Historic Success

by Jim Boyle


The Elk River Sportsman’s Club played home this past weekend to the fifth annual Wapiti Rendezvous, a living history encampment showcasing the world as it was for American settlers prior to 1840.

There was blacksmithing, gunsmithing, rope-making, wool spinning, hide preparation and woodcarving.

There also was frontier cooking, storytelling, soap-making and fire-starting.

As if that wasn’t enough, there was also beadwork, archery, tomahawk-throwing, leathercraft, trapping and music.

“It turned out excellent,” said Richard Hensel, the man in charge of the rendezvous for the fifth and final time.

The event, which is the last weekend of September every year, was his brainchild after attending the Mille Lacs History Festival in Isle several years ago. He talked with one of the organizers of that event and posed this question: “Why in the world should we not have a rendezvous at the Elk River Sportsman’s Club?”

Having been a member of the club since 2003, he knew the 304-acre site would be the perfect backdrop. 

The avid deer hunter from Big Lake, whose weapon of choice has been a muzzle loader, came to the club to pursue his passion. Muzzle loaders were used in the Civil War before they gave way to cartridge rifles.

“That was back when armies were the last ones to get newer (style) weapons,” said Hensel, whose passion for the sport and the outdoors only intensified after attending his first rendezvous.

He became the lead event organizer and along the way has been given the title of Booshway, a French term that indicates he is the supervisor of the rendezvous. It comes from the word “bourgeois.” It’s a company man who supervised and indentured trappers who were forced to work for a fur-trapping company. 

The Elk River event is one of many in the state, but most are several hours away from here. The closest one to Elk River is in Isle, Hensel said. 

Elk River’s takes up a 10-acre sliver of the Sportsman’s Club grounds. The sights and sounds take a person right back to the 1830s. The rendezvous shows what life was like back in the pioneer days — back before gas ranges, chain saws, Internet and manufacturing plants.

Children light up. Scouts dig into the fun. Many adults find passion for such history burns quite a bit in their belly. 

Yuri Moldenhauer of Princeton demonstrated how to start a fire from flint and steel, to the amazement of small children and adults who seemed fascinated by it all.

The first day of the three-day event offered students and community groups a chance to come and tour the encampment.

Area school groups came, including one from Kaleidoscope Charter School. 

“I love to get Elk River schools to participate,” Hensel said.

Campers enjoyed educating those who show up and working alongside others in the encampment. They particularly enjoy the chance to trade their wares with others.

The Elk River club, which was host to several hundred youth the week prior to the rendezvous with its annual youth day event, attracted 30 camps this year. It has attracted as many as 57. 

“We’ll get back there,” said Hensel, knowing he’ll be turning over the reins to someone else. “I certainly hope this continues for many years to come. We certainly want it to.” 

Hensel said about 30 to 35 club members have assisted him with the rendezvous, making the rather large undertaking possible. 

The Elk River Sportsman’s Club began in 1946 as the St. Louis Park Sportsman’s Club and moved to its current 304-acre site in 1962. It’s located one mile west of Sherburne County Road 1 along County Road 32 at 20309 Meadowvale Road in Elk River.