An oft-repeated anecdote is that which relates of an army officer, somewhat of a hero-worshiper, who, upon meeting Carson, exclaimed, effusively: "So this is the great Kit Carson, who has made so many Indians run!" "Yes," drawled Carson, "sometimes I run after them but most times they war runnin' after me." – as quoted by Edwin Legrand Sabin
Poet George Santayana is credited with saying "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." As we explore the newest wilderness of big data, there are lessons to be learned from the pioneers of America's earliest history.
Let's look at one famous explorer. John Colter was a frontiersman from Kentucky and a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1806. A superlative hunter and scout, Colter found the mountain passes that allowed the team to cross the Rockies and established peaceful relations with Indian tribes encountered along the way to the expedition's final destination of the Columbia River estuary on the Pacific.
M.C. Poulsen, "John Colter Meeting Shoshones at Castle Rock" (Source: theautry.org)
Deeply entranced with the wilderness he had just reconnoitered, Colter left the expedition on its return leg and helped other groups of trappers and adventurers as a guide for several years. He also became the first European to explore the Yellowstone country of northwest Wyoming.
The most famous incident in John Colter's career happened in southwest Montana in 1809. Colter and John Potts, also an ex-member of the Lewis & Clark party, had the singular misfortune of encountering a very large group of Blackfoot Indians. The three tribes of the Blackfoot nation dominated the harsh steppe country of central and eastern Montana and were at war with all the tribes near them – the Cree, Sioux, Shoshone, Arapaho, Crow, almost a dozen tribes in all. Unfortunately for Colter and Potts, the innate xenophobia of the Blackfoot extended to European explorers.
Potts was killed and Colter taken captive. The Blackfoot tribesmen stripped Colter naked and decided to introduce him to a little tradition of theirs called 'running the gauntlet.' This event involved having the 'guest of honor' either walk or run through a corridor of Blackfoot braves, each of whom was armed with a stick or club with which they would strike the captive. Depending on the mood of the braves, surviving the gauntlet was a dicey proposition.
The Blackfoot outnumbered Colter by several hundred to one and quite naturally felt supremely confident about their total power over his fate. The warriors explained their desires to him and then eagerly lined up along the borders of the gauntlet, ready to have some fun at John Colter's expense.
Colter stood roughly 10 yards before the start of the corridor wearing only his birthday suit and considered the parameters of the situation from his own perspective. In an epiphany, Colter came up with a plan. He then leaned forward in preparation to traverse the gauntlet, then suddenly turned around and took off like a jackrabbit in the opposite direction.
The tribesmen stood stunned for a moment, astonished by this turn of events. A group then broke from the line to pursue Colter. What the Blackfoot braves didn't know, however, was that John Colter was renowned in Kentucky for his fleetness of foot. He managed to outrun and elude his pursuers, then made his way across country to a trader's outpost in a week and a half, hungry but with skin and scalp intact.
The incident provides a vital lesson for those of us who are journeying into the immense wilderness of the big data frontier. John Colter survived this event because he viewed the circumstances of the situation more completely than the Blackfoot tribesmen. Stated differently: Colter understood his problem in the proper context.