John Colter, His Years in the Rockies

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


After Colter and the other emissaries to the Indians had departed, those remaining at Manuel's Fort devoted their attention to completing the trading post. The engagés spent the short winter days clearing brush and cutting timber for the log houses, and the stockade that was to be erected after the spring thaw. The first small cabin was quickly finished, as the men soon discovered how far the paralyzing winds from the north could penetrate their leather and woolen clothing, and that even the most vigorous axe-swinging had only a temporary warming effect. During the periods when the air was heavy and alive with cold and the snow audibly protested all pressure, the men would not stray far from the blazing brush fires that created more illusion than actual warmth.

Inevitably the weather was the principal topic of conversation as the men churned the melting snow around the fire into a sordid blot of dark mud on the surrounding whiteness. However, the perverse cottonwood, with its jagged heavy bark and frequently misshapen trunks that complicated its use as building material, may have prompted almost as much bitter comment. The apparent freedom of the hunters also might have caused some resentment among the engagés, restricted to their monotonous hard labors, until the sobering thought occurred of the dangers to which those men were constantly exposed in their incessant search for game. Part of the hunters' job was to locate desirable beaver dams for the spring trapping season. Beaver were plentiful near the fort, particularly on the Big Horn and its tributaries.

The restless Manuel Lisa can readily be visualized, rushing from supervising the building operations to arranging the trade goods, interviewing the hunters and keeping the trails converging upon the fort


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