"One of "nine young men from Kentucky" who accompanied Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their explorations of Louisiana Territory, John Colter became one of the expedition's most adept hunters. He was about thirty years old when the expedition set off in 1804, stood five feet ten inches tall, and looked out at the world through piercing blue eyes.
Captain Lewis recruited Colter for the Corps of Expedition in Maysville, Kentucky, on October 15, 1803 and by the following February Colter had traveled west to St. Louis to attend the ceremony that transferred Louisiana Territory from the French government to the United States.
A good hunter and scout, Colter joined Captain Clark in seeking a route through the Rockies in August of 1805. Later when the expedition neared the Pacific Ocean, Colter was one of the ten men who accompanied Clark to the ocean and Cape Disappointment. After a hard winter at Fort Clatsop, the Expedition turned east, retracing its journey to the Mandan Villages on the Missouri River near present Bismarck, North Dakota. Here Colter's association with the Corps of Discovery ended. He met Illinois trappers, Forest Hancock and Joseph Dickson who were en route to the west and with permission from Lewis and Clark, Colter was released from their expedition in order to return to the West.
He would travel with Dickson and Hancock, explore the Yellowstone River country, and become one of the first American fur trappers. The three first returned to the Three Forks region of the upper Missouri to start their trapping, but then traveled to the Clarks Fork Region of Northwest Wyoming (north of Cody) where they spent at least part of the winter of 1806-07. Colter separated from the other two trappers and headed east only to meet another westbound trapping party led by Manuel Lisa. Again Colter set his footsteps toward the west, this time in company with Lisa and three of his former companions on the Lewis and Clark Expedition: George Drouillard, Peter Wiser, and John Potts.
With Colter's guidance, the party traveled toward the confluence of the Bighorn River with the Yellowstone River, reaching that point by October of 1807. Here Colter separated from the others and began a journey to the south and west again entering present Wyoming. The excursion that he took during the winter of 1807 is one of the most remarkable in the history of Western exploration.
He journeyed up the South Fork of the Stinking Water River (today's Shoshone west of Cody). He likely ventured over the Owl Creek Mountains to reach the headwaters of the Wind River, passed by Brooks Lake (north of Dubois) and then entered Jackson's Hole (a place later named for trapper David Jackson). He probably went as far west as Idaho's Teton Basin, and almost certainly ranged into today's Yellowstone National Park, passing Heart Lake and Yellowstone Lake before fording the Yellowstone River. He described the bubbling mud pots, spouting geysers, and other natural features of the Yellowstone region, a place that, when he finally returned east, became dubbed "Colter's Hell."
Colter himself eventually traveled back to the Three Forks area of the Missouri River in Montana, there had a run-in with Blackfeet Indians that nearly cost him his life, before he finally went east to become a farmer in Missouri, where he died in 1813 from the cumulative effects of a harsh lfe, poor diet and jaundice. As the first of many intrepid mountain men-explorers, he left a mark that would remain unmatched in Wyoming's history."