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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Ridgecrest students test out mountain man life at annual rendezvous

Sep 05, 2019 11:43AM ● By Julie Slama

Ridgecrest fourth-grade students challenged each other with arm wrestling, which symbolized the strength of the mountain men during the school’s annual rendezvous. (Ashley MacArthur/Ridgecrest Elementary)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Ridgecrest fourth-grader Shae Bowen had 158 beaver pellets she took to the trading post.

“I got some snacks and extra things,” Shae said.

Shae and other fourth-graders took part in the annual Ridgecrest mountain man rendezvous, going around from station to station, hearing tales about hunting and life of yesteryear, creating a bear claw necklace and eating chili and cornbread.

Shae’s classmate Alexis Bartholomew said there was even arm wrestling challenges.

“It represented the toughness of the mountain men,” she said. “These men did incredible things and were chased by animals and survived.”

Fourth-grade teacher Ashley MacArthur said the event, which many students look forward to the entire year, allows students to earn pellets by work completion and positive behavior over the month prior to the event.

“Most students have around 150 pellets which they may use to trade for beads to add to their bear claw necklace or for snacks or trinkets to share with siblings,” she said. “We are hoping students learn more about the mountain men and reinforce their curriculum and reading. It’s something we study throughout the year, but this event has become a fun tradition.”

Many of the activities are symbolic of the mountain men times, such as trading for goods and necessities, only back then, it may have been trading fur rather than paper beaver pellets. Many of the stories involve mountain men and bears, hence the bear necklace, and the sharing of tales. 

Earlier in the year, the students were treated to stories from Scott “Grizzly” Sorenson, who has dedicated much of his life to learning about mountain men and living in the wilderness in northern Canada. He has written two books and often comes, dressed in home-sewn buckskins, to tell fourth-graders about trapping, tanning, muzzle-loading and life of the legendary mountain men. 

“The students are drawn to knowing what life would have been like then, how he skins animals, how he makes whistles. He shared letters from other fourth-graders, which he compiled in a book while living in the remote wilderness,” MacArthur said.

In their text, students learn about Jim Bridger, Kit Carson and Jedediah Smith, but also the lives of Peter Ogden and Etienne Provost, who tie directly into Utah history, she said.

“We have students learn about their lives, their accomplishments and why it is important to Utah history,” she said. “It’s important that they learn fur trappers came to Utah in search of beavers to trade. It affects our culture and resources and environment. As a result of the hunting and trading, the beavers became nearly extinct. We also learn vocabulary, such as cache, and so they understand why Cache Valley got its name.”

MacArthur’s colleague Amy Dinkelman said this culmination event is both fun and educational.

“The mountain men blazed the trails for many Utah pioneers,” she said. “It’s why we’re here, why they came to live here. Our students are having fun learning, but they know these mountain men paved the way for us.”