John Colter, His Years in the Rockies

By Burton Harris; David Lavender | Go to book overview
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The research and writing of John Colter took more than ten years. During that period considerable concern had built up regarding the controversies that had been published, particularly concerning Colter's journey in the winter of 1807-08. I used the original William Clark manuscript map, together with Clark's informal cartographic study of the area south of the Yellowstone River, based definitely on information furnished by George Drouillard, and quite possibly John Colter, as well as my knowledge of the Colter country where I lived as a child. My hope was that I had laid to rest most of the theories, based on maps alone, of how a man in the dead of winter could have made such a five-hundred mile trip.

Several years ago I realized the pitfalls of using maps instead of actually visiting the country. Since I had seen the Pryor Mountains from the dining room windows of my childhood home in Basin, Wyoming, I had assumed that Pryor Gap, through which the railroad first entered the Big Horn Basin, was located high on the mountain. Several summers ago I drove up Sage Creek and through the gap. While driving down Pryor Creek, I realized that no panoramic view of the basin was possible because the gap was in a deep valley.

The drive down the Pryor was through the Crow Indian Reservation. In contrast to Colter's day, the only danger was from the little Crow warriors on their minibikes darting from the borrow pits onto the road.

On my first visit to Cody after John Colter was published, I asked friends and relatives what leads had developed regarding the "salt cave" on a tributary of the South Fork of the Stinking Water, now named the Shoshone. They said that considerable interest had been aroused and that some people had done some exploring, but with no real results. With very little conniving my friends arranged an interview with the Cody Enterprise that focused on the "salt cave" and William Clark's cryptic notation on his informal Drouillard map.


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