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Couple earn their living rendezvousing in the past

Tue., May 27, 2008

WEIPPE, Idaho – A north-central Idaho couple often ride horses hundreds of miles through the region’s high peaks to attend mountain-man gatherings that harken back to America’s more primitive past.

Ronzo Repphun and his wife, Jean Heinbuch, eat pemmican – dried wild game mixed with fat and dried fruit – wear homemade garb of deer, elk and buffalo hide, and use porcupine quills to embroider finished clothing with decorative embellishments.

“Our motto is, ‘If it tastes good or it feels good, leave it at home,’ ” Repphun told the Lewiston Tribune over the weekend at Weippe’s annual Camas Festival, a rendezvous of trapper- and pioneer-era re-enactors.

“This is pretty much what we do for a living,” Heinbuch said.

This summer, the couple plan to leave their modern-day homestead near Weippe and log about 500 trail miles to sell their hides.

They tan 50 to 60 deer a year, eight to 10 elk and a handful of buffalo robes.

Repphun worked to remove hair from a buckskin at the weekend gathering named for the blue-flowered camas bulb that explorers Lewis and Clark encountered here on their early 1800s trek and which some members of the Nez Perce Indian tribe still harvest.

After removing the hair, the hide will be stretched and dried, rolled up, aged about six months, and then soaked in a solution of pig brains and water for three to four days. That tans the hide and turns it into soft, breathable leather, after which it will be smoked.

Finally, it will be ready to be cut and sewn into the clothing common among beaver trappers who once lived in the forest and prairie region between the Clearwater, Lochsa and Selway rivers.

The couple’s buckskins have won high praise from other rendezvous participants for their softness, comfort and breathability.


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