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Historic race incorporates reenactment of legendary explorer

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By Maria Wyllie Associate Editor

THREE FORKS – A Bozeman running group, the Big Sky Wind Drinkers, is bringing back the John Colter Run after a one-year hiatus, and it’s adding its very own “John Colter.” The 36th annual race is a 7.2-mile trail run taking place Saturday, Sept. 21 at Missouri Headwaters State Park, just outside of Three Forks, Mont.

The original run took place in 1808, two years after explorer John Colter left the Lewis and Clark Expedition to pursue a living as a trapper and guide in the Rocky Mountain wilderness.

According to a narrative by John Bradbury in John Colter, His Year in the Rockies, Colter and his partner John Potts were canoeing up the Jefferson River that fall, when roughly 800 Blackfoot Indians surprised them along the riverbank and ordered them ashore. Potts refused and was shot and killed, but Colter met the Indians on land, where they robbed him of his weapons and stripped him naked.

The Blackfoot intended to hunt him for sport, Bradbury wrote, so they gave him a 300-yard running start and told him to run for his life. Colter outdistanced all but one warrior, whom he killed with the Indian’s own spear.

The natives continued to chase him for five more miles, and Colter finally escaped by hiding inside a beaver lodge on the Madison River. That night he continued his journey with only a blanket and spear taken from the slain Indian, walking more than 200 miles in 11 days to Manuel’s Fort.

In memory of his escape, the race will feature a reenactment of Colter’s run, with the first man and woman to catch him winning a free meal every week for a year from Clark’s Fork restaurant in Bozeman.

Additionally, any runner who beats Colter to the “Beaver Dam” (approximately 6.5 miles) will win a Nathan water bottle with a coupon inside for a free meal from Clark’s Fork.

Runners can register for the race at

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