Traders share their love of long ago

Trade show keeps history of fur trade era alive

Staff photos by Gage Cureton An attendee of the New Ulm Trade Show tries on a coat Saturday. Vendors and attendees alike were dressed in fur trade era clothing.

NEW ULM — Some may have thought they travelled back in history as they walked into Turner Hall Saturday for the 38th Annual New Ulm Trade Fair and Living History Event.

Vendors from all over the Midwest came dressed in fur trade era clothing bringing with them a with a variety of expertise in wood carving, leathersmithing and even iron and tin smithing.

The building’s auditorium and basement were lined with over 100 tables displaying hand-crafted products such as tomahawks, beaver pelt hats, sheepskin slippers and blackpowder rifles.

However, for some people the trade fair is more than just an opportunity to buy or sell fur trade era goods.

Dick Bennett, owner of Rembrandt Leather in Rembrandt, Iowa, said he’s came to the trade fair in New Ulm every year since it’s inception. He said it’s also a great way to socialize with other vendors and perhaps learn about their craftmanship.

Staff photos by Gage Cureton A vendor at the New Ulm Trade Fair speaks to customers at Turner Hall Saturday.

“We kind of take over the building for the weekend,” he said. “We camp out here, we eat here, we have a good time here and we all look forward to it every year.”

Bennett, an avid leathersmith and tomahawk craftsman, said he’s been to over 1,600 trade shows and New Ulm is one of the best he’s attended.

“The richness of the building we’re in historically, and what we do historically, is a pretty good blend,” he said.

Bennett likened the trade show to the old fur trade era gatherings where trappers traded furs for common goods. He said vendors were following the “old days” and even trading some of their crafted goods with each other.

“In the old days we would’ve been gathering to trade beaver pelts for the things we needed for the year,” he said. “I traded a leather bag from a young gentleman from Sioux Falls that just started making bags and he’s a vendor here for the first time.”

Staff photos by Gage Cureton Charles Knutson of Minneapolis plays the flute at his table at the New Ulm Trade Fair Saturday. Knutson’s table sells portable games that can be washed and stowed easily.

Clark Lortscher, 18, of Sioux Falls, said he traded a hand-stitched leather bag for a wool hat with Bennett. This is third year he’s attended the New Ulm trade show.

“You can really fall into history,” Lortscher said. “There’s always a lot of nice people you can meet and you can also get a lot of experience and learn a lot of new things about different products.”

Chris Hagemann, a tinsmith from Blair Nebraska, said he’s attended similar shows for 45 years all over the country.

“Because of the people who come here to visit this show,” he said. “It provided me an opportunity to show my workmanship and wares.”

Hagemann said he’s worked with tin for 25 years and he tries to visit the trade fair in New Ulm every year.

“It’s a very good show,” he said. “Probably one of best small shows that I go to. The public is great, the participants are excellent and the product they bring here is very good.”

Many of the vendors — Bennett included — enjoy taking part in what’s called “rendezvous” or “re-enactments” — recreations of historical events or gatherings that may last days.

At the rendezvous, participants ditch all modern day technology, live in tents, cook their own food and even boil their drinking water.

Some even stay in character, going by nicknames, and the New Ulm trade show offered that chance for vendors and living history enthusiasts to fall into character once more.

Nicknames such as “Black Quill” or “Fawn Killer” can be heard as vendors converse with customers or each other.

The 38th Annual New Ulm Trade Fair and Living History Event continues on Sunday at Turner Hall from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.