Four people credit ‘Old World’ skills training with survival

by Angie Riebe
Ely, Minnesota (AP) 9-07

Attending the End of the Road Rendezvous could literally save your life.

It did on two separate occasions for two southern Minnesota couples.

The four individuals credit the “Old World” skills from the fur trade era, such as primitive fire-lighting, that they learned at the annual rendezvous re-enactment for helping them to survive in the woods.

Two years ago, one couple attending the October event near Ely decided to return for a camping trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness just after Halloween.

While on Knife Lake, “they swamped their canoe,” said Todd DeNio, president of the End of the Road Rendezvous group. “All their gear was lost or saturated.”

Temperatures were around 30 degrees. But the couple knew what to do.

“They knew how to light a fire without matches or a lighter” and how to construct a shelter, DeNio said.

The couple returned to last year’s event “to let us know the skills they learned saved their life.” The pair said that “if hadn’t been for what we taught them, how to handle different situations, they would have perished.”

The other couple, from a different southern Minnesota city, was on Crooked Lake after ice-out. “They were careless and got caught in the rain,” DeNio said. “It was very cold. They were able to get a fire going and warm up food.”

Luckily, they did have a tent. But thanks to the rendezvous event they had attended in the fall, “they learned how to keep the shelter warm even without having an actual heater in it, and how to speed up drying their clothes.”

They also returned last year to recount their story.

“It’s hard to explain the feeling to know lives were saved,” DeNio said.

Skills – which are taught in a fun, hands-on fashion at the three-day family event – “definitely have viability today,” he said. “The old world traditions can go hand-in-hand with the high-tech (modern) world.”

This year’s End of the Road Rendezvous, free to the public, will be held Oct. 5-7 at the South Kawishiwi River Campground on Highway 1, about 10 miles east of Ely. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 5 and 6 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 7.

“It’s really a lot of fun,” DeNio said. “It gives people a chance to stop and go back in time to learn the way of life and skills at the time of the fur trade era” of 1700 to 1840. “Young and old alike are sure to enjoy themselves.”

The fifth annual event will include entertainment, about 20 Voyageur encampments and demonstrations such as hide tanning, leatherworking, primitive cooking and blacksmithing, as well as a glimpse into what fur traders did for fun, including games and fiddle playing.

Spectators will learn how to light a fire without use of matches or a lighter, and how a moose hide is tanned into leather.

“We encourage spectator participation,” DeNio said. “Learning hands-on is a lot more fun.”

There will also be competitions for prizes, including a tomahawk throw and fire lighting. One year, DeNio said, an 11-year-old boy who had never thrown a tomahawk before won that competition. Those taking part in the black powder shoot will be shuttled to a nearby shooting range.

One of the games is reserved just for the ladies – a frying pan toss, which involves hurling a cast iron frying pan at a scarecrow named Pierre Le Dumme.

The rendezvous will have more encampments this year and many actors portraying fur traders, some who can be found in history books.

DeNio will play his
great-great-great-great-great-geat-geat-grandfather, Jacques
DeNoyon, who is credited as the first European to explore such
places as Crane Lake, Lac La Croix and Rainy river in 1688.

Etienne Raoul will also be there. “He was of mixed nationalities, including French, English, as well as Native American, which shows that different peoples did put aside their cultural differences and work and live with each other peacefully,” DeNio said.

The non-profit End of the Road Rendezvous group has five members in Ely and others from as far as New Mexico. “We get our funding strictly from donations and a few business sponsorships,” DeNio said.

“The group started to keep history alive. What better way to keep it alive than to offer an event where people can take a step back in time and look at what life was like, even for just a moment.”

The group aims to show both differences and similarities of life 200 or more years ago to today. In some ways, he said, “it’s not as different as our current lives are.”

Rendezvous members also put on demonstrations at local schools and at Ely’s Harvest Moon and Blueberry Art festivals.

DeNio said he expects about 1,500 people to attend the rendezvous, depending upon weather and gas prices. Spectators typically come from throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin. Demonstration and encampment participants are from the same areas.

A group from Detroit Lakes, who travel the rendezvous circuit across the state and throughout the Midwest “said our group should not change a thing. They said it is the best event they’ve ever attended and the most realistic,” DeNio said. “A compliment from pros like that is really a compliment.”

People who have been at past rendezvous can anticipate new additions to this year’s event, he added. And “we’re looking forward to a good turnout and the opportunity to teach old ways to a new group of people.”

Information from: Mesabi Daily News,