Visitors to Spring Mountain Ranch State Park this weekend might think they've stepped straight through the "Twilight Zone" and into the past.
The Spring Mountain Free Trappers have scheduled their annual Mountain Man Rendezvous from Friday through Sunday, and visitors should expect the air to be filled with the crack of black powder firearms, the steady thunk of tomahawks hitting targets and the smell of gun smoke and Dutch oven cooking.
"Trappers explored the frontier when the fur trade collapsed," said the group's current council leader, or "Booshway," Dan Trousdale. "They came back and told people what was out here. They were the first tour guides of America. They brought the settlers out."
The Spring Mountain Free Trappers formed in 1976 when three men with an interest in history and shooting got together and decided to share their enthusiasm for the trapper era.
"The three of us were sitting around, and we decided we wanted to do something with shooting," said founding member Frank Brown. "Thirty-five years later, and we're still going strong."
Brown serves as Segundo, a member of the administrating council, and goes by the free trapper name Atasi.
The group incorporated in 1978, had its first rendezvous that year and has held one annually since. The members take historical accuracy very seriously at the rendezvous.
"Camps are set up, so it's just like walking back in time," Brown said. "No modern convenience can be showing. All of the traders who come in are only allowed to trade and sell items of the period; everything has to be pre-1840 styles."
The rendezvous is three days of camping and competing in period sports, including flintlock rifle marksmanship, a survival trek, and tests of skill and accuracy with tomahawk, knife, bow and more. Vendors sell goods and food. Visitors of all ages are welcome, even if they aren't dressed head to toe in buckskin.
"The nice part of our group is that we don't charge nothin' to come to our event," Trousdale said. "You just have to pay the park fee, which is seven bucks. The way we see it is that it's more important for people to see history than to make money off it."
Many of the free trappers have become experts with the weapons of the period, and the competition is friendly but intense.
"It's known to everybody that I'm the best lance (Native American spear) thrower in the United States," Trousdale said. "OK, you also have to remember that mountain men were known to lie a lot."
Trousdale, who goes by the Free Trapper name Buffalo Rump, boasted he could "split a hair on a gnat's (rear) with a 'hawk or knife," if he had to, but when asked if that were always necessary, he clarified the statement.
"I haven't found a gnat that wants to stand in front of me," he confessed.
The Spring Mountain Trappers 2011 Mountain Man Rendezvous is set for Friday through Sunday at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, on state Route 159 about 10 miles west of the Las Vegas Beltway.
For more information, visit smft.org
Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 380-4532.