Pantheon these are gritty people • luck is an illusion

colter postJohn Colter was a member of the famous Lewis & Clark expedition. However, he is legendary for what is known as "Colter's Run."

In 1808, after surviving the Lewis & Clark expedition, Colter and trapper John Potts were in their canoes in a creek near what is now Three Forks, Montana when they were suddenly surrounded by 600 Blackfoot Indians.

Rather than fight, Colter submitted to demands to be taken prisoner. He was taken ashore, disarmed, and stripped naked.

Potts, however, refused to be taken prisoner.  Potts shot a Blackfoot with his rifle and tried to escape. Potts was quickly riddled with arrows, and unspeakably dispatched with tomahawks. 

As a result of this incident, a council was held among the Blackfoot to decide Colter's fate. The original plan was to make Colter a practice target, but it was overruled by the Blackfoot Chief, who had something else in mind.

The Chief asked Colter if he could run fast.

Colter sensed that something was amiss, so he replied that he was slow.

In an incredible miscalculation, the Chief turned Colter's impending death into a sporting match. The naked Colter was given a 400-yard head start, and told to run. The fastest Blackfoot who caught Colter would get the prize - Colter's scalp.

Colter took off sprinting, urged with the hope of preserving his life, and "ran with a speed at which he was himself surprised." He covered the first five miles on flat plains, running over prickly pears barefoot without being caught.

At five miles, one Blackfoot carrying a spear was only 100 yards behind him. Soon after, Colter heard footsteps. The closest Blackfoot was only 20 yards away. Fearing a spear in the back, Colter suddenly stopped and turned around.

The Blackfoot attacked and lunged with his spear, but missed. The spear stuck in the ground, and the shaft broke in the Blackfoot's hand. Colter instantly snatched up the pointed part, pinned his assailant to the earth, and kept running.

Colter ran another mile to the Madison River and plunged in. He hid in a beaver den with his mouth barely above water when the remaining Blackfoot arrived. The Blackfoot searched the area all day but could never locate Colter. Colter remained hidden until nightfall. When he came out from the den, he swam five miles downriver in the darkness.

The Madison River Valley that Colter was in could only be exited through a narrow pass that Colter assumed was being guarded. As a result, he decided to do the last thing the Blackfoot would expect - scale a mountain. When he made it to the top, he slept as snow fell.

When daylight finally came, Colter was still alive and uncaptured, but his chances of survival were grim. He was still prey in Blackfoot territory. He was naked, cut, bleeding, and malnourished. The bottoms of his feet were filled with thorns, he had no means to carry water or kill game, and was still more than 200 miles away from the nearest fort.

For the next 11 days and nights, Colter, while being hunted, ran, walked, climbed, crawled, trekked and survived only by eating wild roots.

According to a witness account, when Colter finally emerged from the wilderness at the fort's gates, "His beard was long, his face and whole body were thin and emaciated by hunger, and his limbs and feet swollen and sore. The company at the Fort did not recognize him in this dismal plight until he had made himself known."

All told, Colter had run, walked, climbed and swam 250 miles in 11 days.

After recovering, Colter returned to exploring and leading expeditions in Blackfoot territory. He told his friend Captain Clark, "No man shall call me a coward." Colter was the first to discover what is now known as Yellowstone Park, a place that for many years was named "Colter's Hell" because of the boiling water and geysers.

Four years after his legendary run, in 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain. Colter, although having already served in the dangerous Lewis & Clark expedition and survived "Colter's Run," enlisted and fought under Nathan Boone's Rangers. 

Colter's epic escape and evasion was the inspiration for the 1966 movie "The Naked Prey" and is detailed in the book Colter's Run by Stephen T. Gough. 

 

 

This list is compiled for editorial purposes only. The photographs and likenesses used are for non-commercial, educational, descriptive and visual references of a specific person or newsworthy event in our modern times or in history. These people have not licensed their names or likenesses to, nor are they affiliated or associated with GritFire.

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