Note: Colters Hell // John Colter historical marker // Colter Stone
The following year, Colter teamed up with John Potts, another former member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, once again in the region near Three Forks, Montana. In 1808, Colter and Potts set out from Fort Raymond once more to negotiate trade agreements with local nations. While leading a group of eight hundred Flathead and Crow Indians back to the trading fort, Colter's party was attacked by a mass of Blackfeet numbering over fifteen-hundred. The Flatheads and Crows managed to force the Blackfeet into retreat, but Colter suffered a leg wound from either a bullet or arrow. This wound was non-serious as Colter quickly recuperated and left Fort Raymond with Potts once more the following year. In 1809, another altercation with the Blackfeet resulted in John Potts' death and Colter's capture. While going by canoe up the Jefferson River, Potts and Colter encountered several hundred Blackfeet 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 (eight km) 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.
In 1810, Colter assisted in the construction of another fort located at Three Forks, Montana. After returning from gathering fur pelts, he discovered that two of his partners had been killed by the Blackfeet. This event convinced Colter to leave the wilderness for good and he returned to St. Louis before the end of 1810. He had been away from civilization for almost six years.
The Colter Stone
Sometime between 1931 and 1933, an Idaho farmer named William Beard and his son discovered a rock carved into the shape of a man's head while clearing a field in Tetonia, Idaho, which is immediately west of the Teton Range. The rhyolite lava rock is 13 inches (330 mm) long, 8 inches (200 mm) wide and 4 inches (100 mm) thick and has the words "John Colter" carved on the right side of the face and the number "1808" on the left side and has been dubbed the "Colter Stone". The stone was reportedly purchased from the Beards in 1933 by A.C. Lyon, who presented it to Grand Teton National Park in 1934. Fritiof Fryxell, noted mountain climber of numerous Teton Range peaks, geologist and Grand Teton National Park naturalist, concluded that the stone had weathering that indicated that the inscriptions were likely made in the year indicated. Fryxell also believed that the Beards were not familiar with John Colter or his explorations. The stone has not been authenticated to have been carved by Colter, and may have instead been the work of later expeditions, possibly as a hoax, by members of the Hayden Survey in 1877. If the stone is ever proven to be an actual carving made by Colter, in the year inscribed, it would coincide with the period he is known to have been in the region, and that he did cross the Teton Range and descend into Idaho, as descriptions he dictated to William Clark indicate. Another possible artifact of Colter's was discovered within Yellowstone National Park in the 1880s. A log with the carved initials "J C" underneath a large X was discovered by Philip Ashton Rollins near Coulter Creek, an ironically named stream of no relation to Colter. Rollins and his party determined that the carving was roughly eighty years old. The authenticity of this artifact has never been identified as it was lost by Yellowstone employees around 1890 while being transferred to the Park museum.
Final years and death
After returning to St. Louis, Colter married a woman named Sallie and purchased a farm near Miller's Landing, Missouri, now New Haven, Missouri. Somewhere around 1810, he visited with William Clark, his old commander from the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and provided detailed reports of his explorations since they had last met. From this information, Clark created a map which, despite its previously mentioned discrepancies, was the most comprehensive map produced of the region of the explorations for the next seventy-five years. During the War of 1812, Colter enlisted and fought with Nathan Boone's Rangers. Sources are unclear about when John Colter died or the exact cause of death. In one case, after suddenly turning ill, Colter is reported to have died of jaundice on May 7, 1812 and was buried near Miller's Landing, Missouri. Other sources indicate he died on November 22, 1813.
Colter's legacy has had a profound impact on the image of the American West and frontier, with Colter's Run seeing many incarnations and recreations, including a retelling by the likes of Washington Irving. The stereotypes of reclusive frontier mountain men may be thanks to Nicholas Biddle's written characterizations of Colter, which paint him a man easily beguiled by the trapping prospects of the wilderness and intimidated by the possibility of returning to regular society. Because no written materials attributed to Colter have ever been discovered (besides his signature,) Biddle's characterizations cannot be directly contested.
Traditionally, it is thought that Lewis and Clark's Expedition played a major role in heightening tensions between white explorers and the Blackfeet Indians. Despite this notion, Manuel Lisa's party originally interacted peacefully with the Blackfeet. However, it was after Colter and Potts were forced to battle the Blackfeet alongside the Flatheads and Crows that the relations between white explorers/trappers and the Blackfeet nation seemed to deteriorate. This led Major Biddle and many other frontiersman to draw the conclusion that Colter had actually upset relations with the Blackfeet, which was only expounded upon by the notoriety of Colter's Run.
- A number of locations in northwestern Wyoming have been named after him, notably, Colter Bay on Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park and Colter Peak in the Absaroka Mountains in Yellowstone National Park.
- A plaque commemorating Colter was displayed at a roadside pulloff on U.S. Route 340 just east of Stuarts Draft, near his birthplace. When the road was widened in 1998, the plaque was moved just north of the intersection of 340 and Route 608.
- A Kentucky Historical Marker commemorating John Colter as one of the Lewis and Clark Expedition's "nine young men from Kentucky" is located in Maysville, Kentucky at Limestone Landing, McDonald Parkway & Limestone St.
- The first motion picture, of John Colter's life, was the 1912 silent film, John Colter's Escape.
- The original script for director Cornel Wilde's 1965 movie, The Naked Prey, was largely based on Colter being pursued by Blackfoot Indians in Wyoming.
- Roger Zelazny and Gerald Hausman meshed the stories of John Colter and Hugh Glass in the 1994 novel Wilderness.
- Colter's life and legend feature prominently in T. Coraghessan Boyle's 2015 novel The Harder They Come.