Hugh Glass

Hugh Glass

Hugh Glass was born in about 1800. Little is known of his early life except that his family originally came from Ireland and that he was probably captured by Pawnee Indians when he was a young man.

On 13th February, 1822, William Ashley placed an advertisement in the Missouri Gazette and Public Adviser where he called for 100 enterprising men to "ascend the river Missouri" to take part in the fur collecting business. Those who agreed to join the party included Glass, Jim Beckwourth, Tom Fitzpatrick, David Jackson, William Sublette, James Bridger and Jedediah Smith.

Glass developed a reputation as a hard and courageous mountain man. He was wounded at Arickara but recovered and was one of those who survived Ashley's first expedition.

In August 1823, Glass was badly mauled by a bear. The leader of the party, Andrew Henry, left James Bridger and John Fitzgerald, behind to look after him. They became convinced he could not live and after taking his gun and equipment, abandoned him. When Bridger and Fitzgerald caught up with Henry they reported that Glass had died from his injuries.

However, Glass did regain consciousness and by eating wild berries and roots, he managed to crawl along the side of the Grand River. With the help of Native Americans Glass eventually reached Fort Kiowa. Glass now decided to track down and kill Bridger and Fitzgerald. Glass eventually found Bridger but decided to forgive him because of his age. He also discovered that Fitzgerald had joined the army and was no longer living in the region.

Glass now returned to life as a mountain man. Later he became a animal hunter providing food for people based at Fort Union.

Hugh Glass was killed by Native Americans while on the Yellowstone River in 1833.

Last spring the Germans had constructed huge tents in an open space in the Lager. For the whole of the good season each of them had catered for over 1,000 men: now the tents had been taken down, and an excess 2,000 guests crowded our huts. We old prisoners knew that the Germans did not like these irregularities and that something would soon happen to reduce our number.

History’s Badasses: Hugh Glass

Last time on History’s Badasses, we covered the woman known as the “Spanish Joan of Arc”: Agustina of Aragon. She was just your average girl living during the 1800s, but her great courage against the impossible odds of Napoleon’s invasion of Spain inspired thousands of Spanish soldiers to fight for victory.

This time, we’ve got an all-American badass for you by the name of Hugh Glass. His story has been immortalized in popular legend and in two feature-length films. The first: Man in the Wilderness (1971), the second: The Revenant (2015), starring Leonardo DiCaprio in a performance that would win the actor an Academy Award, BAFTA, and Golden Globe. The movies retell the incredible story of Hugh Glass’ survival after being left for dead by his companions and attacked by a grizzly bear in the South Dakotan wilderness. He trekked 200 miles to Fort Kiowa on his own, without supplies or weapons, and eventually made it home.

Early Life

Not very much is known about Hugh Glass’ early life. He was born in Pennsylvania sometime in 1783 to Scots-Irish immigrants from Ulster, in what is now present-day Northern Ireland.

Most of the stories we have about his early life come from popular legend. The stories go that he was captured by pirates in 1816 and spent two years with them. He escaped by swimming to shore on the coast of Texas. Other stories say he was captured by the Pawnee tribe, lived with them for many years, and eventually married a Pawnee woman.

What we do know is that, in 1821, when he was about 38 or so, Hugh Glass arrived in St. Louis with several Pawnee delegates who had been called there to meet with representatives from the United States government.

Tangling With a Grizzly Bear

His real story began in 1822. General William Henry Ashley had put an advertisement in the Missouri Gazette and Public Advertiser. The ad was looking to hire a corps of one-hundred men to “ascend the river Missouri” in a fur-trading venture. Many famous mountain men joined, including John Fitzgerald, David Jackson, and Jedediah Smith.

The group was traveling up the Missouri in 1823. They were scouting around at the forks of the Grand River, near the Shadehill Reservoir in South Dakota, looking for game. Glass was minding his own business with the rest of the group when he accidentally disturbed a grizzly bear, a mother grizzly bear, to be specific, with two cubs.

She charged, bit him, mauled him, and pinned Glass to the ground. Still, with the help of his expedition members, he managed to kill the bear. He was left horrifically mauled and unconscious. General Ashley didn’t think he would survive.

The General asked two volunteers to stay with Glass. They would wait for him to die and then give the man a proper burial. Two men stepped forward, named Fitzgerald and Bridger. They dug Hugh’s grave as the party moved on down the river.

Supposedly, a group of Arikara, a tribe affiliated with the Mandan and Hidatsa, swooped down on the pair and attacked them. That’s what Bridger and Fitzgerald told the party when they caught up with them later, anyway. They’d abandoned Hugh Glass, taken his rifle, knife, and other equipment, and left him to die.

All Glass knew when he woke up was that he was abandoned, left without any sort of weapons, food, or equipment. His leg was broken, his scalp was ripped open, his throat was punctured, his wounds were festering, and he was 200 miles from the nearest American settlement: Fort Kiowa.

What did he do? Did he lay there and die? Not Hugh Glass!

Running on sheer power of will, Glass was determined not to die. He set his own leg, wrapped himself in the only thing his comrades had left him: a bear skin by way of burial shroud, and began crawling on his hands and knees to Fort Kiowa.

It would take him six weeks. Thunder Butte was his landmark. From there, he crawled south to the Cheyenne River, where he managed to throw together a raft. He floated downstream to Fort Kiowa, surviving on wild berries and roots.

To prevent gangrene from his infected wounds, he let maggots eat the dead flesh. Despite his injuries, he drove two wolves away from a bison calf. That day, he ate as much of the raw meat as he could.

On his way down, he met a group of friendly Native Americans. They harbored him for a night, sewed a bear hide directly onto his back to cover his exposed wounds, and gave him food and weapons.

Eventually, he made it to Fort Kiowa. Glass shored up there and recovered from his wounds, but once he was recovered, he wasn’t finished. He set out to hunt down the two men that had abandoned him.

He found Bridger, but the story goes he forgave him because he was just a kid. Fitzgerald was a little less lucky. He found Fitzgerald at Fort Atkinson in Nebraska and made him return his rifle. Glass spared the man’s life, but told him that if he ever left the army, he’d kill him.

Other Stories

You’d think that Hugh Glass would have had his fill of exploration after such an adventure, but he didn’t. He returned to Ashley’s Hundred and, in 1824, set out to discover a new trapping route.

