The 26th Annual Fort Koshkonong Rendezvous will take place Friday through Sunday, May 24-26, at Fort Atkinson’s Rock River Park.
About 100 re-enactors will come from as far away as Florida and Mississippi to demonstrate their skills and sell their goods, wear period clothing, camp in canvas tents, and take part in competitions.
The rendezvous is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 25, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 26. Admission is $5 per adult and $3 per child age 5-12.
Friday is School Day and includes a petting zoo and hands-on pioneer activities. School day is open to public, private and homeschooled students for $2 a person.
Formerly known as the “Buckskinners Rendezvous,” the event started as a Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce Project LEAD endeavor. It now is hosted by the Hoard Historical Museum and the Fort Atkinson Historical Society and co-sponsored by Festival Foods and Jones Dairy Farm.
To get to the rendezvous, enter Rock River Park from Lillian Street. Admission tents are near the aquatic center at 1300 Lillian St. Parking is free.
This year’s theme is “Boats of the Fur Trade,” and the event will feature replicas of the types of canoes that were used in the fur trade.
“For voyageurs coming down from Canada through the Great Lakes, the waterways were the highways of that day, and the boats were their vehicles,” said Merrilee Lee, director of the Hoard Historical Museum.
Re-enactors will be available to explain how the canoes were used and to answer questions.
Lee said that fur trade canoes were made of birch bark. They differed in length according to their purpose.
The “Montreal canoe” was used to carry trade goods and supplies from trading centers to the frontier. These canoes were 30 to 40 feet long and carried eight to 16 fur traders. In comparison, the “du Nord” canoe was used on the frontier to travel between outposts. It was 18 to 22 feet long and carried two to six men.
“This festival has been going this long because this is the best three-day living history event in Wisconsin and the word is out there,” said Joel Winn, event organizer.
Winn said some of the participants have come every year for 26 years to be part of a gathering that re-creates early frontier life from late 1700s to early statehood.
“The first year of the rendezvous, I went to visit,” recalled Winn, who was not a re-enactor at that time.
“I went home, changed into period clothing, got my Indian artifacts and weapons and displayed them,” Winn added. “I decided it was something I wanted to be a part of going forward.”
Winn has served as the booshway of the rendezvous for about 19 years. The booshway is the person who enforces the rules and encourages respect at a rendezvous.
“The booshway is the judge and jury,” Winn said.
Visitors can take part in hands-on activities, including building a miniature cabin, making pegs, carrying water and sawing wood.
Visitors can watch competitions for re-enactors that include black-powder target shooting with muskets, tomahawk and knife tosses, flint and steel fire starting, primitive archery, apple peeling and pie baking.
Rendezvous re-enactors enjoy interacting with visitors, Lee said.
“The re-enactors, dressed in period clothing, encourage people to step back in time,” Lee said. “They are very good at inviting children to use the tools and try the skills that were necessary in the past.”
From the smell of fire and food, to the sound of anvils and gunfire, to the sight of white tents against a dark stockade fort, visitors will find that the rendezvous is a feast for all five senses.
“This makes history come alive,” Lee said. “This is far more engaging than reading about the time period in a book. Here you can see, taste, smell and hear history.”
Lee said the event is both an outdoor classroom and affordable family entertainment.
Visitors can listen to musicians play period music, enjoy wagon rides, and purchase trade goods and period foods, including fry bread, root beer and kettle corn.
The rendezvous is held at a replica of Fort Coshconong, built in the 1960s to commemorate Fort Atkinson’s early history.
The original Fort Coshconong was built in 1832 in what would later became Fort Atkinson when General Henry Atkinson and his army were pursuing Black Hawk and his band. Black Hawk, a member of the Sauk tribe, crossed into Illinois from land set aside in Iowa for Sauk and Meskwaki (Fox) tribes, including Black Hawk’s community. For several months, Black Hawk and his band were pursued by Atkinson and his men. Among those men was a young Abraham Lincoln.
(For more information on the Black Hawk War, please visit the Lincoln Era Exhibit and Library at the Hoard Historical Museum, 401 Whitewater Ave.)
The fort was dismantled by early settlers and its exact location is unknown. Since 2014, archeologists have been trying to locate the exact site of the fort.
Coming to the rendezvous is a great way for a family to spend time outside on a spring day, Lee said.
“The park is beautiful, with woods and water and places to play,” she said. “It is a perfect site for a rendezvous.”
The event is held outdoors rain or shine. For more information, contact the Hoard Historical Museum at (920) 563-7769.