Fort Union Trading Post Rangers

Tom and I love meeting new rangers at every park we work.  We work with full-time and seasonal rangers and like it best when we can find some time to hang out after work.  At Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Park we enjoyed some after-work dinners and some fun-filled game nights.

From left to right: Leif, Ian, Kristin, Tara, Lisa, Karen, Karl, Tom, and Bess

Ranger Lisa was our boss and was the only full-time ranger we spent time with.  Two other full-time rangers were on detail (temporary assignment to another park) so Ranger Lisa had to do the job of three rangers for the summer.  Although she handled it gracefully, we could tell that she was often stressed by everything she had to do.  But she also had the gift of hospitality and enjoyed having people over to her house or bringing us treats in the morning.

Rangers Leif and Kristin were local teachers who worked at Fort Union during the summer.  Over the summer we got to know their families when they came to the Fort to visit.  We also ran into them when we went to Sidney for grocery shopping or special events.

We had worked with Ranger Karl at Grand Portage and enjoyed working with him again at Fort Union.  Karl is the best expert we know on the fur trade in North America.  He and Tom are very similar in their passion for always learning more about whatever they are interested in.  Ranger Karl hurt his shoulder in May and couldn’t do all the living history demonstrations he wanted, so he apprenticed Tom and had Tom do many of the things he couldn’t do.  I often laughed at the way the two of them could get so excited about how researching how gunpowder was packaged or how heavy a string of trade beads might be.

Ranger Bess was working her second season at Fort Union.  This season, more normal in terms of activities, was very different from the pandemic season of last year.  Bess is 26 and from Maine.  Her dream is to work at Acadia National Park and she was more interested in botany than living history.  She never developed a demonstration, but very cheerfully worked the desk in the Visitors Center most of the summer.

Ranger Ian is from Pittsburg but had worked for two years at Jean LaFitte National Historical Park and Preserve in New Orleans.  He was very passionate about working in the swamp in New Orleans so North Dakota was a bit of a culture shock for him.  Ian did an admirable job, however, of making the best of the situation.  He loved to be out hiking and spent a lot of time exploring the wild areas around Fort Union.  Ian was willing to do living history but didn’t really have a gift for it.  He kept picking demonstrations that no one could see him demonstrate, like sewing or cooking behind the ropes of the Trade House.

Dinner out together

We started off the summer with a meal at a Mexican Restaurant, with Rangers Karl, Lisa, Leif, and Kristin.  Ranger Karl’s family was in town for a few days and he wanted everyone to meet them.  Tom and I were invited because we knew Amber, Alice, and Violet from our time at Grand Portage.

But our favorite interactions with the rangers was a regular game night with Rangers Bess and Ian in seasonal housing.  Ranger Ian loves the same kinds of elaborate and detailed board games that Tom loves.  Ranger Bess just likes to play games, so we all took turns picking out a game.  We usually played on Tuesday nights and Tom and I brought some bakery treat that we had picked up in town.  We invited Ranger Karl to join in but he wasn’t a game fan.

Bess eating three brookies at once

Over the course of the summer we played lots of different games together.  Ranger Ian tried to explain one “simple” game to us and after an hour we all gave up on it.  We hadn’t started playing the game – he was still trying to explain the rules.  Ranger Bess chose “Cards Against Humanity” the same night we also played “Apples to Apples.”  Although I like “Apples to Apples”, I didn’t like “Cards Against Humanity.”  John and Jackie have it but always told us we wouldn’t like it.  They were right.  Bess likes odd games that don’t have a winner or loser as much as they have the opportunity to embarrass someone.

Tom and I chose “Transamerica” one night which is one of our favorite games to teach people.  It is fun, goes fast, and is easy to learn.  Another night we all learned how to play “Settlers of Catan Junior.”  Ranger Ian taught us how to play the game “Wingspan,” successfully this time.  It was fun but took about three hours to set up and play.

Playing Wingspan with Bess, Ian, and Tom

At the end of July, Ranger Ian was offered a full-time job at Jean LaFitte working in the swamp.  Every seasonal ranger dreams of their first full-time job, so he was pretty excited.  He was even more joyous because he was heading back to New Orleans.  We were really happy for him, but knew we would miss him on game night.  To celebrate, during his last week at Fort Union, Tom and I took him and Ranger Bess to Culver’s.  Neither of them had ever eaten at a Culver’s, so we had to introduce them to fried cheese curds!

Once Ranger Ian had left we were afraid we would have to give up game night.  But we soon got a new maintenance ranger, Joe, who also loved to play games.  We only got to play with him two nights but we enjoyed both evenings.  We played a card game called “Pounce” that Ranger Bess taught us.  It was a little fast-paced for me and Joe but it was still fun to play together.  Because Joe knew how to play euchre, we taught it to Bess.  Although Bess caught on quickly, she wasn’t concerned about winning.  She would call something whether she had a good hand or not.  This was a little disconcerting to her partner, Tom, who always wants to win.  Joe was glad she wasn’t his partner because it was driving him nuts.

We enjoyed our fellow rangers over the summer and look forward to keeping track of where they go.  We stay friends with many of them on Facebook and then go visit them when we are in their area.  Because of the rangers we meet, we have friends all over the United States.