The 5 Most Badass Tales of Wartime Survival
We all know Bear Grylls is fond of looking like a badass on TV, as he "escapes" numerous wilderness areas, sleeps inside a dead camel and drinks his own urine (or at least he did, before he got his ass fired). But we also know that while he's jumping over lava and running through the wilderness, someone else is doing most of the same things while also carrying a camera.
That's why every single person on this list puts Bear Grylls' tales of "badassery" to shame ...
In 1808, a trapper named John Colter and another trapper named John Potts (the two would go on to inspire the name of the '80s hospital drama Trapper John, M.D., according to a lie we just told) set out in canoes on a trapping expedition near what is now Three Forks, Montana. Suddenly, they were surrounded by 800 Blackfeet Indian warriors on the shore. Colter decided that 2 vs. 800 were hopeless odds and surrendered, but Potts disagreed and started shooting at the Blackfeet. It was an inspiring moment for underdogs everywhere; Potts was basically Rudy.
Except the Blackfeet quickly killed him, ripped out his guts and threw them in Colter's face. In that way he was less like Rudy, and more like nightmares.
Though judging from his outfit, he might have just seen the intestines as an accessory.
Rather than killing Colter outright, the Blackfeet decided to make the kind of miscalculation that you would think only happens in movies. They asked Colter how fast he could run, to which he replied "Oh, like, totally slower than Native Americans" (we're paraphrasing a bit). With that knowledge, they stripped him naked, spotted him a 100-yard head start and told him to run. They were literally turning his impending death into a race, with the prize being Colter's scalp.
One problem, though ... Colter lied. He was actually a very fast runner. After two and half miles, he had left all the Blackfeet behind except for one. He then stopped and waited for that man to catch up. When the Native American lunged at him with his spear, he grabbed the spear point with his bare hands, broke it off and impaled the man with it. But the Hollywood movie style exploits were just getting started.
And thus, the first three-legged race was born.
After hiding out in a beaver lodge for a few hours, Colter swam five miles downriver, only to find that his would-be killers were still looking for him, likely shocked that someone would be so crass as to lie about how fast he could run when faced with an unspeakably painful death. The only way out of the valley he was in was through a narrow pass that was probably being guarded. So he decided to do the last thing they would expect and climbed over a mountain (still naked, we have to assume). After scaling sheer cliffs by hand, he spent the night on top of the mountain in the snow before coming down the other side the next day.
After that, there was nothing left to do but walk. And walk and walk and walk and walk. After 11 days, he finally reached Fort Raymond. He was half-starved, his feet were torn and bloody and his limbs were swollen. All told, he had run, walked, climbed and swam 250 miles. After watching his good friend get murdered.
Immortalized by his home town in this incredibly disturbing graphic.
Suck it, Bear Grylls.
Meth Saves the Day
In June 1986, during Namibia's war for independence from South Africa, two Namibian guerrillas were on a mission just north of the border inside Angola when they realized they were being followed. They split up. One man went north and made an easy getaway. The other began running south and made a less easy but far more drug-fueled and entertaining getaway.
His trail was picked up by South African Special Forces trackers who began chasing after him in Casspir armored personnel carriers. Despite the fact that the trackers had vehicles with engines, and he was just a dude with legs, he actually managed to increase the distance between himself and the people tracking him.
Yeah, we're not talking about vehicles that have trouble when you remove the road.
When faced with a man who could outrun automobiles, the trackers upped the ante and called some helicopters, but that didn't work either, somehow. It's like they were chasing some kind of unstoppable half man/half god.
Say, what makes regular people think they're living gods? Ooh, we know: It's drugs!
The South Africans following his tracks found no evidence that he ever stopped to sleep. What they did find, however, was a bunch of used syringes. See, it wasn't adrenaline or fear that allowed this uncatchable guerrilla to get away; it was good old-fashioned methamphetamines. The drugs were so effective in keeping his run toward safety going that the trackers actually found spots where he had collapsed from exhaustion, then gotten back up and started running again.
"Hey, sometimes it takes a few seconds to find the vein."
This went on for five days. Finally, the Special Forces tracked his path to a road and the trail went dead. The South Africans gave up the chase, probably out of pure respect.
The guy is really lucky that he just happened to be carrying enough drugs to fuel him for 230 miles holy shit that's a lot of meth! Jesus. What was his plan with all of that meth if he wasn't being chased by Special Forces? Suicide? The worst two-man bachelor party? We really just want to meet this guy, we have so many questions.
Dude, nobody is chasing you!
