Mountain Man, John Colter
John Colter, explorer, mountain man, adventurer, should be remembered along with legendary men like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Jediah Smith, and others.
Mountain men had to be adventurous, explorers, skilled, and brave. John Colter was one such brave mountain man. He was born in Virginia, 1774, to Joseph Colter and Ellen Shields. Later the family would move to Maysville, Kentucky. Colter would be remembered as the first European to explore Yellowstone in 1807.
In 1806 the Lewis and Clark expedition became aware of Colter's skill in hunting and trapping. They recruited Colter to join them and would pay him $5. per month! It seems like a low figure for heading into unknown wild territory, encountering Indians. But Colter was adept and adventurous.
At the basecamp in Pittsburg, Pa., Lewis, and Clark were out getting supplies and left Sgt. John Ordway in charge. Colter disobeyed his orders. When Lewis found out about it, he confined Colter ten days in the camp and was court-martialed and threatened to shoot Ordway. Colter was exonerated, re-instated, and apologized to Ordway.
Lewis and Clark Expedition
Colter''s Contributions on the Expeditions
The expedition would have a long, tedious, and dangerous trek to the Pacific Coast. Along the way, when food was scarce, Colter was sent out to hunt.
On one occasion, he brought back one buffalo, one elk, three deer, I wolf, five turkeys, one goose, and one beaver. This would feed the expedition for some time. By the time the team returned in 1806 to a Mandan Village in North Dakota, Lewis and Clark had been so impressed with Colter that they allowed him to be honorably discharged so he could join two trappers, Forest Hancock and Joseph Dickson for exploring.
In 1807 near the plate River, Colter met up with Manuel Lisa, who was leading a party toward the Rocky Mountains. At the Yellowstone and Bighorn Rivers, Colter helped build Ft. Raymond. Lisa then sent Colter to search out the Crow Indians to establish trades. Later, Colter left Ft. Raymond, on his own with his backpack weighing 35 pounds plus his ammo and rifle to explore the Yellowstone area and the Grand Teton area.
Colter headed west, covering some 500 miles. He saw geysers and pools of steaming water, something he had never seen. They would be known as "Colter's Hell." A little later, he would team up with John Potts near Three Forks, Montana.
After leading a large group of Flatheads and Crows to Ft. Raymond, they were attacked by Blackfeet Indians. The Blackfeet were forced to retreat, but Colter had suffered a leg wound and needed to recuperate a few days at the fort.
Ft. Raymond 1809
Colter's Run and Escape
In 1809, Colter and John Potts were riding in a canoe when Blackfeet warriors demanded they come ashore. Colton went ashore, but Potts refused and shot a warrior. The warriors returned fire fiddling him with bullets, and then took his body ashore and hacked it to pieces.
In the meantime, they stripped Colter naked and told him to"run." Colter realized he was on the run for his life. After running barefoot and naked several miles, most of the group of Indians had fallen back, except one. In a sudden stop, Colteer turned to face the Indian and threw up his hands. It threw the Indian off, and Colter grabbed his spear and killed him.
Hearing the other Indians close by, Colter jumped in the river and found a beaver's den and dove under it to hide. The Indians spent most of the day trying to find him. After dark when they left, Colter walked over 11 days to a trader's fort on Little Big Horn River. He was bleeding, blisters on his feet, and starving upon his arrival.
He was by now rethinking his wilderness searching, and after finding two of his partners killed by Blackfeet, he decided to return to St. Louis in 1810. He settled down and married Sallie Louey and had two children.
Locations Named after Colter
There are a few places named in Colter's honor. Colter Bay, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Colter Peak, a 10,640 ft peak part of Absaroka Range located in Yellowstone National Park.
Films have been made after some of Colter's feats. A film The Naked Prey, 1965, Run of the Arrow, 1957, and The Wilderness 1994.
It is unfortunate Colter left no written account of his explorations. We are fortunate Lewis and Clark included him in their journals and reports.
Colter Bay and Colter Peak
Rosina S Khan on June 25, 2020:
Fran, I have authored a new article, Part-15 for my story series, "Keily, the Bookworm". Here is the link:
Please read it and leave your valuable feedback in the comments section.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on June 22, 2020:
Thanks for reading! Appreciate it.
Rosina S Khan on June 21, 2020:
Good to know about John Colter, a mountain man, adventurer and explorer. It's really nice he finally settled down.
Liz Westwood from UK on June 21, 2020:
This is an interesting account of Colter's adventures. After settling down, did he live a long life in St. Louis?