John Colter, His Years in the Rockies

By Burton Harris; David Lavender | Go to book overview
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Chapter Five

Colter's Route

The broken rhythm of the engagés' axes and the frequent rending crash of a falling tree might lead one to suspect that the unnatural din was the reason why a hunter like Colter shunned the post site during the daylight hours. The freezing nights, however, had thickened the beaver fur to the prime condition prized in St. Louis and London, and the nearby ponds had already experienced the ruthless efficiency of the profit-hungry trappers. In addition, an accomplished tongue lashing by Manuel Lisa was known to await any hunter who was so thoroughly lacking in the pride of his calling as to loaf around the fort during the trapping season. In fact, Lisa was considered capable of demoting such a laggard to the indignity and drudgery of swinging an axe with the lowly engagés.

Those familiar with the region, such as Colter and Drouillard, must have lost no time telling the trappers the location of the best beaver streams. Consequently the small trapping parties became more and more infrequent visitors to the log-strewn clearing, as they extended their operations up the Yellowstone and the Big Horn Rivers. Nearly thirty years later, Nathaniel Wyeth described the Big Horn as being one of the best beaver streams he had ever seen. Thus the first catch of pelts may have been taken in phenomenal time, thereby giving the badly worried Lisa and his assistants renewed hope and the courage to carry out their more ambitious plans. A trading expedition to a nearby Crow village is known to have been one of the first schemes put into execution. This venture, led by Edward Rose, was in accordance with Lisa's previous method of operating.

The tiny pack outfit, laden with trade goods and well-justified expectations of success, would have barely wound out of sight into the brush along the river bank, before the aggressive Lisa called in his lieutenants

-73-

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