Sunday, February 22, 2015

Mountain Man Tales and Romance Novels

by: Peggy Henderson

History is so full of events and memorable people that a writer is never short of a good story to tell. I enjoy researching about the early explorers and fur trappers in the Rocky Mountains because a majority of my romance novels are based in that era and that time in history. The stories and lore of the mountain men is sometimes as tall as the mountains themselves. Several stories I’ve stumbled across, whether true or not, are just too good to pass up, and I love to incorporate them into my romances, adding my own little spin.
In my book, Yellowstone Redemption, I knew when I was planning the book, that my hero would have an experience similar to what happened to John Colter, a man who is considered to be the first true mountain man, and the first non-native to see the Yellowstone and Grand Teton Regions.
Colter was a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and after leaving them in 1806, returned to the wilderness over and over again, leading other trappers to find beaver. In 1809, he was traveling by canoe with another trapper, John Potts, when a party of Blackfoot warriors attacked them. They killed Potts, and captures Colter. He was asked if he was a fast runner, and then ordered to strip off all his clothing and told to run. The young warriors of the group then pursued him. Here is the account as told to a newspaper reporter, John Bradbury, in 1817:

Again he turned his head, and saw the savage not twenty yards from him. Determined if possible to avoid the expected blow, he suddenly stopped, turned round, and spread out his arms. The Indian, surprised by the suddenness of the action, and perhaps at the bloody appearance of Colter, also attempted to stop; but exhausted with running, he fell whilst endeavouring to throw his spear, which stuck in the ground, and broke in his hand. Colter instantly snatched up the pointed part, with which he pinned him to the earth, and then continued his flight.

Colter next reached the Madison River, and hid inside a beaver lodge for the night, then walked for eleven days to reach the nearest trading outpost.

Here is an excerpt of my version of “Colter’s Run”, as it happened to my hero, Chase Russell in Yellowstone Redemption.

Nothing would stop him now from reaching the Firehole. He was running for his life, running to the woman he loved, and for the first time ever, he felt free. His lungs burned and his heart pounded in his throat. It was the most exhilarating feeling he’d ever had, and he felt alive.
He turned his head, looking over his shoulder again. Only one pursuer remained. The other had barely left the tree line. The one behind him was close enough that he could throw the spear he held in his hand.
Game time, Russell. Do something the opposition will least likely expect.
Chase stopped in his tracks. He whirled around, and assumed a fighting stance, his legs wide apart, his knees bent, and his arms out at his sides, holding his weapons in his hands. Breathing hard, a wide sneer crossed his face. The maneuver had worked. His opponent looked stunned and surprised. He tried to stop, tried to brandish his spear, but in his shocked disbelief, he tripped and fell to the ground. With a loud splintering noise, the spear broke in half. Chase gave him no chance to recover. With a loud roar he ran at the man on the ground. He dropped his weapons and grabbed for the broken lance. The man tried to struggle, but Chase used his size to his advantage, holding the warrior to the ground. He rammed the spearhead into the dirt, pinning the man’s shirt into the ground. He could have easily killed the warrior, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He hoped rendering him immobile would buy enough time to put some distance between them.
Chase stood and righted himself. His other pursuer was gaining ground, and he could also see several more warriors emerge from the trees. He lunged for his weapons, and took off again, straight for the bison herd. He remembered all the warning pamphlets he’d read that the park service provided, which stated to stay at least 25 yards away from bison. They were dangerous and could gore a man in seconds.
To hell with that. Chase needed another tactical surprise element. He ran straight for the herd. Several of the lumbering beasts looked up from their grazing when he approached. He didn’t slow down. He ran and darted between the big beasts. Several shied away, kicking and galloping in the opposite direction – the direction his pursuers came from. Chase whooped and punched the air with one hand, sending even more bison scurrying.
He could hear the rushing sound of the river now. It was just up ahead. He’d made it through the herd unharmed. He hoped his tactics had paid off. He couldn’t run any further. Plunging head first into the cold water, he welcomed the soothing feeling on his scorched skin. He gulped mouthfuls of water even as he swam downstream, aided by the current. He was swept past a beaver lodge. What had Sarah told him?
“I once hid from my brothers for an entire day inside a beaver lodge. They were so furious with me that I outsmarted them.”
“Thank you, Angel.” He grinned. He pulled himself through the water, back upstream towards the beaver dam. He dove and swam under the lodge, until he found the opening. When he resurfaced, he was in a dark, muddy chamber. A beaver sat in the mud, chatting loudly at seeing the intruder. Chase ignored it.
How long would he have to stay hidden? The cold water began to chill him, and it was dank inside the lodge. He pulled himself up onto the muddy platform. The beaver abandoned his perch and dove into the water, slapping his tail in protest. Did those Indians know this little trick? He could be a sitting duck for all he knew.
He drew his legs up close to his body, shivering as the minutes turned to hours. Once, he thought he heard voices just above, but they quickly died away. His surroundings darkened even more. Chase huddled against the mud, gritting his chattering teeth. He closed his eyes. If he could sleep for a few hours, he could continue to the geyser basin in the morning. He knew it might be best in the cover of night, but he’d get lost. In the blackness, he wouldn’t be able to see anything.
He drifted in and out of sleep. Sarah’s face materialized before him. Imagining her smile warmed his insides.
He was in love with her.
The realization still stunned him. Did she have feelings for him, too? Why should she? He wasn’t the kind of man she needed. She needed a strong man who knew his way around the mountains and would protect her from its dangers. He couldn’t even keep his own ass out of trouble.

Peggy L Henderson is a laboratory technologist by night, and best-selling western historical and time travel romance author of the Yellowstone Romance Series, Second Chances Time Travel Romance Series, and Teton Romance Trilogy. When she’s not writing about Yellowstone, the Tetons, or the old west, she’s out hiking the trails, spending time with her family and pets, or catching up on much-needed sleep. She is happily married to her high school sweetheart. Along with her husband and two sons, she makes her home in Southern California.


  1. I love your articles you post on this blog. So interesting. Fun to see the original event and how you used it in your book. LOVED that scene in the book. Action, adventure and love. What else would you need!

  2. What a story! The real one and the one you created by using the event in your book. How exciting all this was. I stayed with the runner every step of the way.
    Thanks so much for an exhilarating accounting of a real man and a real event.
    No wonder your books are such good sellers--you do have a way of keeping the reader glued to the page.
    Good job, Peggy.

  3. Peggy, what a stirring excerpt. Best wishes for continued success, Peggy. You're a great writer and researcher.

  4. It's mighty nice of history to provide writers with exciting real life adventures to work into a story. Time travel takes a special yearning and talent to write. I wish you all the best.

  5. P.S. The true story also reminds me of a Louis L'Amour fiction story about a man escaping from Apaches in New Mexico near the lava beds.


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.