Ken Lake would like to show visitors to the Fur Traders Rendezvous how to set a fire using a magnifying glass, but the sun has been hiding behind the clouds.
Instead Lake, who has been doing the primitive fire demonstration at the Fur Traders Rendezvous for the past five years, used another old method: striking sparks by rubbing flint and steel together, setting fire to char cloth and then transferring that flame to a ball of natural fibers. Once it is ignited, Lake drops the fiery ball to the bare dirt and then quickly stomps it out.
"I usually start between 20 and 35 fires a day," said Lake, who is one of the exhibitors at the Rendezvous at this year's North Dakota State Fair. "And I put out that many."
Ken Lake, Bismarck, demonstrates how to start a fire at the Fur Traders Rendezvous at the North Dakota State Fair on Tuesday.
Darrell Kersting, Kindred, shows off blacksmithing techniques to a couple of young observers.
This was the way that fire was started back in the American frontier, Lake tells the fascinated children who crowd around his tent. It can also be dangerous.
"I tell them, 'Don't try this out at home without a responsible adult nearby,'" said Lake. Lake said fire should never be started in an area where the flames might spread and fires should also not be started on a windy day.
Lake, who grew up in Williston and now lives in Bismarck, said he has been involved in different historical reenactments since 1986, some at Fort Union and at Fort Mandan. He's a history buff who enjoys all parts of the history of the American frontier. During the Fur Traders Rendezvous, he dresses in the clothing that a worker at one of the forts might have worn. Lake said such a worker would have had access to clean clothing manufactured in a larger settlement. As people went farther into the frontier, their clothing would have become soiled and torn and they would have resorted to wearing buckskin and clothing made from other materials close at hand, rather than cotton.
Lake said there is always room for more people at a rendezvous. Anyone who is interested in participating in a historical reenactment should talk with him or others who have set up at the Fur Traders Rendezvous to learn more about how to do it.
The Fur Traders Rendezvous has demonstrations of other skills. Other demonstrations include tomahawk tossing and baking in an adobe oven. Kids are offered beads after watching a demonstration and can use them to barter and trade for prizes.
Darrell Kersting, from Kindred, has been doing blacksmithing demonstrations during the Fur Traders Rendezvous at the fair for 12 years. He was making the flint strikers that Lake uses in his demonstrations.
There is also a daily firearms demonstration held at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., said Lake. The demonstration includes a discussion of the history of the different firearms. At the end of the demonstration, a cannon shoots off candy. That keeps the kids engaged in the demonstration, said Lake.