John Colter (c.1770-1775 – May 7, 1812 or November 22, 1813) was a mountain man and explorer who was a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803 to 1806 commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, to explore and map the newly purchased American Northwest from Napoleonic France, and beyond after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
Colter also became the first person of European descent to enter the region which later became Yellowstone National Park and to see the Teton Mountain Range during the winter of 1807-1808.
In 1809, Colter teamed up with John Potts, another former member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to trap for beaver for the lucrative fur trade near the Jefferson River in what is now Montana when they encountered several hundred of the dreaded Blackfeet Indians while traveling by canoe.
The Blackfeet demanded they come ashore.
Colter complied and was disarmed and stripped naked.
Potts refused and was shot and wounded.
Potts then killed one of the Indian warriors and was immediately riddled with arrows fired by the Indians from the shore.
His body was then brought to shore and hacked to pieces.
After the Blackfeet deliberated how to kill Colter, the chief decided to allow him to run for his life and to be chased by the Indians with spears.
They took him to a nearby plain and gave him a three to four hundred yard start.
Colter, knew that he must outrun the Blackfeet if he had any chance of surviving.
He started his run-for-life across the plain and had out-paced the Indians except for one who was about twenty yards behind him.
Determined to avoid the expected spear-throw, he suddenly stopped, turned around, and spread out his arms.
The surprised Indian, too exhausted from running, fell when he tried to throw his spear.
Colter immediately snatched up the spear and killed him then, continued his run with the rest of the Indians following at a distance.
Colter reached the Madison River, five miles from his start, and hid under driftwood near a beaver lodge.
He could hear the yells of the Blackfeet, who looked up and down the river to find him.
He waited till night, then climbed out and walked completely naked and frozen, toward a trader’s fort.
Colter became weaker from hunger and exhaustion, surviving only on roots and bark and had bloodied feet from prickly cactus thorns piercing his feet.
Miraculously, Colter reached Manuel Lisa’s Fort within seven days where he was greeted by his friends.
After a few weeks when he regained his strength, he headed back to Blackfeet country that winter to collect the traps he had left behind.
John Colter lived five more years after his incredible run, dying of jaundice in Missouri, where he lies in an unmarked grave.