During the trip, they were attacked by Arikara. Two of the party were killed. Glass survived by hiding behind some river rocks. He got back to home base at Fort Kiowa by joining a band of Sioux and traveling home with them.


Hugh Glass spent the rest of his life as a trapper and fur trader. In 1833, he was killed by Arikara on the banks of the Yellowstone River. His story has been popularized in legend and myth as a testament to courage against impossible odds, and the power of the human spirit to survive in the face of danger.

No one knows if Hugh Glass actually had a Pawnee wife. Plenty of accounts suggest that he spent time living with the Pawnee, but there isn’t any real agreement as to how long he lived with them, under what circumstances, why he left, or if he ever married. And from what we DO know, he didn’t have any kids…

A Pawnee earth lodge in 1873

The Revenant (2015)

Yes. The Revenant true story confirms that this is one of the few facts about Hugh Glass that we do know for sure. He was a frontiersman and fur trapper. In 1823, he signed up for an expedition backed by General William Henry Ashley and Major Andrew Henry, who together founded the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1822 (Henry is portrayed by Domhnall Gleeson in The Revenant). Ashley had placed an ad in the Missouri Gazette & Public Advertiser in search of "enterprising young men." It was during this fur-trapping expedition that Hugh Glass was attacked by a grizzly bear, an event that turned Glass's story into Frontier legend. How much of the legend is true is uncertain, as the story was often embellished with each retelling.

Did Hugh Glass order the trappers to leave their boats and head into the mountains after the Arikara fight?

Did Hugh Glass really have a Native-American wife?

Little is known about the life of the real Hugh Glass prior to the 1823 bear attack. Most is conjecture, including his marriage to a Native American woman, with whom he supposedly fell in love after being captured by and living with Pawnee Indians for several years. As his legend grew, so did his elaborate backstory, which also included him being kidnapped by French-American pirate Jean Lafitte, a fate he allegedly escaped after a couple years by jumping ship and swimming ashore near what is now Galveston, Texas. We do know that Glass was an experienced frontiersman and a skilled hunter, but where and how he acquired those talents is anyone's guess.

Was the real Hugh Glass attacked by a bear?

Yes, although no eyewitness account exists, The Revenant true story reveals that it happened in the summer of 1823, five months after Glass joined a South Dakota fur-trapping expedition funded by Major Andrew Henry and William Henry Ashley. The mauling took place near the banks of the Grand River when Glass unexpectedly came upon a grizzly bear and her two cubs. The mother bear ripped his scalp, punctured his throat, broke his leg, and left him with numerous gashes. His fellow hunters heard his cries and rushed to help, using more than one bullet to drop the bear.

Did Hugh Glass leave behind a documented account of the bear attack?

No, at least none have been found. We do know that Hugh Glass was literate from a surviving letter he wrote to the parents of fellow fur trapper John Gardner, who was killed during an 1823 encounter with the hostile Arikara tribe (History Net). The papers of some of his bosses document him as being a difficult employee to rein in. However, he left little else behind to accurately document his life, and no direct eyewitness account of the bear attack exists.

The story of the attack first appeared publicly in an 1825 Philadelphia literary journal, written by a local lawyer in search of literary success. It spread across the United States in newspapers and other journals, quickly becoming Frontier legend. Glass's story became the subject of the 1915 poem "The Song of Hugh Glass" by John Neihardt and at least a half dozen books. Irish actor Richard Harris portrayed Glass in the trippy 1970 film Man in the Wilderness, which also starred John Huston.

I heard that Leonardo DiCaprio's character is raped by a bear in the movie, is that true?

Fox, the studio behind The Revenant, has strongly denied that there was ever a graphic rape scene involving DiCaprio's character and a bear. The controversial story, titled "DiCaprio Raped by Bear in Fox Movie," first appeared on the Drudge Report several weeks before the film's release. However, it appears that the news report was possibly sensationalized a bit. The source, an article on Showbiz 411, states the following, "The bear flips Glass over on his belly and molests him- dry humps him actually- as he nearly devours him." This doesn't seem to make sense since the bear was understood to have been a she, not a he.

Was Hugh Glass really left for dead by members of his hunting team?

Yes. Believing that Hugh Glass had received mortal wounds during his encounter with the bear, the expedition's leaders paid two men to stay behind until Glass died. This was done in order to give him a Christian burial. These men were John Fitzgerald and the younger Jim Bridger, portrayed in the movie by Tom Hardy and Will Poulter. They stayed with Glass for several days (the exact number varies). After seeing that his body was refusing to die, The Revenant true story confirms that they placed him in a shallow grave, collected his weapons, and headed off to rejoin the expedition.

Did the real story take place in the winter?

Was CGI used or did they really film in the harsh environments?

Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu made it clear from the beginning that computer-generated imagery would not be used as a stand in for remote locations. He also insisted on shooting in natural light. " If we ended up in greenscreen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of sh*t," he told The Hollywood Reporter. As a result, some members of the crew left the filming, unable to handle the harsh environments, which included temperatures of -13F (-25C) (T ). Filming took place in British Columbia, Alberta, Montana and southern Argentina.

Did they really kill Hugh Glass's son?

No. In The Revenant movie, the murder of Glass's mixed-race son by John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) prompts him to embark on a journey for revenge. This part of the movie is pure fiction, as there is no evidence that Glass had any children at all, much less a son who was slain before his eyes.

Did Hugh Glass really sleep in animal carcasses?

Prior to the film's release, actor Leonardo DiCaprio made headlines when he said that he slept in an animal carcass and ate raw bison liver to help embody the character. While sleeping in an animal carcass is not an entirely uncommon survival tactic (adventurer Bear Grylls slept in a deer carcass and crawled inside a camel carcass on his show Man vs. Wild), whether the real Hugh Glass did this or not is not known, but it certainly adds to the legend (most versions of the story mention Glass eating animal carcasses, which is more likely).

Other more outrageous details surrounding Glass's journey to survive have appeared in various tellings of his story. They include a grizzly bear licking maggots from Glass's wounds and Glass killing and eating a rattlesnake. The latter is certainly possible, but there's little doubt the other is the result of Glass's story being spun a few too many times.

