On most days, Rob Watson is a groundskeeper from Gilman, but about four or five times a year he transforms into “Doc,” a wise, bare-footed and talented artist who travels to what are known as fur trade rendezvouses.
“Terminology has changed so much that most people don’t know what a rendezvous is, so I say that I’m a re-enactor of the 1800s fur trade,” Watson said.
Watson is full of information on life in the 1800s as well as other times in history, too. Besides teaching others about history, at each rendezvous he usually crafts a wooden bowl to eat and drink out of – it’s what he’s known for.
He explained that everyone at the rendezvous has a role to play, whether it’s wood carving, rope making, or crafting eating and drinking devices. He said used to do this 12-14 times year, but as he’s gotten older, he’s gotten wiser about that, too.
“I’ve got to hand pick a few events each year, because driving three or more hours to an event, I have to make up for that in sales,” Watson said.
Watson not only makes bowls, but he also makes several things out of animal horns such as spice containers, knives, jewelry, canes and much more, which he sells and trades at the rendezvous.
This past weekend, Watson was only about 25 miles from home at the Hairy Mosquito, north of Milaca, for the annual Knap-in. A few years back after he met owner Dave Ziemke, Ziemke asked if he would like to join the Knap-in with a rendezvous.
“Since he did not have the contacts that I have, he said ‘you talk to the guys that will work well with the guys that are doing the knapping,’” Watson said.
A new tradition was born.
Last year Watson even managed to round up fellow re-enactors to demonstrate their work to the public.
Watson, sporting a big beard, comes in costume with animal skins and several handmade necklaces and he even carries a Scottish claymore, a sword.
However, don’t let that fool you.
“These are the nicest people you’ll ever meet,” Ziemke said. “They are definitely a different breed.”
Watson is not sure what draws the people to events that he attends, like last weekend’s Knap-in.
“I don’t know if people think they are carnival. I don’t know if people actually want to learn about history or they’re just curious,” Watson said.
Maybe it’s the nice people, the music, the history, a good time or maybe it’s because a groundskeeper can transform into a bare-footed, wizened and talented re-enactor for a weekend.