COLTER AND DROUILLARD:
MOUNTAIN MAN PROTOTYPES
LESS THAN A YEAR after the incident on the Marias, in the spring of 1807, John Colter paddled his solitary way down the Missouri River. Alone of the Corps of Discovery, he had not reached St. Louis the previous September. Instead, at the Mandan villages, he had sought early discharge to join two fur trappers bound for the mountains. The captains, willing to accommodate "any one of our party who had performed their duty as well as Colter had done," agreed. The three men probably passed the winter on Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone, which provided Colter with knowledge of the upper Yellowstone and its Indians that he would put to good use within a year. The partnership did not work out, and in the spring Colter took his leave.1
At the mouth of the Platte, Colter spied keelboats tied to the bank and fifty to sixty men laboring at their overhaul. Turning his canoe to the shore, he rejoiced to find in the camp a handful of veterans of the Corps of Discovery, including George Drouillard. The expedition was bound for the Rocky Mountains, the first of many seeking to tap the fur resources of which Lewis and Clark had told. The leader, Manuel Lisa, lost no time in persuading John Colter to join the party and return to the country that he now knew better than any white man.
Lisa had been the first to seize the promise held forth by Lewis and Clark. Their contributions to geography and science had yet to be published, but their reports of a vast new land rich in fur resources spread swiftly. St. Louis remained a bastion of conservative French merchants,