How far did the real Hugh Glass crawl after being left for dead?

Did the real Hugh Glass get his vengeance?

No. In researching The Revenant true story, we learned that Hugh Glass did catch up to John Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger, the men who abandoned him, but he forgave them instead of exacting violent revenge. It should be noted again that in real life these men never killed Glass's son, so forgiveness would have come more easily.

What exactly is a "revenant?"

In the simplest terms, a "revenant" is a dead spirit that comes back to life to terrorize the living. In terms of the movie, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) survives the bear attack, crawls from the shallow grave he was left in, and metaphorically comes back to life to terrorize those who betrayed him, later stating, "I ain't afraid to die anymore. I done it already."

What was Hugh Glass's life like in the years following the bear attack?

Little is known about Hugh Glass's later years, but we do know that he worked as a hunter at the mouth of the Yellowstone River, employed by Fort Union. -Daily Mail Online

Was Hugh Glass really killed by indians?

The Revenant interview below features Leonardo DiCaprio discussing the film's grueling shoot.

Hugh Glass, the True Story of “The Revenant”

Inspired by true events, The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, tells the story of survival and revenge on the frontier. Read on to learn about the real story of Hugh Glass, the man who inspired it all.

Stories abound of the prodigious experiences of the mountain men—the larger-than-life fur trappers and wilderness explorers of the early 19th century. None, however, surpasses the saga of Hugh Glass’s remarkable fight for life after surviving a grizzly bear attack. It is one of the most fantastic tales to emerge from the entire Westward Movement. In fact, it inspired the recent Leonardo diCaprio film, The Revenant. Hollywood took liberties with the story, but as near as oral tradition can be trusted, what follows is the real story of Hugh Glass, the true story of The Revenant.

Glass’s life before becoming a mountain man is shrouded in mystery. Some versions have him sailing as a pirate under the notorious Jean Lafitte. It is a known fact, however, that he joined the Ashley-Henry fur-trapping brigade when he was around 40, older than middle-aged for his time. The Ashley-Henry party left St. Louis in the spring of 1823, making its way up the Missouri River to the “Shining Mountains”—the Rockies—in search of beaver pelts. Within a short time, they were set upon by a party of Arikara, leaving 15 of their number dead and “Old Hugh,” as Glass was called, wounded in the leg.

By summer, the trappers were proceeding cautiously overland, their eyes peeled for signs of hostiles. And there were other perils in the mountains that threatened to snuff out a man’s life, and grizzlies—“Old Ephraim,” as the trappers termed them—ranked high on the list. A full-grown grizzly stood upwards of 12 feet tall, and weighed some three-quarters of a ton. Even if a man survived a bear attack, he was usually left with physical reminders of the encounter. The legendary Jedediah Smith himself had come out second-best in a contest with an angry grizzly, leaving him with several broken ribs, and much of his scalp and one ear hanging by a strip of skin. He calmly supervised the reassembling of his face with rawhide stitches, but he would bear the reminders of the encounter till his death.

At this juncture, the lack of documentation means we’re relying on oral tradition for the rest of the story. According to legend, Hugh Glass—his leg now healed—was scouting ahead of the brigade near the forks of the Grand River, when he entered a thicket to hunt for berries. He immediately stumbled upon a sow grizzly and her two cubs. As the bear reared upright and charged, Glass fired directly into her chest. His single-shot weapon now useless, he took to his feet, but the bear𠅊pparently unfazed by the shot—swiftly overtook him, and brought her claws down on the hapless trapper.

Although he hacked away with his knife, he was no match for the creature. By the time Glass’s comrades came to his aid, the animal had slashed his face to the bone, and opened long, gaping wounds on his arms, legs, and torso. The trappers fired several balls into the creature, finally bringing it down beside the inert Glass.

Glass was barely alive. His breathing was labored, and he was bleeding profusely from a number of grave wounds. The other trappers made him as comfortable as they could, expecting him to expire at any moment. However, when he survived the night𠅊nd the next few days—without any perceptible improvement, Major Henry decided that the party had to move on, to avoid the possibility of Indian attack. He offered to pay two men $40 each—the equivalent of two or three months’ pay—to remain with Glass until he died, and to then catch up with the rest of the party.

The two men who accepted the job were John Fitzgerald, a seasoned trapper, and a youth named Jim Bridger. As their fellows moved out, the two set up a cold camp, settled into their buffalo robes, and waited for the old man to die. But Glass held on, breathing fitfully. After nearly a week, Fitzgerald grew desperate to catch up to the brigade. He convinced young Bridger that there was nothing to be gained by further endangering their lives, and�ter taking Glass’s rifle, knife, and all his “possibles—they left him to die alone.

Incredibly, Glass regained consciousness. He rallied enough to realize his situation, and after dragging himself to water at a nearby spring, and snagging a few buffalo berries from a low-hanging bush, he began to drag his torn body towards salvation—which, in this case, was Fort Kiowa, a trading post some 250 miles distant. He had neither the means nor the strength to hunt for food, so he sustained himself on roots and the rotting meat of old kills he came upon as he crawled through the dry, scrubby plains of present-day South Dakota. At one point, he found a rattlesnake sated and swollen from a recent kill, and after smashing its head with a rock, soaked the meat in water and fed himself.

Glass calculated he was covering a mile a day at a crawl, and knew that he had to do better if he was to survive. He stood for the first time since the bear attack after seeing a pack of wolves bring down and feed on a buffalo calf. Realizing that without its meat he would die, he struggled to his feet and, leaning on a long stick, screamed at the wolves until they left their kill. Glass stayed alongside the calf for several days, gorging on its organs and flesh, gradually regaining some of his strength. When the meat turned so rancid that it was no longer edible, Glass continued on his journey, walking upright and making 10 miles a day.

 On his trek, he narrowly escaped death in a buffalo stampede, and was nearly discovered by a passing band of Arikara. Incredibly, after seven weeks in the wilderness, he staggered into Fort Kiowa, to the amazement of the fort trader. Keeping him alive against all odds was the unquenchable urge to live, his wilderness skills, and the unflagging desire for vengeance. He was determined to exact retribution from the two men who had taken all he possessed and left him to die in the wild.

