The forests where the Crow Wing and Mississippi rivers meet have been a gathering place for hundreds of years.
Ojibwe and Dakota, trappers and traders, settlers and searchers came to this place that is now Crow Wing State Park to trade, share news, stories and promise.
Each year, canoeists, kayakers and the Crow Wing Muzzleloaders gather at the park to enjoy the historic river and re-enact the days of rendezvous.
Participants left Kiwanis Park in Brainerd at 11 am and canoed ten miles down the wide Mississippi for about two hours to the state park campsite where the muzzleloaders where encamped in ten tents for the weekend.
In the camp were demonstrations of the life of the trappers and trappers that met at the site for two hundreds years before 1840.
“The French were smart, they let the Indians do the trapping and they came with things to trade, beads, pots, tools and guns, “ said Jim Whistler, President of the Crow Wing County Muzzleloaders Club.
Whistler, nicknamed Sunkist because of his hair color makes him look like an orange, became interested in this period of American history when he read the journals of the explorers Lewis & Clark at age 15. Since then he has studied the Books of the Buckskinning and follows Muzzelloader Magazine.
“You have to read up on your history, the people and how they did things,” said Whistler.
He used these resources to build his replica 1790 flint-lock Tennessee Bean Muzzle which he used in the muzzleloader shooting competition where he can shoot a one inch group of shots at 100 yards.
The trappers and traders were on hand to show people how to shoot a bow and arrow, throw a knife or hatchet and cook over an open fire.
The smell of cast iron pots cooking and firewood burning filled the encampment. The enactors make meat jerky and eat parched corn as well as venison, buffalo and bird.
A powderhorn hands with intricate maps of the Upper Mississippi carved into them hang from his tent.
“I traded those to another trader for an old tent I had. You quickly learn how to trade in this game,” said Whister.
Whister said he has learned to respect the self- sufficiency of the people who opened this territory.
“If the world goes to hell in a hand basket I know I can take care of myself from what I’ve learned from them. You check with every person here and you’ll see they all carry a fire starting kit of fire steel, kindling and a flint. If you can start a fire, you can survive,” said Whistler.
Crow Wing State Park is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the site of Crow Wing town site which was once the largest town in Minnesota with as many as 600 people half of whom where Ojibwe. It became a trading center in 1760 a century it was the northernmost European-American settlement on the Mississippi and an important stop along the Red River Trail oxcart system.
The home of pioneer fur trader Clement Beaulieu overlooking the confluence has been preserved.
The establishment of the railroad in Brainerd in 1868 started the end of Crow Wing. Today it is one of the largest state parks in Minnesota with 3,400 acres of land with camping, skiing, hiking and snowmobile trails.
The event was co-sponsored by Crow Wing State Park, the Mississippi Watershed District and the Minnesota.
Editor’s Note: In 1993, Crow Wing Island and an 80-acre peninsula at the confluence of the Crow Wing and Mississippi rivers in the heart of Crow Wing State Park were being subdivided and sold for residential development by a private landowner. Knowing the impending development would forever remove a significant historical, natural and cultural section of the park, Parks & Trails Council representatives moved swiftly to acquire the land so it could be forever preserved as part of the park. The Parks & Trails Council has also been instrumental in acquiring land to connect the park with the Paul Bunyan State Trail.