Where we've been,
The Forgotten Americans: Part 1
Imagine an obscure landscape untouched by technology and civilization as we Americans see the world today. Now imagine a man with a blue twisted steel
spinal cord, wits like that of a fox, the hunting prowess of a big cat and an adventurous spirit and willingness to continually face that often deadly
and seemingly endless obscure terrain having hardly anything more than a good rifle and some warm clothes. Herein lies the short story of an at times
unbelievable life of the man that fittingly wears the title “The First Mountain Man”
John Colter was born in 1774 in Augusta County, Virginia and then at around age six moved along with his family to Maysville, Kentucky. Like many
young men in late 18th century backcountry America he was not accustomed to drive-thru chicken and probably shot, skinned and cooked nearly all his
meals. And then custom made a sexy hat out of what he couldn’t digest. This upbringing in the hills and wilderness was crucial throughout his often
times unaccompanied daily life through unchartered territory. In his late twenties along with the eight other men who would be known as the “Nine
Young Men from Kentucky”, Colter was handpicked by none other than Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and offered the rank as Private for his
services in what would be the ultimate expedition. Private John Colter would become a key player in this Corps of Discovery. This would be the
adventure of a lifetime for most men, but for Colter this was just one of his many quests to come!
During the expedition Colter was respected by his peers and commanders and was often put to test all alone as a scout and was very effective in
finding food, passes through the mountains and is given credit for a notable scouting encounter with the Nez Perce tribe whose knowledge of the rivers
and streams helped lead the Explorers further west and closer to the Pacific.
Once the Jefferson contrived expedition reached their destination, Colter was one of the few from the ranks to be selected to embark the shores of the
Pacific Ocean, as well as explore the coast into what is present-day Washington State. During the return trip home however Colter’s destiny was on
another course than that of the rest of the crew and after being Honorably Discharged two months earlier than anticipated by Lewis and Clark, he was
presented the opportunity to lead two trappers BACK into the territory that he had just explored. After a couple months leading the fur trappers in
what would be the farthest-west foray that American trappers had yet ventured Colter decided to finally head back east. But yet again fate stepped in
and for a third time in as little as 5 years, John Colter was transcending into the unknown as Colter found himself again joining a new party of
explorers led by Manuel Lisa, in turn helping this new party build Fort Raymond along the Yellowstone and Bighorn rivers and initiating the St. Louis
Based fur trade throughout the Northern Rockies.
This third trip back into the wilderness would test the honesty of Colter, for what he stumbled on during an exploration scouting mission assigned to
him by Lisa was a sight that would be unbelievable for most to pay any serious mind towards. His reports of geysers, bubbling mudpots and steaming
pools of water would be laughingly referred to as “Colter’s Hell” by those back in Ft. Raymond. What is now known as the Grand Teton and
Yellowstone region with all its might and fearful glory would be the basis of these claims. In fact it can be said John Colter was the first white man
to visit the Yellowstone National Park.
A year after Colter unknowingly walked, slept and lived around the largest super volcano on the continent he teamed up with another former Corps of
Discovery member John Potts. The story of “Colter’s Run” went as follows:
[“Another altercation with the Blackfoot resulted in John Potts' death and Colter's capture. While going by canoe up the Jefferson River, Potts and
Colter encountered several hundred Blackfoot who demanded they come ashore. Colter went ashore and was disarmed and stripped naked. When Potts then
refused to come ashore he was shot and wounded. Potts in his turn shot one of the Indian warriors and died riddled with bullets fired by the Indians
on the shore. His body was brought ashore and hacked to pieces. After a council, Colter was motioned, told in Crow to leave, and encouraged to run. It
soon became apparent that he was running for his life pursued by a large pack of young braves. A fast runner, after several miles the still-naked
Colter was exhausted and bleeding from his nose but far ahead of most of the group with only one assailant still close to him. He then managed to
overcome the lone man:
“Again he turned his head, and saw the savage not twenty yards from him. Determined if possible to avoid the expected blow, he suddenly
stopped, turned round, and spread out his arms. The Indian, surprised by the suddenness of the action, and perhaps at the bloody appearance of Colter,
also attempted to stop; but exhausted with running, he fell whilst endeavouring to throw his spear, which stuck in the ground, and broke in his hand.
Colter instantly snatched up the pointed part, with which he pinned him to the earth, and then continued his flight.” —John Bradbury, 1817.
Colter got a blanket from the Indian he had killed. Continuing his run with a pack of Indians following he reached the Madison River, five miles from
his start, and, hiding inside a beaver lodge, escaped capture. Emerging at night he climbed and walked for eleven days to a trader's fort on the
Little Big Horn.”]
After yet a forth expedition led by Colter which ended with more deadly encounters with the Blackfeet, Colter finally decided to make his way back to
St. Louis for good. Once home he fell in love with a gal named Sallie, bought a farm in New Haven, Missouri and probably chopped some wood or made
squirrel stew with Daniel Boone to pass the time. Or maybe he just sat on his porch and threatened the locals with a good ass beating due entirely to
his six years of being awesome. It’s an unknown as to how he spent his time once he settled down. It is known however that he didn’t settle down
long because like any true mountain grown brute, and even after all Private John Colter had just witnessed and accomplished he still enlisted and
fought in the War of 1812 along with Nathan Boone's Rangers.
The First Mountain Man lived less than 40 years on this planet and his date and nature of death is not for certain. Some reports indicate he died in
the War of 1812 while other reports state he died of Jaundice. His death is believed to be somewhere between May 7th 1812 and November 21st 1813.
What is certain is that John Colter was a true Frontiersman and one of the original American Explorers who had an uncanny determination to survive. So
the next time you think of backing down and passing on that ride into the unknown, think of John Colter. Maybe a spectacular discovery is right around
the corner for you as well… then again it could be a couple hundred Indians ready to hack you up into pieces, so just be careful.
edit on 5/26/2015 by Illumin because: (no reason given)