When snow-packed mountains forced Lewis and Clark to backtrack to Weippe in the late spring of 1806, little did they know they’d inspired a future fun run.The Retreat to Weippe Fun Run/Walk is a tradition of Weippe’s Camas Festival. Participants follow a 3-mile or 10K route along fields of blue camas, now in full bloom, a sight Clark wrote resembled “a lake of fine clear water.”
The festival, taking place Friday and Saturday in the hamlet 25 miles southeast of Orofino, started 13 years ago during the bicentennial of the Lewis-Clark Expedition.
“People were hungry to come and put their feet in the place where Lewis and Clark might have walked,” says organizer Marge Kuchynka of Weippe.
It stuck and each year the festival explores a different theme. This year it’s the Rendezvous celebrating the gatherings of mountain men, traders and American Indians in the mid-1800s. The theme comes to life at noon Saturday when the Clearwater Horse Party arrives at the park adjacent to Weippe Community Hall. The horse party is a local chapter of the American Mountain Men, a fraternal organization dedicated to preserving the traditions and ways of the mountain men, including the ability to survive alone in the wilderness under any circumstances.
“They truly are rendezvouers and many of them travel around the Northwest to real rendezvous,” Kuchynka says.
One of the party’s members, Ronzo Repphun, lives about 15 miles outside Weippe with his wife, Jean Heinbuch, in a home that is snowed in about four months of the year. Heinbuch makes a living as an artist making and selling porcupine quill embroidery, historic leather clothing and primitive horse tack. Tanning hides, trapping and travel by horse are part of their everyday existence, but they also use the Internet and other modern conveniences.
“We’re very eclectic about how we live our life,” Repphun says.
Sharing their lifestyle isn’t something they do for the public every day, he says, but they do feel they have a civic and cultural responsibility to do it, “especially when the theme is rendezvous.”
The festival will highlight games of the rendezvous like contests of skill in throwing a hatchet, knife or atlatl — a device made of wood or antler that American Indians used to propel a dart farther than a hand-thrown spear. There will be jewelry and craft-making demonstrations and the Lolo Trail Muzzleloaders and the Hog Heaven Muzzleloaders will demonstrate the weaponry of the era.
Speakers and storytellers sponsored by the Idaho Humanities Council include Janet Ward, of Boise, speaking about the often overlooked Indian wives of the fur traders. Ward has found that contrary to popular belief most trapper-Indian marriages were stable and lasted beyond the fur trapper era despite societal prejudice. Orofino historian Lin Cannell will speak about William Craig, one of the area’s first white settlers. Craig’s early life is steeped in mystery and his later life entwined with the events that shaped the state. William Rossiter of Kalispell, Mont., will sing and tell tall tales from the fur trade era.
Other highlights include the Weippe Hilltop Theatre Group’s annual melodrama at 7 p.m. Friday and 4:30 p.m. Saturday. This year’s title is “Veggie Villain” or “He Had a Steak in It.” Signs inform the audience when to boo and hiss.
“They’re kind of corny and they’re hilarious,” Kuchynka says.
More information about the festival is available by calling Kuchynka at (208) 435-4362. Information on lodging in the area is available online at www.pierce-weippechamber.com.
if you go
WHAT: 13th annual Camas Festival
WHERE: Weippe Community Hall and adjacent mini park
Friday — 3 p.m. Dutch Oven Cook-Off; 5 p.m. Dutch Oven Dinner; 7 p.m. Melodrama by Hilltop Theatre Group
Saturday — 8:30 a.m. Retreat to Weippe Fun Run/Walk (sign up starts at 7 a.m., $20 with shirt, $14 without); 7-10:30 a.m. Breakfast; 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Silent auction; 11 a.m. All day Horseshoe Tournament sign up; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Craft and food vendors, games, demonstrations; 2-4 p.m. Music in the park.
Saturday programs (Community Hall) —11 a.m. “The Intermediary, W. Craig Among the Nez Perces,” Lin Cannell; 12:30 p.m. “Scandals, Sensations and Slanders in Song,” William Rossiter; 2 p.m. “Indian Wives of the Fur Traders,” Janet Ward; 4:30 p.m. Melodrama by Hilltop Theatre Group