Chris Ryan: The One That Got Away
Chris Ryan was a member of patrol Bravo Two Zero, an eight-man British Special Air Service patrol sent to infiltrate Iraq in the opening days of the first Gulf War. Their mission was to cut a buried fiber-optic cable in the desert that ran alongside a busy road.
As soon as they landed, things started to go wrong. They found out they had been dropped right next to an Iraqi Army base, but were unable to tell anyone because their radios stopped working. Then their hiding place was discovered by a goat herder, who ran off and told the Iraqi Army. Never trust a goat herder. Never.
Tell us that goat isn't getting fucked by one right now.
They were then attacked by several truckloads of Iraqi soldiers and ended up ditching most of their packs and gear in order to get away.
With no radio contact, the men decided to walk to Syria, which was 200 miles away across the desert. Unfortunately, at that exact moment, the desert decided to stop being a desert. Temperatures dropped to freezing, and it actually started snowing. Chris Ryan and two other men -- Vince Phillips and Malcolm MacGown -- got separated from the rest. The other five were all killed or captured by the pursuing Iraqi Army.
Ryan, Phillips and MacGown pressed on. None of them had brought any cold-weather gear, because, hey, you don't expect it to snow, especially in the desert, especially when you're only going to be there for a little while to cut some goddamned cable. After three days of this, Phillips started to lose it after lying in snow all day and developed hypothermia. He kept falling out of line, and finally wandered off at night and got lost. MacGown and Ryan decided that if they didn't leave him and keep going, all three of them would die. So they pressed on.
"Hey, MacGown? Remember that part of the application that asked if you'd ever been cursed by the devil?"
The next day, MacGown and Ryan were found by another goat herder. Ryan decided he'd had enough of this goat herder crap and drew a knife to stab the guy, but MacGown stopped him and instead decided to ask the man for food. The herder told MacGown to follow him, and led him straight to the Iraqi Army, who captured him and tortured him. Vintage goat herder bullshit.
Ryan continued on, but soon ran out of water and began to suffer from hypothermia and dehydration. After a few more days, he found what he thought was water in a stream and filled his canteen. When he drank it, he found that it was actually toxic waste from an industrial plant, because why the fuck not, right? Life's terrible sometimes.
"Possible cancer in 20 years or certain death now? Boy, that's a hard one."
Well, there must have been some magic in that toxic waste, because it filled Ryan with the superpower of not dying for just a little bit longer. He was almost dead when he came to the border fence; every joint in his body hurt, his feet were covered in sores and most of his friends had been killed as a result of dick-faced goat herders. He still had enough strength to climb over the barbed wire fence with his bare hands, which we imagine had to add at least a little more pain into the mix, but he made it over the border and into Syria, where a local family that had absolutely nothing to do with goats gave him food and water.
A year later, he was still making regular hospital visits for kidney failure and malnutrition due to his journey. He wasn't declared fit for duty for two years, although we're guessing he was declared fit for loads of sympathy sex much sooner than that.
Here he is, secreting military equipment instead of sweat.
David Sillito Walks 180 Miles Through the Sahara Desert
David "Jack" Sillito was a British Special Air Service trooper in North Africa during World War II. When his unit was ambushed during a mission to bomb a German train in 1942, Sillito found himself left behind. At that point, he had three seemingly unique choices that all had one unifying theme that tied them together: Every option was awful. He could either surrender to the Germans, which was a terrible option in 1942 and would probably even suck today, as anyone who's ever eaten German food can confirm. He also had the option to walk along the coast and back to the safety of Allied lines, a great choice if you don't consider the fact that it was a 500-mile walk. So, he went with door number three, a 140-mile walk south to a cache of SAS supplies hidden at a wadi (valley). Unfortunately, this walk would take him right through the Sahara Desert. He only had a map and compass. No food, no water, and a shitload of desert.
At this point you'd start considering fascism just for the sauerkraut.
He survived the first two days on a tiny bit of water he found in a dead man's canteen on an old battlefield, and on day three he found a blown-up tank that had a can of beef still inside. Just the phrase "can of beef" is enough to make most people retch, but when you're on the verge of death by starvation, "tin can of beef retrieved from a blown-up tank" sounds like a freakin' delicacy. Unfortunately, when you're also on the verge of death by dehydration, your mouth is so dry that chewing becomes impossible. So he tossed the beef and kept the can so he could use it to drink his own urine. It sounds horrible, but in all fairness ... nope. No fairness here. It sounds horrible, because it was horrible. No question about it.
On day six, he saw three jeeps off in the distance, but couldn't call out to them because his voice was gone, and they didn't see him when he waved or ran, or even when he took off his shirt and set it right the fuck on fire. They kept on driving.
"I said, 'Can I get some?' He said, 'You can't get none.' I had a chance to run -- he pulled out his shotgun."