After further recuperation, Hugh joined an expedition to the Mandan villages, where he was told that the Ashley-Henry company was wintering at Fort Henry. Knowing that Fitzgerald and Bridger would number among the party, he set off for the fort in mid-December. On New Year’s Eve, as a storm raged outside the walls, the reveling trappers within responded to a muffled pounding on the gate. They opened it to a wraithlike, ice-encrusted, nearly frozen Hugh Glass.

The holiday merriment ceased abruptly as Glass rasped, “Where’s Fitzgerald and Bridger?”

He was told that Fitzgerald had quit and joined the Army as a scout, which made him a federal employee, and untouchable. For Glass to kill him now would be to invite his own execution. Bridger, however, was skulking in a corner, overcome with guilt and shame. Seeing how young the boy was, and allowing for the fact that he had been strongly influenced by Fitzgerald, Glass spared the youth’s life�ter giving him a hearty chewing-out. Jim Bridger took the lesson to heart, and went on to become one of most celebrated trappers, guides, and scouts in the West.

Hugh Glass returned to his trapper’s life, and his legend spread throughout the nation. The account was, no doubt, improved upon over time, reflecting the old Western maxim, 𠇊ny story you can’t improve on just ain’t worth the tellin’!” Old Hugh ultimately “went under” 10 years later, in an Arikara attack. His old enemies finally killed and scalped the old trapper, but not before his name had found an honored place in the pantheon of Western legends.

Who Was Hugh Glass?

© 2015 Twentieth Century Fox

The first written record of the mountain man Hugh Glass’ travails can be found in a letter that a fellow hunter, Daniel Potts, wrote to friends back East in 1824. Potts, like Glass, was employed by General William Ashley’s Rocky Mountain Fur Company and had been on hand for the debriefing of a detachment of hunters and mountain men returning from a fight with Arikara Native Americans. After telling his correspondent what the men reported had happened in the skirmish, Potts wrote that one man of the group “was allso tore nearly all to peases by a White Bear and was left by the way without any gun who afterwards recover’d.” This hunter in “peases” was Hugh Glass.

Since Potts wrote his letter, the minimal details of Glass’ story have been spun out dozens of times, furnishing material for newspaper articles and magazine sketches an epic poem a couple of novels a biography a very of-its-time early-1970s movie Michael Punke’s 2002 book The Revenant and, now, the Alejandro González Iñárritu film, which is adapted from that book and takes its name. The film prides itself on a sense of elemental timelessness, but in truth, the movie, like every retelling of the Glass myth, has had to put significant flesh on the mountain man’s storied bones. And so each generation has created the Glass that most satisfies it. Where has Glass been, and what does our version tell us about ourselves?

Here’s what we know about the historical Glass. In 1823, he went up the Missouri River with a party led by William Ashley, then split off with a group led by Ashley’s partner Andrew Henry, which sought the Yellowstone River. They were on the Grand River, on the border between North and South Dakota, when Glass, sent ahead to hunt meat for their dinner, encountered a bear in a thicket. The bear ripped him open and he was left clinging to life. Fearing that the Arikaras would find the party if they stayed, Henry left two men—probably, though not definitely, Jim Bridger and a companion named Fitzpatrick—with Glass, to bury him when he inevitably died. The two left after five days, when their fear overcame them convincing themselves that he was on his way to death, they took Glass’ rifle and “possibles” (survival supplies) along. They showed Henry these items as proof of the man’s demise.

Glass woke up and rested by a spring for 10 days, then crawled 350 miles to Fort Kiowa, on the Missouri River, in the southeastern part of present-day South Dakota. He then traveled to Henry’s post at the junction of the Bighorn River and the Yellowstone. By then he seems to have dropped the idea of avenging himself on Bridger and held a grudge only against Fitzpatrick—though we don’t know why. He went to Fort Atkinson in search of Fitzpatrick, but his quarry had enlisted and was protected by the Army. Glass got back his rifle, and that was the end of the matter. He was eventually killed, apparently by the Arikaras, near the Missouri River, in 1833.

That’s what we know. Beyond this basic story line, we have embroidery. Did the bear have two cubs with her? Did Ashley offer the men money to stay with their wounded friend? Bridger went on to become a famous mountain man, but who was Fitzpatrick? What were Bridger’s and Fitzpatrick’s relationships with Glass? Who was Glass, anyway? Was he a former sailor–turned-pirate, as some account would have it? What made him want to take this job, to live in a dangerous place and do this dangerous work? Why did he seek vengeance? And why did he ultimately forgive Bridger, if not Fitzpatrick?

I asked the historian Jon T. Coleman what he thought about the way the new film answered these questions. Coleman is the author of Here Lies Hugh Glass: A Mountain Man, a Bear, and the Rise of the American Nation—a book that takes the scant details of the Glass story and explains what the man might have meant to 19 th -century Americans. “It’s hard for me to get into the mode of ‘Oh, you didn’t get this right, you didn’t get this right’ when the Hugh Glass story was a circus from the very beginning,” Coleman said.

That circus started with James Hall, a lawyer and aspiring writer who moved to Illinois to harvest stories of the American West. In 1825, Hall, having caught wind of the Glass story from an “informant” who saw Glass tell it in a frontier fort, wrote a sketch titled “The Missouri Trapper” and managed to get it published in a Philadelphia newspaper called The Port Folio. Here’s that sketch’s incredible opening: “The varied fortunes of those who bear the above cognomen, whatever may be their virtues or demerits, must, upon the common principles of humanity, claim our sympathy, while they cannot fail to awaken admiration.” The piece was an argument for mountain men’s hardiness and toughness—a “report from the West” meant to amuse urban audiences,and to make them feel good about the kinds of men that the new republic was producing. The Glass of Hall’s sketch, Coleman points out, has no interior life, except for a sense of “chivalry” that led him to pursue vengeance. The mental agonies he undergoes in later incarnations aren’t present the drama lies only in the trauma his body endures.

