Mountain Man: John Colter, the Lewis & Clark Expedition, and the Call of the American West

A publication of Countryman Press, W. W. Norton & Company, 2017


Mountain Man is available from booksellers worldwide, and at:



In 1804, John Colter set out with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on the first US expedition to traverse the North American continent. During the twenty-eight-month ordeal, Colter served as a hunter and scout, and honed his survival skills on the western frontier. As the expedition returned and his companions pushed eagerly homeward, he chose to remain in the northern plains and Rocky Mountains. Alone and on foot, Colter discovered unexplored regions, including the majestic Tetons and Yellowstone country.

As he trekked through dangerous and unfamiliar territory, he became a trusted friend to several Indian nations and a foe to another. Some tribes taught him native lore and helped him survive, while a rival tribe declared him a mortal enemy. The tales of his daring adventures and chilling escapes remain unsurpassed.

Colter was the first of the mountain men, acclaimed by the frontiersmen of his time as a living hero. After his death, he became a legend to the explorers, trappers, cavalrymen, and cowboys who followed in his wake. He was the prototype of the ideal Westerner–ruggedly independent, self-sufficient, and quietly confident in his abilities. Colter grabbed the American imagination in his own time and maintains his hold to this day.



“David Marshall’s well-researched account of frontiersman John Colter combines tales of wild country with the details of survival, endurance, and grit. You can travel his paths through Yellowstone and the Tetons today and imagine, while inhaling the sulphur of Colter’s Hell, that you are there alone, in winter, warmly wrapped in a buffalo robe.”

Jonathan B. Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service, 2009-2017


“The Lewis and Clark Expedition was a milestone of discovery in the United States. David Marshall’s masterly researched and well written account about John Colter’s participation and his subsequent journey afterwards represents the very best of archival western natural history. This is an excellent account of one of the most exciting field expeditions in our history as told through the lens of a real mountain man.”

David J. Schmidly, PhD, author, scientist, and past president of Texas Tech University, Oklahoma State University, and the University of New Mexico


“Many of us who have loved and hiked the Western mountains have long envied the explorers who got their first. John Colter was one of those frontiersmen–one of the very first to experience the grandeur of the American West. How we wish we could have walked in his footsteps. Now David Marshall’s well-documented Mountain Man provides a bit of that opportunity. Mountain Man describes not only man’s survival in the wilderness, but also includes details about the native peoples who Colter encountered and learned from in order to survive.”

Roland H. Wauer, naturalist, author, and career veteran of the National Park Service.


“Magnificently researched! Mountain Man sets a new standard for the use of geography as an historical research tool. Marshall’s crisp narrative brings Colter’s world to life in its historical context, and provides the best available treatment of the mountain man’s world. A wonderful book!”

William E. Tydeman, PhD, historian of the American West, and former professor and State Archivist of Idaho


“Exquisitely researched, this book applies solid historical evidence to make Colter’s story more than legend. The result is a captivating story. One gets the specifics of Colter’s explorations, and with them fascinating details about how mountain men lived, survived, and thrived in the frontier Rockies at the time of earliest American exploration.”

Fred H. Allison, PhD, Historian, U.S. Marine Corps History Division, Marine Corps University at Quantico, Virginia


“The human desire for discovery and adventure is nowhere better exemplified than in the history of U.S. exploration. In 1804, John Colter and a band of intrepid Americans ventured beyond the Mississippi River into the unknown western frontier and crossed the continent to the Pacific Ocean. Later generations of their countrymen probed every corner of North America and pushed far beyond to explore the entire planet from the Arctic to the Antarctic and from the ocean depths to the upper atmosphere. Then, with boundless curiosity and determination, they made dramatic leaps into outer space and arrived on the surface of the Moon in 1969. John Colter would have stood amazed at the enduring spirit of discovery that followed in the wake of his adventures, even as we marvel at the undaunted spirit of Colter and his fellow explorers of America’s first frontier.”

Alan Bean, Apollo 12 Astronaut and Moonwalker




“Marshall’s outstanding new study should be the very first book in the ‘Mountain Man’ section of any library devoted to the American West.”

