Stories of American Life and Adventure - Edward Eggleston

A Foot Race for Life

In 1803 that part of our country which lies west of the Mississippi was almost unknown to the white men. In that year the President sent Captain Lewis and Captain Clark to see what the country was like. They went up the Missouri River and across the Rocky Mountains. Then they went down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. It took them more than two years to make the trip there and back.

Lewis and Clark had about forty-five men with them. One of these men was named Colter. In the very heart of the wild country he left the party, and set up as a trapper. A trapper is a man who catches animals in traps in order to get their skins to sell. The Blackfoot Indians made Colter a prisoner. Colter knew a little of their language. He heard them talking of how they should kill their prisoner. They thought it would be fun to set him up and shoot at him with their arrows until he was dead. At this time the Indians on the western plains had no guns. But the Indian chief thought he knew a better way. He laid hold of Colter's shoulder, and said,—

"Can you run fast?"

Colter could run very swiftly, but he pretended to the chief that he was a bad runner. So they took him out on the prairie about four hundred yards away from the Indians. There he was turned loose, and told to run.

The whole band of Indians ran after him, yelling like wild beasts. Colter did not look back. He had to run through thorns that hurt his bare feet. But he was running for his life. Six miles away there was a river. If he could get to that, he might escape.

He almost flew over the ground. At first he did not turn his head round. When he had run about three miles, he glanced back. Most of the Indians had lost ground. The best runners were ahead of the others. One Indian, swifter than all the rest, was only about a hundred yards behind him. This man had a spear in his hand to kill Colter as soon as he should be near enough.

[Illustration] from American Life and Adventure by Edward Eggleston

Poor Colter now ran harder than ever to get away from this Indian. At last he was only about a mile from the river. He looked back, and saw the swift Indian only twenty yards away, with his spear ready to throw.

It was of no use for Colter to keep on running. He turned round and faced the swift runner, who was about to throw his spear. Colter spread his arms wide, and stood still.

The Indian was surprised at this. He tried to stop running, so as to kill the white man with his spear. But he had already run himself nearly to death, and, when he tried to stop quickly, he lost his balance, and fell forward to the ground. His lance stuck in the earth, and broke in two.

Colter quickly pulled the pointed end of the spear out of the ground and killed the fallen Indian. Then he turned and ran on toward the river.

The other Indians were coming swiftly behind; but, as they passed the place where the first one lay dead, each of them stopped a moment to howl over him, after their custom. This gave Colter a little more time. He reached a patch of woods near the river. He ran through this to the river, and jumped in He swam toward a little island.

Logs and brush had floated down the river, and lodged across the island. This driftwood had formed a great raft. Colter dived under this raft. He swam to a place where he could push his head up to get air, and still be hidden by the brush.

The Indians were already yelling on the bank of the river. A moment later they were swimming toward the island. When they reached the drift pile, they ran this way and that. They looked into all the cracks and tried to find the white man. They ran right over his hiding place. Colter thought they would surely find him.

But after a long time they went away. Colter thought they would set fire to the raft of driftwood, but they did not think of that. Perhaps they thought that Colter had been drowned.

He lay still under the raft till night came. Then he swam down the stream a long distance, left the stream, and went far out on the prairie. Here he felt himself safe from his enemies.

But he had no clothes and no food. He had no gun to shoot animals with. It was several days' journey to the nearest place where there were white men, at a trading house.

Colter had nothing to eat but roots. The sun burned his skin in the daytime. He shivered without a covering at night. The thorns hurt his feet when he walked, but he found his way to the trading house at last.

He used to tell of wonderful things that he saw while traveling to the trading house after he got away from the Indians. He saw springs that were boiling hot and steaming. He saw fountains that would sometimes spout hot water into the air for hundreds of feet.

These and many other wonderful things that he saw at this time he used to tell about. But nobody believed his stories. Nobody had ever seen anything of the kind in this country. When Colter would tell of these things, those who heard him thought that he was making up stories, or that he had been out of his head while traveling and had thought he saw such wonders.

But after many long years the wonderful place which we call Yellowstone Park was found, and in it were boiling and spouting springs. People knew then that Colter had been telling the truth, and that he had traveled through the Yellowstone country.