Hall ended his sketch with Glass, thwarted in his revenge, getting his rifle back: “This appeased the wrath of Hugh Glass, whom my informant left, astounding, with his wonderful narration, the gaping rank and file of the garrison.” This is an attribute of American “mountain men” that has been lost in the Punke book and the Iñárritu movie: They were notably voluble, loud, and active participants in the making of their own myths. The Punke version of Glass barely speaks—his larynx got in the way of the bear’s claws. By contrast, contemporary sources describe Glass as a prolix storyteller, not a mute endurance machine. “He was an artist in his own right, perhaps,” Coleman told me. “And the art started, the fabrication of the story started soon after it happened. It wasn’t like it happened in history and suddenly people picked it up and started weaving it into fiction it was almost instantaneous. People started elaborating on it and making it into something bigger than it was.”

Soon after Hall published “The Missouri Trapper,” iterations of the Glass story began popping up in newspapers and books. The 19 th -century Glass was a curiosity, like other real and fictional mountain men, trappers, and riverboaters who were beloved in the press: Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, James P. Beckwourth, Mike Fink, Jedediah Strong Smith, John Colter, Sut Lovingood. For mid-19 th -century Easterners steeped in the ideology of manifest destiny and American exceptionalism, stories like Glass’ were catnip. The new United States—especially the distant, powerful landscape of the American West, just “uncovered” by Lewis and Clark a few decades before—bred pragmatic, iron-tough men like Glass, who were capable of standing up to a grizzly bear and living to tell the tale. Surely the country was something special.

It’s ironic, Coleman points out in his book, that it’s the “marginal people laboring in far-off places” who came to be this era’s American heroes: men cheerfully working in a dangerous occupation, whose lives were cheap. For Coleman, Glass’ vulnerability intrigues him almost more than his strength. He writes of this time in history:

If 19 th -century writers for magazines and newspapers thought of Glass as a wild man who laughed at death, in the early 20 th century, as the closed frontier proceeded toward modernization, the man swaddled in a bearskin was transformed into something closer to a role model. As Coleman writes, before the 20 th century, the mountain man was a figure to be admired but not necessarily to be trusted. He was too slippery, telling tall tales and living by his own code, outside of society’s strictures this made him colorful but dubious. It took some historical distance for a fictional Glass to become an icon of moral rectitude, as well as physical strength.

In 1915, more than 80 years after Glass’ death, John Neihardt, a writer and poet probably best known for his 1932 book Black Elk Speaks, made the Glass story into an epic poem. The Song of Hugh Glass uses Glass’ relationship with Bridger as the propellant for its action. In the poem, Bridger becomes the ingénue “Jamie,” and he and Glass, who’s written as a much older man, have a May-December friendship that’s described as something like a love affair. Glass is taciturn (“the grudging habit of his tongue”) except when he’s with Jamie, who he has taken under his wing and offered to teach the ways of the mountain man. After Glass wakes up and before he realizes that he’s been abandoned, Neihardt has him long to see Jamie again: “To look again upon the merry eyes/ To see again the wind-blown golden hair.”

The driving force of the Neihardt poem is Glass’ anger at, and then forgiveness of, Jamie. At the end, in a climax that owes something to the conventions of sentimental literature, Glass finds Jamie being cared for in a Native American teepee, languishing with an illness brought on by his guilt at having left his friend out of cowardice. Because of the sickness, the younger man is temporarily blind and doesn’t know who Glass is they talk of the Bible, and eventually Glass reveals himself. They reconcile in a tearful reunion. The 1915 Glass turns out to be a good man, willing to set aside his rancor in favor of love.

Neihardt’s introduction to the poem, written to young readers, holds clues to his intentions. “The tremendous mood of heroism that was developed in our American West during [the period of the fur trade] is properly a part of your racial inheritance and certainly no less important a part than the memory of ancient heroes,” he writes. “Indeed, it can be shown that those men—Kentuckians, Virginians, Pennsylvanians, Ohioans—were direct descendants, in the epic line, of all the heroes of our Aryan race that have been celebrated by the poets of the past.” The racial language here is common in early 20 th -century writing, but, read in modern context, it points toward something important about the Glass story. The tale is about whiteness, about men moving about in a Native American world that already had its own politics and economy, largely viewing them as obstacles to be surmounted or allies to be used for survival, food, or sex. The fact that Neihardt sees such a story as integral to the “racial inheritance” of white readers reminds us how white the Glass story has always been.

In the middle of the 20 th century, Glass emerged again, this time as the centerpiece of a story of a man at war with the whole concept of civilization. In Frederick Manfred’s 1954 book, Lord Grizzly, the mountain man is talkative as all heck, though the reader may wish he weren’t some of the dialect used, while historically sourced, is distractingly comical. Of the many versions of Glass, Manfred’s may be the one who’s easiest to psychoanalyze: Manfred gives his hero a full backstory and many loud opinions. The book was a best-seller and a finalist for the National Book Award that year, indicating that it tapped into its own time on levels both critical and commercial.

Appropriately for an era that was (contra popular conceptions of the 1950s) quite concerned about its own tendency toward social conformity, Manfred’s Glass is a man who is against society and everything that goes with it: laws, rules, and white women’s ways. Glass has a Native American wife, Bending Reed, and he reflects on her attitude toward him: “He thought it a good thing that from birth on Indian women were taught to serve their lord and master. They knew exactly how to arouse the man in him. They knew how to keep a brave man brave.” He refuses to shave his beard, which his boss asks him to do, because it’s a sign of manhood (here comes some of that dialect): “We made a mistake when we let the wimmen talk us inta kissin’ ‘em, smoozlin ‘em face to face. The Indian wimmen never did it and was the better for it. And then we made a mistake when we let them talk us into shavin’ so we’d look like nice little boys again. It’s not wonder the country is so full of wet-behind-the-ears greenhorn kids.”

The abandoners, in Lord Grizzly, are young Bridger and a Fitzgerald who’s written as a slick pragmatist who is too smart for his own good. Glass eventually forgives Bridger (not before coming to the brink of gouging his eyes out, a common fighting tactic in the early 19 th century), but Fitz’s betrayal bothers him more. Thinking, during his long crawl, about Fitz’s motivations for leaving him, he decides it makes sense that a man with some education would do such a thing.

