There could be no more appropriate tribute to John Colter than the fact that for a century his legend has descended verbally from one generation to another. Over a period of only seven years, Colter so impressed the men who trapped and battled Indians with him by his awesome solitary journeys and spectacular escapes, that his deeds had become legendary while he was still in the mountains.
Sincere admiration is the only possible reason why Colter's contemporaries, most of whom had had somewhat similar experiences, should have related to all newcomers the essential details of his exploits. The trappers were rarely afflicted with blushing modesty, and preferred as a rule to extol their own accomplishments.
The old trappers who stayed in the mountains after beaver hats went out of style, and served as guides for the soldiers and goldminers and immigrants, would not have bothered to discuss any of Colter's feats with their charges unless they were outstanding. The soldiers and prospectors, in turn, retold the same stories to the settlers and cowpunchers, together with an account of the difficulties they themselves had overcome. Later, the ranchers implanted in their dudewrangler grandchildren a proper respect for Colter's role as discoverer of Yellowstone Park and Colter's Hell.
The stories about John Colter inevitably attained astounding proportions in the countless retellings; according to some versions of the legend, there must have been times when the wholly fictitious Paul Bunyan and his ox Babe would have been hard pressed to equal what the mortal man Colter did single-handed. This was the result of every narrator adding little personal touches from his own knowledge.