday and Sunday.

The rendezvous will help illustrate the interactions between American Indians from the Upper Missouri Tribes (Assiniboine, Crow, Blackfeet, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Lakota and Dakota Sioux); the tribes and Euro-Americans (American Fur Company employees, trappers, independent traders, hunters, rivermen, missionaries, slaves, visiting artists and scientists and military personnel); and among Euro-Americans who lived in, worked or traded at, or visited Fort Union in the early to mid-19th century.

This event is cosponsored by the National Park Service and the Friends of Fort Union Trading Post of Williston.

In addition to the rendezvous, here are other special events this year: Indian Arts Showcase and Northern Plains Oyate Pow Wow, Aug. 3-4, and Living History Weekend, Aug. 31 – Sept. 2. The “Saturday Kids’ Hands-on-History” programs will begin June 22 and run through Aug. 17.  

Lisa Brainard still enjoys lifelong pursuits of the outdoors, history and travel as able following a serious accident and stroke in September 2012. She’s written this Journey vs. Destination column weekly for over 15 years.