Glass defines himself as the opposite of this “bookman,” in one passage imagining himself as the Biblical Esau to Fitz’s Jacob. Jacobs, he thinks, are “Rebekah favorites, mama boys, she-rip sissies who stayed behind in the settlements to do squaw’s work, the smooth men back home who ran shops and worked gardens and ran factories.” Not Glass. “No, if anything he was an Esau, a hairy man and a man’s man and a cunning hunter, a man of the prairie and the mountains.” This “Lord Grizzly” was self-aware, conscious of his own place in the order of things the difference between him and the kinds of people who would publish humorous sketches about him in Philadelphia magazines was something he considered and treasured.

Who is the 21 st -century Glass? Over the past few years, Glass has become a totem of lost American masculinity, often recycled to point out the weakness of contemporary men, who could never have done what he did. He’s been named “Badass of the Week.” The hosts of the comedy podcast The Dollop, which told his story last year, turned Glass’ persistence into a commentary on their own comparative lack of mettle. With the Iñárritu movie, hailed for its brutality, Glass joins a pantheon of 21 st -century antiheroes whose physical pain only makes them stronger. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Glass is a silent, grunting, man’s man, up against a nemesis, Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who is not ambivalently motivated or misguided but downright bad.

Another way to look at it: Our Glass is a harbinger of things to come. “I see Glass being a guide to the future as much as to the past,” Coleman told me. Glass, Coleman said, is often used as instructional material in survivalist literature a tale of the frontier reimagined as a vision of the post-apocalypse, his resourcefulness and grit recast as an object lesson for those who make it to the other side. Glass’ trek is reminiscent of the journey of the protagonist in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road: a dismal drag across unpromising wastelands. You would hardly recognize the sly tale-teller, the sainted forgiver, or the thoughtful rebel in this grim, determined man.


Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the size of the United States nearly doubled and the fur trade quickly sought to profit from the unexplored new territory. Forts sprung up along rivers and overland trails to act as parts of a burgeoning factory system. The factory system was a nationally funded and operated trade network, in which Indigenous People would meet at certain forts and exchange furs for finished goods. The American government had hoped that nationalizing the fur trade would prevent the debauchery caused by the trading of alcohol with the natives. [ citation needed ] The factory system eventually failed for many reasons. First, the men working the factories were ex-military men and not experienced fur traders. These men often mishandled the furs resulting in major profit shifts. Second, the government failed to stop all private traders who bribed natives with alcohol. Eager to get access to liquor, the natives would break treaties with the government to get it. [ citation needed ] Lastly, the factories were not permitted to give gifts to natives or assimilate into native culture as many private fur traders could. Miscegenation was a major uniting force between private fur traders and natives that strengthened their relationship. [4]

With the demise of the factory system, private companies emerged and made large sums of money. Included in these were Manuel Lisa of the Missouri Fur Company and John Jacob Astor of the American Fur Company. These men were two of the richest men in America during this time. These private companies established forts that acted as rest stops for trappers. Among the most well-regarded forts was Fort Kiowa, also known as Fort Lookout.

Fort Kiowa was constructed in 1822 by Joseph Brazeau Jr. of the Berthold, Chouteau, and Pratte French Company. Brazeau fortified the

20,000-square-foot complex with a blockhouse and watchtower to guard against Crow and Sioux attacks. [5] Fort Kiowa soon became known as the jumping-off point for the 1823 trading expedition known as "Ashley's Hundred", which included traders Hugh Glass and Jim Bridger. Several months after the journey began, Glass was brutally attacked by a grizzly bear. Glass was able to kill the bear, but suffered many serious life-threatening wounds in the process. Two of Glass’ companions were instructed to remain with Glass until he died, and then bury him before reuniting with the rest of the party. However, the pair were allegedly chased off by a group of Arikaree natives, and Glass was left alone to die.

Bridger returned to the hunting party and reported to his commander that Glass had perished. However, Glass survived and was able to set his own wounds and crawl more than 200 miles back to Fort Kiowa. This feat and others where pioneers such as Adam Helmer showed perseverance despite harsh challenges in the wild have maintained a special place in the folklore of the American West. [6]

In 1827, Bernard Pratte purchased Fort Kiowa from Brazeau and made significant improvements. Pratte added several four room log houses, a storehouse, and a smith shop. Furthermore, Pratte encircled the fort with a wooden picket fence roughly twenty or thirty feet high to prevent Native attacks. Thus fortified, Fort Kiowa was expanded into a major trading post for Natives in the region. [7]

Later in the same year, John Jacob Astor purchased Fort Kiowa from Pratte for his rapidly expanding American Fur Company. Astor, who was the first multi-millionaire in America, bought Fort Kiowa to establish his presence in the upper Missouri and to further his monopoly on the American fur trade. Astor found the upper Missouri river area to be extremely prosperous. However, in the late 1830s, Astor’s American Fur Company was forced to abandon Fort Kiowa as the once lucrative fur trading business was no longer profitable due to several factors. First, there was a scarcity of beaver caused by rapid overhunting by intruding trappers. Second, there was a lack of public demand in America and Europe for pelts, as a new style, silk hats, was gaining prominence. Lastly, the intrusion of American trappers on what natives perceived as their land angered native tribes who began to revolt against the trappers. As supply and demand both declined, fur trading in America faced extinction. [8]

In 1840, Joseph LaBarge, a former steamboat captain, bought Fort Kiowa as a wintering post and Indian Agency. LaBarge housed many Indian agents whose job was to monitor and control trade between Native tribes and Euro-Americans. These agents lost popularity among the latter, who tended to view them as exploiters of the Native peoples, corrupt leaders who acted in their own interests. Popular opinion was relatively accurate as many Indian Agents were replaced during the 1840s after corruption was discovered. Under LaBarge’s ownership, Fort Kiowa was an unsuccessful venture, and as a result he abandoned it within the year. LaBarge is the last known inhabitant of Fort Kiowa.

Fort Kiowa is currently underwater, possibly submerged under a dam reservoir, Lake Francis Case. The area where Fort Kiowa once stood is recognized as a National Historic Fort of South Dakota. [ dubious – discuss ] Fort Kiowa is advertised as a tourist attraction in which adventure-seeking tourists can follow the same path Hugh Glass did in 1823. [ dubious – discuss ]

The 2015 film The Revenant is based on the life of Hugh Glass. [1]

Mountain Man Hugh Glass: The History of the Revenant

The Revenant, staring Leo DiCaprio and directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, tells the story of a frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s who must fight for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. It is based on the book The Revenant by Michael Punke, which itself is based on the story of an actual man named Hugh Glass.

