Wisconsin is rich in Great Lakes history, where Europeans explored, traded, settled and changed what had been a forest civilization for hundreds of years for Native Americans. Following the traditional highways of the 17th and 18th century, the multiple rivers of the region, these people created a network of communities tied together by commerce and agriculture.
Prairie du Chien was founded where the Wisconsin river meets the upper Mississippi, linking the great river highway south to the Gulf with the northern passages through the Great Lakes back to Europe. French trappers and traders followed Native American tribes to the flat plain where the rivers joined to built settlements as launching off points to the western fur areas and a point of trading for goods from back east.
Periodically these adventurers attended gatherings called rendezvous, from the French for “present yourself!” as a means of converting their furs into staples and trinkets, as well as to party, relax, trade stories and catch up with civilization.
This weekend was the 41st annual rendezvous at Prairie du Chien, one of the largest re-enactments of this type in the Midwest. Well over a hundred tents were set up near the Mississippi River, some to trade goods, some simply to enjoy the camaraderie of the gathering. Chatting with some participants revealed they have been doing this for years, gradually gathering the goods and equipment needed to accurately reflect the era.
I wanted to capture a sense of this gathering but wanted to portray the quieter aspect of it, not the raucous activities. There was a full moon that night so what better way than to make night images, letting the moonlight wash over the campground and tents, with the occasional campfire or torch giving light to where people were gathered.