Connect With Your Community!

John Colter Run set for Saturday, September 17

Later this week, area residents will be able to retrace the famous steps of John Colter.

The 45th annual John Colter Run will take place on Saturday, September 17, at the Missouri Headwaters State Park near Three Forks.

Hosted by the Big Sky Wind Drinkers running club, the 7.5-mile trail race re-enacts John Colter's infamous (naked) escape from the Blackfoot Indians over 200 years ago.

According to Darryl Baker of the Big Sky Wind Drinkers, the event has become one of the most enjoyable runs in the valley.

"We always have much more than the run, and we have runners from age 6 to 90 run this race. And everyone supports each other. It is a community event that everyone enjoys," Baker said.

Those who participate in the John Colter Run will find a course that looks much like it did in the early 1800s.

"The mine is immediately adjacent to the course, but the runners can't see it. GCC has been very gracious to us in letting us have the run on their property, and it is a closed course meaning you can't access it any other time," said Baker. "We try to make the course fun. Runners must watch for trail markings to stay on course. We mark it with rock cairns, flags, some paint, skulls, beer bottles, tipis, and whatever else we can find out there. From John Colter's account, the actual location where the incident happened is believed to be just west of the Headwaters State Park. But we try to make this as fun and realistic as possible with a river crossing at the end."

Most of the proceeds from the $50 per runner fee are donated directly to Missouri Headwaters State Park.

Kurt Buchl of the Big Sky Wind Drinkers is thankful for all those who make the run happen.

"This race could not take place without the assistance and consideration of the Head Waters State Park, David Andrus to allow us to start and finish in park space, GCC allowing us access to run across their property which is only accessible this one weekend, Montana Rail Link for working with the BSWD's for access across the rail crossing and under the railroad bridge, Gallatin County Sherriff's posse for having two swift water rescue teams to oversee the two river crossings as well as have extraction plans to assist with any on course injuries. The Montana ROTC team sweeps the course with first aid supplies and injury training, and we have the Three Forks ambulance team at the finish to assist with any injuries and rattlesnake incidences," he said.

Since taking over the event, the Big Sky Wind Drinkers have worked with Montana Rail Link to find a new route just east of the river where the trains cross over a side channel into the Gallatin River.

"We now go under that bridge in waist-deep water, then over to the river where we cross and finish in the Headwaters State Park," Baker said.

Three hundred people are allotted to sign up for the run, which is usually filled each year.

The race will start promptly at 9 a.m., and those participating must pre-register at


(Info from

John Colter was discharged from the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1806 to pursue trapping opportunities throughout Missouri River country and the greater Yellowstone area. In the fall of 1808, Colter and his partner at the time, John Potts, were trapping beaver in the Three Forks area. This area was inhabited by Blackfeet Indians. Potts and Colter avoided the Blackfeet by trapping at night and concealing themselves during the day.

Potts and Colter were discovered by the Blackfeet one morning. Potts attempted to flee downriver in their canoe and was wounded. Instead of returning to shore, Potts shot and killed one of the Blackfeet and was killed in return. Colter (who had not attempted to escape) was stripped naked, taken 300-400 yards out into a field, and told to save himself if he could. So Colter ran.

After several miles, Colter had outdistanced all but one of the Blackfeet who carried with him a spear.  The Indian had almost caught up to Colter when Colter stopped suddenly, turned around, and spread his arms. This was a surprise, causing his pursuer to fall while attempting to throw the spear. The spear broke in the ground and Colter seized the pointed end, killing the Indian with it. Colter continued running to the Madison River where he hid under a pile of driftwood while the Blackfeet continued their hunt for him. After dark, Colter slipped down river and began his journey toward safety. Exhausted, cold, and naked, Colter limped into Fort Lisa seven days later- 250 miles away on the Big Horn River.