At this point, Sillito gave up. He lay down and picked up a rock and tried to smash his own head in with it. Sounds about right to us! But, as he said later, "I found I hadn't even the strength to commit suicide. I couldn't even give myself a headache." He then tried to bury himself in sand and die, but collapsed and fell asleep instead.
When he woke up, still alive, much to his dismay, he started walking again and, lo and behold, he found that wadi he had been looking for. Unfortunately, the supplies he was expecting to find weren't there. His only hope at that point was rain, which was unlikely. This is the Sahara Desert we're talking about; it often goes five years at a time without rain, so there's not much chance of that happening.
But not much chance clearly doesn't mean "no chance," because amazingly, at the point where he had given up all hope, it totally started raining. Sillito drank until he couldn't drink anymore and then fell asleep, waking up to the sounds of British troops rescuing his unspeakably lucky ass. He had survived eight days in the Sahara with no food and hardly any water, which is not even supposed to be scientifically possible. For his efforts, he was granted an honorable discharge and allowed to return home to his family.
"OK, that's enough -- get off me."
Just joking, pussy. He recovered and was back in combat in less than a month.
The Unnamed Catawba Indian Warrior
In the early 1700s, the Catawba Indian tribe of South Carolina and the Seneca Indians of New York decided that they hated each other, and they weren't going to let the four states' worth of distance between them keep them from killing each other. Let's hear it for dedication!
Innumerable battles were fought between Catawba and Seneca war parties in North Carolina and Virginia. One of these battles gave rise to a warrior who might have been one of the biggest badasses in the history of warfare (but only because John Rambo isn't a real person).
This unnamed Catawba warrior was hunting alone with his rifle somewhere in Virginia or North Carolina (like it matters) when he was ambushed by a Seneca war party. He immediately took off running, but would turn back every now and then just to take in the scenery and such. Oh, and to shoot people. He shot and killed seven Senecas before they managed to surround and capture him.
Catawba Indians in 1913, just daring someone to fuck with them.
The Senecas stripped him naked (we're sensing a theme here), tied him up and force-marched him back to New York. They paraded him through each Seneca town, allowing the townspeople to run out and whip him as he passed. (Take note, Macy's, because this, while barbaric, is literally the only way to make a parade interesting.)
His captors had planned to burn him alive once they reached their hometown, but there they made the fatal mistake of untying him. For some reason, they must have thought he was tired after being marched butt-naked for something like 500 miles. And he was tired -- tired of not being a badass! (He dashed off and dove into a nearby river.)
He hit the water with gusto and kept swimming, all the way across, without coming up for air one time. When he did pop up on the far bank, the Senecas had broken out rifles and were shooting at him, almost certainly having decided that the burning alive idea would fail with that much water now involved. Did our warrior run away? Of course not. According to the historian who recorded this story, "He first turned his backside toward them, and slapped it with his hand." Then he turned around again, let out a war whoop just to add to the insult and dashed off into the woods.
Above: An artist's representation. (The artists aren't paid well.)
He ran so fast that he got a two-day head start on the Senecas, who were chasing after him, which, holy shit, how slow are you guys, Senecas? What normal people would do in this situation is "keep running." What our warrior did, though, was wait until nightfall and double back.
You see, the five Senecas chasing him had set up camp for the night and failed to post a guard. In their defense, they probably didn't expect one naked man running for his life to turn around and come back at them, but that's exactly what he did. He sneaked into the middle of their camp, picked up one of their tomahawks and killed all five of them in their sleep. And then he set off running again.
The next day, another party of Senecas came to the camp and was shocked to find their comrades cut up into little pieces. They held a council and decided that in order to do what he'd done, the escaping warrior must be a wizard. Since he was a wizard, they obviously couldn't catch him if they tried. So they decided to stop trying and go home, and no, we're not making the wizard part up.
He also talked in a thick English accent and didn't take kindly to the uppity elves of Florida.
The warrior made it back home to South Carolina after running nonstop for several days. Oh, and before he went back home, he went back to the spot where he was first captured, dug up the bodies of the seven Senecas he had killed when he was caught and scalped them, too, because attention to detail is essential during times of battle.
The Seneca, on the other hand, were so totally freaked out by all of this that they abandoned the town he had escaped from and moved right the fuck out.
"No, that's not why we did it! We just thought that town was totally stupid!"
And since this guy remains unknown, we're forced to agree with the Seneca on this one. Dude's totally a wizard and not to be fucked with.
For more badassery against the odds, check out The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival. Or allow Cracked to keep you alive with 7 Common Survival Tactics (That Will Get You Killed).