First Anchorage Rendezvous brought loads of fur and fun

The blanket toss was a popular event at winter festivals in early Anchorage. It represents how Natives were tossed high in the air to see if seals were in the distance in remote Alaska.
The blanket toss was a popular event at winter festivals in early Anchorage. It represents how Natives were tossed high in the air to see if seals were in the distance in remote Alaska.

The streets of Anchorage came alive this past week with the 42nd Iditarod Trail race festivities and the 79th Fur Rendezvous. The Fur Rondy is a 10-day celebration, which includes winter sports, cultural activities and lots of fur auctions that delight all ages.

Seventy-nine years ago a few fellows got together and decided it would be great to put together a winter tournament for all of Anchorage’s residents. Vern Johnson, Clyde Conover, Thomas Bevers and Dale Bowen wanted to organize several teams to compete in hockey and basketball.

With the city’s population less than 4,000 at the time, the idea took hold and turned into a carnival to show community support and celebrate the beginning of the end of winter. Revelers bought tickets for $2 apiece, which got them in to all of the activities around town.

And it didn’t take long for fur trading to become part of the winter festival, held at the end of February. The second-leading industry in the territory, a fur-trading venue provided trappers and buyers a golden opportunity to meet and ply their trade without using middlemen.

Organizers of the event came up trapping contests that included categories for the longest fox, the best fox and the finest ermine pelts.

In 1937, the carnival was dubbed the Fur Rendezvous festival, and in 1939, the first Fur Rendezvous pin was designed. Every year since, a different design has been selected and reproduced on pins, spoons, tie tacks and other collectables.

In just a few years, the idea for a competitive sporting event turned into a major revenue-maker and stress-reliever for Anchorage residents, as well as for those who traveled into town from other parts of the territory and “Outside.”

Bevers, a local businessman and Anchorage Fire Department chief, auctioned several lots of furs at the 1939 Fur Rendezvous. Josie Lester later recounted what she had witnessed at the fur auction.

“…Lot 87C: Eleven otter—$40—what? Eleven otter for $40? Maybe you didn’t understand me,” hollered Bevers. “You did? 40, 110, 125 … 174, 5, 182, 182 bid. Eleven otter for $182. Otter be worth more’n that! Going for $190. Once, twice, sold!

“I surely enjoyed seeing those fellows scrap among themselves for the furs. They meant business, too, and to watch them you’d think that they’d gladly cut each other’s throats if not restrained by the ethics of the game. I never have seen such a bunch of men get so deep down in a batch of notes as they did – hat and all….”

Lester observed that the reason for the Rendezvous may have been sports and furs, but most Anchorage residents turned out just to have a good time.

And that hasn’t changed in 79 years!

22 comments on “First Anchorage Rendezvous brought loads of fur and fun

    • Fur pelts have always played a big role in Alaska’s history, Daniele. The Native people used every part of any animal they killed; the Russians coveted the sea otter pelts (one pelt brought in a while year’s wages); and many adventurers who came north later also lived off trapping.

  1. Thanks for sharing, I myself am not into fur but this is a great article about how others live and how things are done in other cultures. I love learning new things.

  2. Fascinating! Thank you – I didn’t know anything about this and it sounds great – I love learning about the history of a place and Anchorage seems to have such a rich and varied one!

    • Yes, Anchorage does have a cool history. Although it will be celebrating only its 100th birthday next year, which is a short time span compared to most places in the “Lower 48!”

    • It’s a lot of fun for the participants, Richard – there are some great games, too, like snowshoe racing and many others.

    • Yes, Traci, it may be controversial in many other areas of the country. Alaskans have a long history with fur trapping/trading. The Native people have been using all parts of all animals killed for thousands of years.

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