True West Magazine, Brian D. Dillon, PhD


“MOUNTAIN MAN… makes for fascinating reading indeed.”

Journal of the West, Cary C. Collins


“MOUNTAIN MAN by David W. Marshall tells the fascinating and epic story of John Colter, a hunter and scout who joined the Lewis & Clark Expedition across the North American continent…. I read this book because the American West and frontier has always been of great interest to me. However, this text goes beyond a biography or history book. The author transported me to the early 1800s, where I traversed rocky trails and towering peaks, crossed raging streams, and lived alongside Colter during his travels. The author’s insight and authority, due to his obvious in-depth research, engrossed me as I witnessed the interaction with the indigenous peoples and his exploits as told from the perspectives of second-hand accounts and the author’s impressive research. Historian David W. Marshall is a gifted writer with a talent for weaving history into an adventure story. I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys history of the American West…. MOUNTAIN MAN was well worth reading.”

M. K. McKlintock


“This story could be considered the “follow-on” to “Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West” by Stephen Ambrose. This volume is every bit as good as Mr. Ambrose’s. The research, the writing (it reads like an adventure novel) and the storyline make a wonderful read. I was particularly impressed with Mr. Marshall’s presentation of how the early mountain men conversed, traded, and fought with the various Native American tribes…. Mr. Marshall has done extensive research, as indicated by his bibliography and endnotes, which provides a most informative story. I recommend this for anyone interested in the early American West. For those who enjoyed UNDAUNTED COURAGE, you will love MOUNTAIN MAN.”

Douglas Fugate


“MOUNTAIN MAN follows John Colter, an American explorer, hero, legend, and namesake of many of Wyoming and Montana’s natural wonders. Mr. Marshall not only follows the story of Colter in his book, but also details what it takes to be a mountain man of the early 19th century and injects accounts of other mountain men and trappers from the time period. These accounts and Marshall’s own experiences in the west blend together and result in a detailed and vivid report of the early 19th century Louisiana Purchase territory, its exploration and the trials, tribulations, and wild beauty that accompanied the brave men that ventured there. I found MOUNTAIN MAN easy to read, very insightful, but most important very enjoyable. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the territory, history, or outdoor living.”

M. K. Burnett


“John Colter is one of the icons of the American West, at the leading edge of the mountain man era of exploration…. Dr. David W. Marshall, a historian at Texas Tech University who personally has retraced as much of Colter’s travels as possible, brings not just the mountain man to life in this new book but profiles the daily lives of these hardy adventurers. Taking from personal diaries of mountain men, historical profiles on the era and its participants, and sketches and paintings, the author vividly paints his own portrait of the early 19th century in the untamed West. He explains how tents were pitched, bison skinned, and even how mountain men and Indians made their clothes and what they carried on their person. And he points out, through their words, the romance that some mountain men found in the wilderness…. Colter’s travels with Lewis and Clark, his travels alone and with other trappers, and his run for life from Blackfeet warriors, all are laid out within the covers of this heavily footnoted book…. MOUNTAIN MAN… cracks open a wonderful window into the past, casting not only a vivid profile of John Colter but laying down the history of the vanguard of Western exploration and the individuals who lived not to tame the region, but to relish it.”

Kurt Repanshek


“Each year over 3 ½ million visitors drive their RVs, cars and trailers into Yellowstone National Park and another 2 ½ million visitors visit the Grand Tetons National Park just to the South…. To this day, John Colter’s name is on the lips of every tour guide, hotel concierge and park ranger in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons and his legends are told with the same voracity as they were 100 years ago…. “MOUNTAIN MAN: John Colter, the Lewis & Clark Expedition, and the Call of the American West” (Countryman Press; May 9, 2017; Hardcover) by David W. Marshall, PhD, continues the tradition of celebrating and recalling the storied life of John Colter…. By learning and recreating how John Colter pitched a shelter or forded a stream, David W. Marshall has crafted a captivating and authoritative tale. Readers and fans of Western exploration will discover the West alongside John Colter in some of the most harrowing and delightful adventures…. Fans of the Award-Winning movie THE REVENANT and avid readers of history will be treated to a story of survival, the lonely pursuit of a dream, and the gratifying tale of the building of America.”