There is very little about Hugh Glass that actually known outside of the fact that he was one of the “mountain men” who, during the turn of the 19 th century were drawn out west in pursuit of the lucrative business of fur-trapping. Now, when Europeans came over from the new world, they found themselves awash in animals which they could use for fur trade (mainly beavers). From the boom in resources was developed a new trade of people named “mountain men”. The mountain man was a rare bred (there was usually only about 200-300 total) of person who braved the wild, hostile Native Americans, and the elements for months at a time before they returned to civilization. They even had their own system of medicine, called “frontier medicine, to deal with any injuries that may occur. Sure enough, though, by the 1800s they had hunted the beaver population in the Eastern portion of the country to near extinction. But luckily the United States had just invested in the Louisiana Purchase, which opened up St. Louis to the Rocky Mountains to these trappers. Hugh Glass was one of the men who ventured west to seek his fortune.

The Story of the Revenant (do not continue reading if you want to avoid spoilers …. of American History)

What we do know about Hugh Glass is that he joined a fur-trading expedition organized by William Henry Ashley to journey from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains in 1823. While the expedition was in Montana, they build a post named Fort Henry, in hopes of trading with the Arikara Indians. However, the post was instead attacked and the expedition lost 11 people, with 13 other sustaining injuries. To gather supplies and get reinforcements for the endangered post, Ashley led a party of survivors, with Glass being one of them. On the way, however, the expedition was attacked by a Grizzy Bear and Glass was mauled to near death. Ashley ordered two men to stay behind and wait for Glass to either recover or die and to bury him. As the days went on and Glass refused to die, the two men, Bridger and Fitzgerald, grew antsier that they would fall too far behind the expedition to be able to catch up. They decided it would be best to leave Glass, and to take with them all of his weapons and equipment (which would be proof the other expedition members that Glass had died, because in the mountains you don’t waste gear on a corpse). Unfortunately for them, Glass somehow survived and made it 250 miles to a local post with his neck slashed, back torn up, and leg broken. During that time, he crawled, fought off wolves, covered his wounds in clay, and thought about what he would the two men who abandoned him [Check out the Time Magazine article “How could Leonardo DiCaprio’s Character Have Survived the Revenant”].

To find out if Hugh Glass ever did get his revenge on Fitzgerald and Bridger, check out either the movie or book version of The Revenant. You can also find several of resources on him at our library or by requesting books from another library.

Additional Resources

Books from Other Libraries (to order these books you will need to fill out the Request a Book from Another Library form)

The Song of Hugh Glass by John G. Neihardt

The Song of Hugh Glass celebrates the American fur trade west of the Mississippi in the early nineteenth century. The lives and adventures of the early fur traders and trappers who crossed the Missouri River are told with unforgettable vigor and magnificence by the brilliant epic poet John G. Neihardt. As he tells it, this was an age of individualism in our national historical epic, a time of the struggles and triumphs of solitary men more than communities.

Lord Grizzly by Frederick Manfred

Hunter, trapper, resourceful fighter, and scout, Hugh Glass was just another rugged individual in a crowd of rugged men until he was mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his best friends. They never expected to see him again. But they did, and he was not just Hugh Glass any more. He was Lord Grizzly.

Pirate, Pawnee, and mountain man the saga of Hugh Glass by John Meyers

Before his most fabulous adventure (celebrated by John G. Neihardt in The Song of Hugh Glass and by Frederick Manfred in Lord Grizzly), Hugh Glass was captured by the buccaneer Jean Lafitte and turned pirate himself until his first chance to escape. Soon he fell prisoner to the Pawnees and lived for four years as one of them before he managed to make his way to St. Louis. Next he joined a group of trappers to open up the fur-rich, Indian-held territory of the Upper Missouri River. Then unfolds the legend of a man who survived under impossible conditions: robbed and left to die by his comrades, he struggled alone, unarmed, and almost mortally wounded through two thousand miles of wilderness.

Here Lies Hugh Glass: A Mountain Man, A Bear and the Rise of the American Nation by Jon T. Coleman

In the summer of 1823, a grizzly bear mauled Hugh Glass. The animal ripped the trapper up, carving huge hunks from his body. Glass’s fellows rushed to his aid and slew the bear, but Glass’s injuries mocked their first aid. The expedition leader arranged for his funeral: two men would stay behind to bury the corpse when it finally stopped gurgling the rest would move on. Alone in Indian country, the caretakers quickly lost their nerve. They fled, taking Glass’s gun, knife, and ammunition withthem. But Glass wouldn’t die. He began crawling toward Fort Kiowa, hundreds of miles to the east, and as his speed picked up, so did his ire. The bastards who took his gear and left him to rot were going to pay.

Anniversary of little-known Revenant-style film…

This year marks the 50 th anniversary of a film which it’s star – Richard Harris – described as his ‘Genesis’.

The late Hollywood legend played the leading role in Man in the Wilderness, a 1971 movie about a scout who is attacked by a bear and left for dead by his colleagues.

As in The Revenant, Harris’ character – Zachary Bass – recovers and goes in search of revenge for his abandonment.

The reason it has a familiar ring to it is that it too is based, somewhat more loosely, on the legend of Hugh Glass.

None of the names from Man in the Wilderness are historically accurate, but (spoiler alert) there is an interesting end to the film that is more faithful to Glass’s experience.

Upon finally confronting the men who left him to die, Bass elects not to enact his revenge. It’s a worthy doff of the cap to historical accuracy.

Filming began in April 1971, and was shot in the Spanish region of Soria for just three months before its release on November 24 1971.

“This movie is Genesis to me,” Harris said ahead of the premiere.

“It’s my apocalypse. It’s a very special and very personal statement about a man struggling for personal identity, looking for God and discovering Him in the wilderness, in leaves and trees.

“It’s all the things that the young people, and we, are missing today.”

Remarkably, throughout the entire 104-minute movie, Harris has only nine lines of dialogue.

