Johnnie, stripped of his clothes and shoes, was running naked as a jaybird, stepping on prickly pears, blood running from his nostrils as it does with racehorses when extreme exertion causes the lung tissue to hemorrhage. Basically Johnnie was trying to escape from the maw of death. I suppose we all have made runs such as this, in some form, at some point in our lives. A run of shame, a hasty
yet nimble retreat down rickety back stairs; a young, clothes clutching lad, who was running towards his certain demise at the Cabrini-Green public housing project in Chicago, scooped up by a haloed, trash truck driving savior; the tire iron and croquet mallet wielding miscreants chasing an innocent Dodger fan through the parking lot of Jack Murphy stadium. These events are all too common in this day and age where unshirted zealotry is coupled with a bovine lack of curiosity, where imaginations are used more than memory, and where charm and reliability rarely come in the same package .
But Johnnie’s issues did not come from this day and age. Johnnie Colter’s issues were from 1808 when this fur trapper, mountain man extraordinaire, member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and first person of European descent to enter the region now known as Yellowstone National Park, met up with some Blackfoot Indians in a liverish mood. While canoeing up the Jefferson River he and his partner John Potts ran into several hundred Blackfoot who motioned them to the side of the river. Johnnie went ashore where he was forced to nude up by the Indians, but Potts tried to get away. He was riddled with arrows like a sewer’s pin-cushion and his body was brought to shore where it was hacked to small pieces. Johnnie thought his fate was going to be the same as his buddy Potts, but no. The chief, after much council, thought he would make a game of it. Telling Johnnie to dash, it all became clear – John Colter was in for the run of his life. He was given a two hundred yard head start then chased by 300 young warriors full of menace. Johnnie had to hear their horrid war whoops closing in behind him and probably thought he had as much chance to outrun the young bucks as Donna Summer did getting into the Rock-n-Roll hall of fame (actually she made it in 2013 ….so weird.) He looked back and saw that the chasing Indians had scattered and he had gained ground on the main body of his pursuers with the exception of one brave who was within 50 yards. By this time he had run 6 miles and could still hear the footsteps close behind him.
Suddenly Johnnie stopped, turned around, and spread his arms. The Indian, totally surprised by the suddenness of his action, and perhaps because of Johnnie’s bloody appearance, also came to a halt, but tripped and fell to the ground, his spear breaking at the blade. Johnnie grabbed the blade section and impaled the Brave onto God’s good earth. The trailing Indians saw what occurred and increased their pursuit with renewed vigor and vengeance.
Johnnie ran like few of us ever have, eventually jumping into the freezing Madison River, where he hid in cottonwoods and beaver dens to survive. He walked, climbed high snow covered peaks, and ran for eleven more days, usually at night, until he finally arrived at a trading post on the Little Big Horn. His life had been won. In the end the wild life of the Mountain Man lost its attraction, and Johnnie fell back to St. Louis where he found his wife and found his last days.
We all have friends like Johnnie who are bold with adventure, who percolate in their own vitality – and we are better for them. We all have friends that have found themselves in difficult situations (usually self made) where things could have gone terribly wrong, but now are just good stories. Some have been forced to run for their lives, either figuratively or literally, and their thunder-clap stories enhance us and shield us from the winds of normalcy. So let us toast to the gallant, to the foolish, to those who defy slumber, to those with affections and afflictions, to those who shirk the mundane, to those who bring smiles and head shakes to us with their exploits. So here is a toast to Johnnie Colter and to our wonderful friends. Groove