John Colter was one of the first mountain men of the early history of the American West and he became one of the most famous. Initially a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, upon the completion of the Corps of Discovery's grand trip in 1805-07, he asked to be discharged during the return trip and left to trap furs in the mountains that became the states of Montana and Wyoming.
He subsequently took a position of leadership in terms of leading others, including the famous Manuel Lisa party, into trapping in the headwaters of the Missouri River. He also worked as a free trapper and on one of those expeditions he and a companion, John Potts, were captured along the Jefferson River in what is known as Montana's Three Forks area by a war party of several hundred Blackfeet Indian warriors.
Potts was killed and mutilated by the Blackfeet, who in turn gave Colter the opportunity to run for his life in what it seemed was a hopeless situation for him to survive. But, beaten and bloodied with the entrails and blood of his friend Potts drenching his body, he outran the pursuing Blackfeet, managed to kill his closest follower with the Indian's own lance, the then ran another five or so miles with his furious pursuers close behind.
He managed to reach what is now called the Madison River just ahead of them and found shelter under the remains of a beaver lodge, which he dove under and stayed in, until dark, undetected by the Blackfeet even through several of them actually stood on the beaver lodge at different points in that terror-filled day. Under the cover of darkness that night, Colter slipped into the river and swam downstream several miles before he began his escape over the nearby mountain range and subsequently traveled some 300 miles, naked and hungry and pursued by the Blackfeet, to the trapper's fort at the mouth of the Bighorn and Yellowstone Rivers where he was at first greeted with suspicion because he was unrecognizable to his friends at the fort.
Once he recovered, Colter went on to become one of the most famous of mountain men in the era of the fur trappers. He spent a winter in what is now known as Yellowstone Park but at that time, given his reports of geysers and boiling waters, etc., was called "Colter's Hell." Colter subsequently also led several trapping expeditions into the Three Forks, at the headwaters of the Missouri River, always under scrutiny of the Blackfeet, facing an internal compulsion to prove himself as a man of courage.
He wouldn't leave the trapping country until he had satisfied himself that he had stood up to his internal sense of self-worth, actually telling one of his great champions, Captain William Clark, on one of his (Colter's) trips to St. Louis that "No man shall call me a coward." While this book focuses on Colter's miraculous run and escape from the Blackfeet, author Stephen Gough pursues Colter's interesting and action-filled life capturing the essence of the fact that John Colter, while he became from his exploits the first major iconic figure of the American West Colter actually pursued that vicarious lifestyle as re result of an internal compulsion to constantly place himself at the edge of great adventure.
It's a stunning, dramatic, breath-taking tale of a true hero of the America's move into the western reaches of its great landscape.
Softcover, 392 pages.