“I want to compliment David Weston Marshall for his recent book MOUNTAIN MAN…. The book summarizes the achievements and hardships John Colter endured while traveling (usually alone) throughout parts of the Rocky Mountains. The book follows Colter’s extensive travels and discusses his contacts, both positive and negative, with native Indian tribes. The work is thoroughly footnoted to document information presented in the text. Footnotes include references from: historic maps; frontier journals, correspondence, and records. Additional Sources also are listed (i.e., scholarly works by other researchers so that readers may follow-up on any of their personal interests). There is an “Appendix” of map locales, with modern names (latitude and longitude coordinates) of important historic places mentioned in the text. This is particularly helpful when trying to disambiguate the often confusing names often found in “older” reports or on “older” maps…. For those interested in antebellum U. S. history (especially pre-1840) or in early history of western exploration, or the early fur trade, this is a welcome addition to the book shelf.”

R. W. M.


“Colter’s epic travels rival if not exceed in courage and accomplishment those of modern astronauts, especially when one considers he was alone except for occasional respite with friendly Indians. The sheer grandeur of what he observed as one of the first—and sometimes as the first—non-native to this area must have inspired in him great awe and wonder. The author is clearly knowledgeable of the mountain man era and ably fills in the gaps lacking about details of Colter and his travels with accounts of other adventurers in this area at later dates. A well written account for anyone who loves the wilderness—what is left of it—and who marvels at the intrepidity of the early trappers and traders in opening this area, for better or worse, to later pioneer settlers.”

William Blackburn


“Sometimes it is hard to distinguish fact from fiction. In the case of John Colter, not leaving a lot of first hand writings to go by, it would be easy for the author to overly glamorize his accounts and provide a biased opinion. I appreciated that this was not the case in this book. Not only is this a close evaluation of limited facts and evidence but was compiled with a genuine drive to authenticate and illustrate actual feelings and attitudes from a past paradigm. When studying events from long ago, this seems to be neglected in present day research. This book helped me to better understand a time period of events I will never be able to experience for myself. When an author takes the time to visit actual sites and use methods of survival such as this author did, there is not much more that can be done to bring to life the attitudes, feelings, and events of that time.”

Amazon Customer


“I purchased the book thinking it would be the story of the man. Instead it was the history of his adventures which proved to be most enlightening. The fact that the author went into great detail on the thought process John Colter used to just pack his 30 pound pack was fascinating. By no means is this a boring text book. The stories told about Colter and other mountain men are unbelievable as are all the things they had to consider in order to stay alive. If you’re a hiker, camper, outdoors person or just someone interested in a key player in the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery, this is a great book.”

Jim Altfeld



This historical non-fiction presents the story of John Colter, a hunter and scout for the Lewis and Clark Expedition who later became the first non-native explorer of the region now encompassed by Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Colter was the first of the mountain men. The narrative describes his adventures in the larger context of the world inhabited by Native Americans and native flora and fauna. The book is based on careful research and thorough documentation, and includes contemporary quotes from frontiersmen and tribal leaders. In addition to academic research, the author retraced the trails of Colter—walked where he walked, camped where he camped, and experienced the wilderness as Colter experienced it, as far as that remains possible. Sensory experiences such as these bring research to life, and lend clarity and vitality to the narrative. The book leads the reader along Colter’s trails. It shows what he wore on his back and carried in his pack, and how he survived in the wilderness.

Special attention is paid to Native American culture and the positive and negative aspects of early contact between indigenous people and frontiersmen. The book also focuses on the authentic character of the mountain men, who typically admired native lifestyles and ideologies, and often found themselves emotionally overwhelmed by the grandeur of nature. Colter fit this description. He lived among the Crow Indians, adopted their customs, and embraced their culture. He became their ally and friend, and developed similar relations with the Shoshone and Flathead nations. While fighting on their behalf, he gained the lasting enmity of their enemy—the Blackfoot nation. These extremes of native friendship and hostility are an important part of his story.