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Maureen McMullen, Published February 16 2014

Muzzleloaders show a hands-on history lesson

WEST FARGO – Some show up to mingle with history buffs dressed in full 19th-century fur-trade garb. Others come to admire and browse more than 70 tables of historical, handmade crafts.

Whatever the reason for attending the Muzzleloaders of North Dakota 15th annual trade fair, Darrell Kersting said eventgoers got to experience a hands-on approach to history.

“You could go to a museum and you can look at some of the different items,” said Kersting, coordinator of the trade fair. “But, if you come here to an event like this, you can actually pick up that item and probably talk to the person who made it and can explain it.”

The event was held Saturday and Sunday in the Hartl Ag Building at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds in West Fargo.

In the spirit of North Dakota’s booming fur trade in the early 1800s, the fair offered a wide range of vendors and demonstrations, including leatherwork, quilting, beadwork and primitive fire-starting.

Along with artists and craftsmen, black-powder gun enthusiasts flocked to the trade fair to celebrate the muzzleloader rifles they craft and shoot.

Steve Simonson, a member of the Plainsmen Black Powder Club, described shooting the rifles as “addictive.”

Simonson said his interest in muzzleloaders and the fur-trade era arose from their importance in North Dakota’s history.

“The primary resource of money was the fur, not the wood or gold. They were there for fur,” Simonson said.

A blacksmith and stone-carver, Kersting’s table featured flint-rock fire-starters and stone crafts, such as a pipe he carved out of soap stone.

“If I hand this to you and it accidentally falls and gets chipped, I’m not going to worry about it; it’s just a piece of stone,” Kersting said. “But they wouldn’t let you pick up the original one in a museum, so this is a way that we can actually have people experience … where you can feel the texture of the stone and look at it close up.”

Despite its unique niche, Kersting said the muzzleloaders event draws a wide audience.

“We really are a broad family event. People have things for the kids – the toys and knick-knacks,” Kersting said. “The kids light up and a lot of times are just amazed and in wonder at how these things work.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Maureen McMullen at (701) 235-7311

For Jeremy Fairaizl, the trade fair has become a family tradition.

Having attended similar events for more than 20 years, Fairaizl said he enjoys bringing his 3-year-old son, Lucas.

“He’s been coming his entire life,” said Fairaizl. “(He likes) seeing the fur and being able to ‘pet the animals.’ He’s a little young, but he’s starting to learn some of the different things. Some of the different craftsmen and artists are showing some demonstrations, and he learns things from that.”