Watching a football game on television Saturday, Wyoming V. Utah State, as part of the promo they mentioned Jim Bridger and the fact that he was the first white man to visit the Great Salt Lake and the first into Yellowstone. Bridger may very well have been the first non-Indian into the Great Salt Lake Valley, at least I and many other western historians believe that. But the first into Yellowstone, I don’t think so.
John Colter, like Bridger, a Virginian was much more likely to have been the first into Yellowstone. It is most unlikely the two ever met and very possible that Colter was in Yellowstone while Bridger was but a toddler with a birth date in 1804.
Bridger became a legend in the west and Colter seems to have just slipped away into history. Colter left the west by 1810 and never returned, leaving a legend in the making, unmade.
Colter never lived long enough for people to believe any of his tales of Yellowstone. He died of Jaundice in 1813 leaving behind $124 and change. But then the story of the almost a legend in the west turns bizarre. He was buried on Tunnel Hill near present day Dundee Missouri. In 1926 his remains, along with the remains of five or six others, were dug up during a railroad excavation of the site. All were dumped somewhere nearby, buried in an unmarked embankment.
Not a very fitting finish to the first white man in to Yellowstone.