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A trip back in time Pioneer Days and Black Powder Rendezvous

Submitted photo Pioneer Days began 42 years ago. The event serves as a fun presentation of history, allowing people today to see and understand what it was like to live as a pioneer.1 / 2
Submitted photo The Pioneer Grounds include many historic log cabins, such as the Westby House.2 / 2

This weekend, there will be an opportunity to return to the ‘good ole days’ and discover what it was like to live in them.

At Pioneer Grounds in Perham, the focus is always on pioneer living. A great time to visit the grounds is during Pioneer Days. This weekend will mark the 42nd year the East Otter Tail Historical Society has hosted Pioneer Days.

The Pioneer Grounds include many historic log cabins, such as the Westby House, which was moved to the grounds in 1988. Like other historic buildings on the grounds, this one has been held in trust so that future generations can gain a deeper appreciation of the lives of the early settlers.  

The East Otter Tail County Historical Society was incorporated in 1966. Some early members were M.J. Daly, Raymond and Carol Fistler, Mary Rice, Vince Drahmann and Sherman Mandt. In 1998, the society authorized the formation of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County, a separate entity which owns and operates two museums in Perham while the Historical Society continues to work at preserving the buildings at the Pioneer Grounds.

Another important contributor to the Pioneer Grounds was Verona Larson. She was active on the Perham Centennial Committee, which commemorated the coming of the railroad 100 years earlier in 1871. The 1971 celebration marked the beginning of the Perham Pioneer Homestead and the development of the Perham Pioneer Festival, which has traditionally been held the third weekend in August.

This year, activities at the Pioneer Grounds will be held on Saturday, Aug. 17 and will include sawmill demonstrations and an antique tractor display. A parade featuring the antique tractors and classic cars is scheduled for 1 p.m.  Following the parade, there will be a tractor pull. Breakfast will be served Saturday morning from 8 a.m. until noon. 

Free-will offerings will be accepted.

During the day, vendors will be set up to sell handmade and flea-market items. In the evening, there will be a dance in the historic Grand View Heights Ballroom with music provided by the Lakes Country Band, a group that has performed at Pioneer Days for many years. In addition to popular dance tunes, the group plays some old-fashioned line dances.

This year also marks the 33rd annual Black Powder Mountaineers Rendezvous. Held at the Black Powder encampment adjoining the Pioneer Grounds, a visit to the rendezvous will take visitors even further back in time.

Events at the encampment are a pre-1840s era re-enactment and they run from Saturday, Aug. 17 through Sunday, Aug. 18.

Visitors can watch demonstrations on black powder and muzzle loading, flintlock weapons and more, getting a glimpse at what it was like to hunt in the 1800s (eye and ear protection is strongly recommended).

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, events will include Hawk and Knife, Primitive Shoot, primitive Bow and much more. Sunday will begin with a ‘cowboy church’ service at 10 a.m. Shooting events will continue until noon, after which there will be an awards ceremony. Day shooters are welcome. The cost is $10 a day and period dress and firearms are required.  

The Lake Country Mountaineers club began in 1980. The clubs first five members were Dale Wright, Jerry Greenwood, Bill Rose, Alfred Dewey and Jerry Lucking.  The  current clubhouse, which is also a log building, was moved into place in 1983. Today’s members continue the traditional rendezvous, a re-enactment of those once hosted by the fur companies.

Jody Marquardt, a long-time member of the Black Powder Mountaineers, said that present day rendezvous are intended to keep history alive by depicting life in the wilderness of what would someday become America: 

“Before the 1840s, the fur companies would hold a, annual rendezvous and the ‘mountain men’ would gather to trade their furs for supplies, money, clothing or goods. During the rendezvous, many would compete with each other for fun by having shooting competitions or playing games.  One game was called Hawk and Knife. The men would take a stump or log and practice throwing a tomahawk or knife into it. Canvas tents were used by the men for temporary shelters. They would pitch them together to form encampments or a small town. People would trade spices, tobacco, beads and other items.

“This year’s events include primitive bow competitions, which are very popular, kids games, womens games, shooting competitions and cooking contests. Pie baking in dutch ovens over campfires is popular. Flint knapping teaches how they used to start fires without matches.  Our intention is to present history in a fun way so people can see how things used to be.“

Lina Belar, For the Focus