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Two men communicating with gestures and grunts trade leather straps and animal traps during a round robin trade at the Coaliton of Historical Trekkers National Gathering last weekend.

Dissatisfied grunts, hearty laughs and finger pointing. But no talking.

True to language barriers that existed among various travelers in the 18th and early 19th centuries, members of the Coalition of Historical Trekkers and Fort Atkinson Living History interpreters bartered various goods through any type of communication except words Friday afternoon.

The “round robin” bartering was just one experience attendees had during the Coalition’s National Gathering held Thursday to Sunday at Fort Atkinson.

Historical Trekkers from numerous states such as Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arkansas and Georgia made their way to the fort for the annual gathering to share their knowledge and understanding of American pioneers, Native Americans, French traders and more peoples living before 1860.

"We like to say we're experiential archeologists. We experiment, basically, to see 'Why did it work for them?'" Historical Trekker Dave Gilbertson said. "That's everything. How did they prepare food for storage when they didn't have refrigerators? How did they camp out in the middle of wilderness with hardly anything?"

More than 20 people experimented with the round robin, trading everything from leathers and animal traps to pots and pistols. Other experiences included a fire-starting competition, a silversmithing seminar and interpreter presentations from historical journal entries.

Gilbertson, a Wisconsin native, said one of the best experiences of the gathering is tavern night, an exclusive, non-public event where Historical Trekkers taste period drink and play period games.

"Everything 18th century. The music, the games, the drinks, the snacks," he said. "When it's only us here after the park is closed and no one else, it's like we took a step back in time."

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Dave Gilbertson's period camp at Fort Atkinson, just outside of the Council House. Gilbertson said he often finds places to camp near trees throughout the year.

Historical Trekkers don't just time travel at the annual National Gathering — which takes place at Fort Atkinson every other year — but year-round, Gilbertson said.

"The best way to describe it is historical backpacking," he said. "We would put everything on our back, hike into the woods, crawl under a pine tree and call it home for the weekend."

Kansas resident Elaine Redmond said she and her husband began taking part in historical trekking events at least 35 years ago. It was a good hobby for the family when their kids were young, she said.

"We needed a family hobby, and (this is) a good healthy one," she said. "Every day is a learning day. That's what makes it fun."

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Elaine Redmond sits under her period tent listening to a round robin trade during the Coalition of Historical Trekkers National Gathering at Fort Atkinson.

Gilbertson said anybody interested in history can find a unique experience with interpreting and Historical Trekkers events whether they like blacksmithing, cooking, camping, trading or any other aspect of the pre-1860s.

“Find an interest that interests you,” he said.

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