John Colter

c. 1774 - May 7, 1812

Colter, John, mountain man (c. 1774-May 7, 1812). Born near Staunton, Virginia, he enlisted October 15, 1803, as a private with the Lewis and Clark Expedition, becoming a favored hunter. He was praised by Clark for his service, and was released on the return to the Mandan Village to join Joseph Dickson (Dixon) and Forrest Hancock (Handcock) who planned a Rocky Mountain trapping operation. Apparently they worked the upper country, Colter leaving his partners and journeying down the Missouri in 1807. At the mouth of the Platte he met Manuel Lisa bound upstream, and joined him, wintering on the Yellowstone River at the mouth of the Big Horn. He made an "epic winter journey" to inform Indians of Lisa's presence and willingness to trade; it is believed he went up the Yellowstone, crossed over to Jackson's Hole, negotiated the Tetons to Teton Valley (Pierre's Hole), and rounded the west side of Yellowstone Lake (some believe the journey to be somewhat smaller and not including Jackson's Hole and Pierre's Hole), probably being the discoverer of the region since embodied in Yellowstone National Park. In the summer of 1808 Colter was sent to the Blackfeet, but was engaged in a battle against them on the side of Flatheads and Crows, being wounded. In the fall of 1808 in the Three Forks region, his companion John Potts, was killed and Colter captured by Blackfeet. He was stripped and led his pursuers on a wild five-mile race to the Madison River, killed his foremost assailant and plunged into he stream, concealing himself beneath driftwood while Blackfeet searched diligently for him. In the darkness he escaped, made his way 250 miles to Lisa's fort at the mouth of the Big Horn, arriving after 11 days. In the winter of 1808-1809 he returned to the Three Forks to recover his traps, escaped another brush with the Blackfeet. He went down the river in 1809, but met and was persuaded to join a St. Louis Missouri Fur Trading Company expedition, assisting them in building a fort in the Three Forks region, escaped a Blackfoot attack and finally, having had enough, quitted the country April 22, 1810. He reached St. Louis in 30 days. Colter married, settled near the aging Daniel Boone, and died of jaundice. His grave was destroyed by railroad construction. While he died on May 7, 1812 one day after mustering out of the Rangers on May 6, 1812 his affairs were not settled until November 1813 leading some to believe this to be his date of death.