Bastardized History: the True Odyssey of Hugh Glass vs. “The Revenant”

The true odyssey of Hugh Glass is a stupendously-thrilling action drama of one man’s tenacity to survive under the most horrific conditions that also serves as a lofty modern morality teaching of how redemption, forgiveness and transcendence can overcome the use of brute violent retribution and revenge. Unfortunately, the Glass odyssey needs no further violent sensationalism for the sheer sake of sensationalism, factual distortion or revisionist history as portrayed by Hollywood’s latest action drama – The Revenant.

The Revenant, based in part on Michael Punke’s The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, claims to be a true story, loosely-based on the legend of Hugh Glass, a Scots-Irish American frontiersman who, in 1823, was among the first Europeans to explore the Upper Missouri River in present-day Montana, North & South Dakota and Platte River area of Nebraska.

However, every time another violent action Hollywood film comes along, such as The Revenant, and employs the disclaimer of being “loosely-based” on the truth, it’s a sure-fire red flag warning that Hollywood is about to again play fast and loose with the historical record, as written by its Director Alejandro Inarritu and Screen Writer Mark Smith who’ve employed their own brand of artistic license in The Revenant.

Serious students of Western American frontier history, and especially that of The Saga of Hugh Glass, are all too aware of this given reality in Hollywood film-making, as reflected by the oft commonly heard dismissive critique – “What else do you expect? That’s Hollywood!” Yet such a disclaimer shouldn’t always let Hollywood off the hook so easily from being accountable to the actual factual record of whatever it is that is being portrayed.

When this writer, for one, first learned of the production of The Revenant, a wave of great excitement and anticipation welled up because of what the Saga of Hugh Glass represents to not only Americans but people the world over in the 21 st century, plagued as we all are by so much terror, violence and retribution because the Hugh Glass epic is one of the most remarkable folk hero tales of human survival, endurance and resourcefulness that culminated in a lofty parable of how retribution and revenge can turn into forgiveness and transcendence. Yet The Revenant seemingly totally missed this most critically-important conclusion to the Hugh Glass epic tale.

Though The Revenant does make a credible attempt to factually document various aspects of the account, as much as is possible, given the many disparities and contradictions in the Hugh Glass folk legend, several serious fabrications are embedded within the film that are flat-out falsehoods that inexcusably detract from the authenticity of the film.

For starts, though Hugh Glass is known to have lived with the Pawnee Indians years before he joined the General Ashley Fur Expedition in 1823, some nineteen years after the Lewis & Clark Expedition, and learned many survival skills from the Pawnee that held him in good stead during his eventual harrowing survival tale, he did not have a Pawnee teenage son who accompanied him on the Ashley Expedition as portrayed in The Revenant. Furthermore, the son was not killed by John Fitzgerald when he and Jim Bridger stayed back with Hugh Glass after he had been mauled by a grizzly bear and lay on the verge of death. When Fitzgerald and Bridger eventually abandoned Hugh Glass, thinking he was already dead or near-death, and stripped him of all the weapons, equipment and clothing he would need for his ultimate survival that alone created enough burning desire and motivation in Hugh Glass to fuel his basic instinct to survive and inflict retribution upon the two frontiersmen. No other contrived cinematic device was needed. So the film’s contrived murder scene between John Fitzgerald and the Pawnee youth was totally unnecessary artistic license, apparently inserted solely for the purpose of pandering to yet more sensationalized, senseless murder and violence to sell more movie tickets.

Perhaps the most grievous historical transgression of all made by Director Inarritu and Screenwriter Mark Smith was when they inserted the blatantly untrue scene of a vicious knife fight that ensued between Hugh Glass and John Fitzgerald that, in point of fact, never even happened. This fantastical make-believe violent scene totally denigrates and negates the most powerful moral of the Hugh Glass saga that forgiveness can ultimately transcend revenge. Hugh Glass never did kill John Fitzgerald after he survived his harrowing wilderness ordeal where he had to crawl and stumble for months over several hundred miles of wild plains before floating on a makeshift raft several hundred miles more down the Missouri River until he reached Fort Kiowa that was located near present-day Chamberlain, South Dakota. Once he had sufficiently recovered his health, Glass then traveled for the next two years hundreds of miles more to the U.S. Army Post at Fort Atkinson, Iowa where Fitzgerald by then had enlisted in the U.S. Army’s Sixth Brigade, to confront him and retrieve the rifle that Fitzgerald had originally taken from him. Since Fitzgerald was a U.S. soldier Hugh Glass quickly realized that if he killed him, Glass himself would have been executed for killing a soldier. So Glass constrained his desire for revenge and instead was satisfied when Fitzgerald returned his rifle. Glass furthermore also travelled hundreds of miles more to track down Jim Bridger to where he was in Montana but also, in the end, forgave him for his cowardly deed because of his youth at the time. So The Revenant totally missed the whole redeeming point to this epic tale when it bastardized the ending with Hugh Glass’ murder of Fitzgerald.

One last glaring transgression was the decision to film The Revenant in the frozen wastelands of Canada’s Far North. The Hugh Glass survival story actually took place on the plains and prairies of present-day Montana, North & South Dakota and Platte River area of Nebraska, not the snow-bound, heavily wooded, rugged mountainous terrain of Canada. The choice of such a setting further detracts from the authenticity of the real story had it otherwise been filmed in some more appropriate setting.

Over the years, the Glass survival odyssey has been novelized and embellished in numerous books and dramas, among which include:

* The Song of Hugh Glass that appeared in “A Cycle of the West”, a collection of five epic poems (called “Songs”), written over a thirty year span by John G. Neihardt. Each poem written as enjambled heroic couplets. Written in 1915, The Song of Hugh Glass is one of the five songs brilliantly recounted by Neihardt.

* The Deaths of the Braves, written by John Myers

* Lord Grizzly, written by Frederick Manfred

* The Saga of Hugh Glass: Pirate, Pawnee & Mountain Man, written by John Myers Myers

* Man in the Wilderness, the 1971 action film starring Richard Harris

* Apache Blood, the 1975 film also loosely-based on the Glass story of revenge (Directed by Vern Piel, starring Dewitt Lee)

Most creative treatments of the High Glass story have focused solely or mainly on the aspect of revenge. But in the current 21 st century, with so much rampant terror, violence and revenge being carried out against peoples everywhere, what the world desperately needs most at this moment are not more books and films that herald revenge but that instead herald forgiveness and transcendence. Unfortunately, The Revenant falls far short!


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