Hugh Glass

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This article is about the 19th-century American frontiersman. For the 19th-century Australian pastoralist of the same name, see Hugh Glass (pastoralist).
Hugh Glass
Born c. 1780
Province of Pennsylvania
Died 1833 (aged c. 53)
Yellowstone River
Nationality American
Occupation Frontiersman

Hugh Glass (c. 1780–1833) was an American fur trapper and frontiersman noted for his exploits in the American West during the first third of the 19th century.

Glass was born in Pennsylvania, to parents who were from Ireland of Scottish descent.[1][2] An explorer of the watershed of the Upper Missouri River in present-day North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, Glass is best known as a frontier folk hero for his legendary cross-country trek after being mauled by a grizzly bear.


Early life[edit]

Few of the details of Glass' life before the bear attack have been verified, and his story is noted for its frequent embellishment. He is often reported to have been captured by privateers under the command of Jean Lafitte off the coast of Texas in 1816, and forced to become a pirate for as long as two years. He allegedly escaped by swimming to shore near present-day Galveston, Texas. Afterwards, Glass is rumored to have been captured by Pawnee Native Americans, with whom he lived for several years, eventually taking a Native American wife. He traveled to St. Louis in 1821, accompanying several Pawnee delegates invited to meet with United States authorities.[3]

General Ashley's expedition[edit]

In 1822, Glass responded to an advertisement in the Missouri Gazette and Public Advertiser placed by General William Henry Ashley, which called for a corps of 100 men to "ascend the river Missouri" as part of a fur-trading venture. Many others who later earned reputations as famous mountain men also joined the enterprise, including James Beckwourth, Thomas Fitzpatrick, David Jackson, John Fitzgerald, William Sublette, Jim Bridger, and Jedediah Smith. These men would later be known as "Ashley's Hundred".

The expedition was attacked in May 1823 by Arikara warriors, and Glass was apparently shot in the leg. Fearing that continuing up the Missouri would make them vulnerable to further attack, at least some of the party, including Glass, chose to travel overland towards the Yellowstone River.

Bear mauling
In August 1823, near the forks of the Grand River in present-day Perkins County, South Dakota, while scouting for game for the expedition's larder, Glass surprised a grizzly bear with two cubs. The bear charged, picked him up, and threw him to the ground. Glass managed to kill the bear with help from his trapping partners, Fitzgerald and Bridger, but was left badly mauled and unconscious. Ashley (who was also with them) became convinced he would not survive his injuries.

Ashley asked for two volunteers to stay with Glass until he died, and then bury him. Jim Bridger (then 19 years old) and Fitzgerald (then 23 years old) stepped forward, and as the rest of the party moved on, began digging his grave.[4] Later claiming that they were interrupted by attacking Arikara, the pair grabbed Glass's rifle, knife, and other equipment, and took flight. Bridger and Fitzgerald later caught up with the party and incorrectly reported to Ashley that Glass had died.

The 200 mile route of the 1823 odyssey by Hugh Glass

Despite his injuries, Glass regained consciousness, but found himself abandoned, without weapons or equipment. He had festering wounds, a broken leg, and cuts on his back that exposed bare ribs. Glass lay mutilated and alone, more than 200 miles (320 km) from the nearest American settlement at Fort Kiowa on the Missouri. Glass set his own leg, wrapped himself in the bear hide his companions had placed over him as a shroud, and began crawling. To prevent gangrene, Glass laid his wounded back on a rotting log and let maggots eat the dead flesh.

Glass crawled overland south toward the Cheyenne River using Thunder Butte as a navigational tool, where he fashioned a crude raft and floated downstream to Fort Kiowa. The journey took him six weeks. He survived mostly on wild berries and roots; on one occasion he was able to drive two wolves from a downed bison calf, and feast on the meat. Glass was aided by friendly Native Americans who sewed a bear hide to his back to cover the exposed wounds and provided him with food and weapons.

Back from the dead
After recovering, Glass set out again to find Fitzgerald and Bridger, motivated either by murderous revenge or the desire to get his weapons back. He eventually traveled to Fort Henry on the Yellowstone River, but found it deserted; a note indicated that Andrew Henry and company had relocated to a new camp at the mouth of the Bighorn River. Arriving there, Glass found Bridger but apparently forgave him because of his youth, and then re-enlisted with Ashley's company.[3]

In early 1824, Glass, along with four others, was dispatched by Ashley to find a new trapping route, by going up the Powder River, then across and down the Platte River to the bluffs. The party set off in a bullboat. Near the junction with the Laramie River, they discovered a settlement of some 38 lodges, with several Indians on the shore. The Natives appeared to be friendly, and the trappers initially believed them to be Pawnees. After going ashore and dining with the residents, they realized the population to be Arikara[citation needed]. The men quickly got in the bull boat and paddled for the far shore, the ensuing chase ending with both parties landing nigh simultaneously. Two men, Marsh and Dutton, escaped and reunited later, but the other two, More and Chapman, were quickly overtaken and killed. Glass managed to hide behind rocks. Glass also found his knife and flint in his shot pouch after the ordeal. He fell in with a party of Sioux and traveled with them back to Fort Kiowa.

Glass later learned that Fitzgerald had joined the army and was stationed at Fort Atkinson in present-day Nebraska. He traveled there as well, where Fitzgerald returned his stolen rifle. Glass reportedly spared Fitzgerald's life because of the penalty for killing a soldier of the United States Army.

Later years[edit]

Glass would again return to the frontier as a trapper and fur trader. Later, he was employed as a hunter for the garrison at Fort Union. He was killed, along with two fellow trappers, in an attack by the Arikara on the Yellowstone River in the winter of 1833.

According to the book The Deaths of the Bravos by John Myers Myers, the Arikara later tried to pass themselves off as friendly Minitari Natives to a party of trappers employed by the American Fur Company. However, one of the trappers (Johnson Gardner) recognized a rifle that one of the Indians had as the very rifle that Glass got back from Fitzgerald. Alarmed by this, Gardner surmised that the Minitari were actually the Arikara. The Natives were seized and killed as revenge for the killing of Hugh Glass.


A Milwaukee Journal article on Hugh Glass' exploits in 1922

Glass' survival odyssey has been recounted in numerous books. A monument to Glass now stands near the site of his mauling on the southern shore of Shadehill Reservoir at the forks of the Grand River.

Further reading[edit]

  • Jon T. Coleman. Here Lies Hugh Glass: A Mountain Man, a Bear, and the Rise of the American Nation (2013)
  • Dale L. Morgan. Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the American West (1952)
  • "Hugh Glass", Bruce Bradley (1999) ISBN 0-9669005-0-2
  • "Lord Grizzly", Fredrick Manfred (1954) ISBN 0-8032-8118-8
  • "Saga of Hugh Glass: Pirate, Pawnee and Mountain Man", John Myers Myers (1976) ISBN 0-8032-5834-8
  • "Hugh Glass, Mountain Man", Robert M. McClung (1990) ISBN 0-688-08092-8
  • "The Song of Hugh Glass" (part of "A Cycle of the West"), John G. Neihardt (1915)