Hugh Glass

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For the Australian pastoralist, see Hugh Glass (pastoralist).
Hugh Glass
Hugh Glass Illustration.jpeg
Hugh Glass being attacked by a grizzly bear, from an early newspaper illustration of unknown origin.
Born c. 1783
Pennsylvania, United States
Died 1833 (aged c. 50)
United States unorganized territory, near present-day Williston, Williams County, North Dakota
Cause of death Killed in battle by Native Americans
Nationality American
Other names Old Hugh
Ethnicity Scots-Irish
Occupation Frontiersman, trapper, fur trader, hunter, explorer
Employer Rocky Mountain Fur Company, Jean LaFitte, self-employed
Known for Having survived a grizzly bear mauling
Religion Presbyterian
Spouse(s) Pawnee woman

Hugh Glass (c. 1783 – 1833)[1][2][3] was an American frontiersman, fur trapper, fur trader, hunter, and explorer. Born in Pennsylvania to Scots-Irish parents, Glass became an explorer of the watershed of the Upper Missouri River, in present-day Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and the Platte River area of Nebraska.[4] Glass is best known for his story of survival and retribution, after being left for dead by companions when he was mauled by a grizzly bear.

The life of Glass has been adapted into two feature-length films: Man in the Wilderness (1971) and The Revenant (2015), in the latter of which Glass was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in a performance that earned him an Academy Award, BAFTA and a Golden Globe. The retellings portray the survival struggle of Glass, who in the best historical accounts made his way crawling and stumbling 200 miles (320 km) to Fort Kiowa, in South Dakota after being abandoned without supplies or weapons by fellow explorers and fur traders during General Ashley's expedition of 1823.

Despite the story's popularity, its accuracy has been disputed. It was first recorded in 1825 in The Portfolio, a Philadelphia literary journal, as a literary piece and later picked up by various newspapers. Although originally published anonymously, it was later revealed to be the work of James Hall, brother of The Porfolio's editor. There is no writing from Hugh Glass himself to corroborate the veracity of it. Also, it is likely to have been wildly embellished during the years as a legend.[5][6]

Early life[edit]

Some mountain men maintained a close relationship with the Native American tribes.

Hugh Glass was born in Pennsylvania, to Scots-Irish parents who had emigrated from Ulster in present-day Northern Ireland. Glass' life before the bear attack was uncertain. His frontier story contained numerous embellishments. He was reported to have been captured by privateers under the command of the Gulf of Mexico pirate chief Jean Lafitte off the coast of Texas in 1816 and forced to become a pirate for up to two years.[7] Glass allegedly escaped by swimming to shore near what is present-day Galveston, Texas. Hugh Glass was later rumored to have been captured by the Pawnee tribe, with whom he lived for several years. He eventually wed a Pawnee woman. Glass traveled to St. Louis in 1821, accompanying several Pawnee delegates invited to meet with United States authorities.[8]

General Ashley's 1823 expedition[edit]

See also: Arikara War

In 1822, Glass responded to an advertisement in the Missouri Gazette and Public Advertiser placed by General William Henry Ashley,[9] 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, John Fitzgerald, David Jackson, Giles Roberts, William Sublette, Jim Bridger, Thomas Fitzpatrick, and Jedediah Smith. These men and others would later be known as "Ashley's Hundred".

The expedition was attacked in June 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, some of the party, including Glass, chose to travel overland towards the Yellowstone River.

Glass wrote a letter[10] to the parents of John S. Gardner, killed on June 2, 1823:

Dr Sir: My painful duty it is to tell you of the death of your son who befell at the hands of the Indians 2nd June in the early morning. He died a little while after he was shot and asked me to inform you of his sad fate.

We brought him to the ship when he soon died. Mr. Smith a young man of our company made a powerful prayer who moved us all greatly and I am persuaded John died in peace. His body we buried with others near this camp and marked the grave with a log. His things we will send to you. The savages are greatly treacherous.

We traded with them as friends but after a great storm of rain and thunder they came at us before light and many were hurt. I myself was shot in the leg. Master Ashley is bound to stay in these parts till the traitors are rightly punished. Yr Obt Svt Hugh Glass

Grizzly bear mauling[edit]

Near the forks of the Grand River, near present-day Shadehill Reservoir, Perkins County, South Dakota, while scouting for game for the expedition larder, Glass surprised and disturbed a grizzly bear with two cubs. The bear charged, picked him up, bit and lacerated his flesh, severely wounded him, and forced him to the ground. Glass nevertheless managed to kill the bear with help from his trapping partners, John S. Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger, but was left badly mauled and unconscious. General Ashley, who was also with them, became convinced Glass would not survive his injuries.

Ashley asked for two volunteers to stay with Glass until he died and then bury him. Fitzgerald and Bridger stepped forward, and as the rest of the party moved on, began digging his grave.[11][12] Later, claiming that they were interrupted by attacking Arikara, the pair grabbed the rifle, knife, and other equipment belonging to Glass, and took flight. Bridger and Fitzgerald later caught up with the party and incorrectly reported to Ashley that Glass had died. There is a debate whether Bridger was one of the men who abandoned Glass.[13]

The 200 mile route of the 1823 odyssey by Glass

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

Using Thunder Butte as a navigational landmark, Glass crawled overland south toward the Cheyenne River 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 raw 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.

Pursuit of Fitzgerald and Bridger[edit]

After recovering from his wounds, Glass set out again to find Fitzgerald and Bridger. 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.[8]

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 he would be killed by the army captain for killing a soldier of the United States Army. However the captain asked Fitzgerald to return the stolen Hawken rifle to Glass, and before departing Glass warned Fitzgerald never to leave the army, or he would still kill him.[8] According to Yount's story, Glass also obtained $300 as compensation.[8]

Further explorations for General Ashley in 1824[edit]

In the period intervening, between finding Bridger and finding Fitzgerald, Glass and four others were dispatched in February 1824 with mail for Fort Atkinson. They traveled up the Powder River, then across to the Platte River. There they constructed skin boats and traveled down the Platte River to the lower end of the Black Hills.[14] Glass and his party discovered a settlement of 38 lodges of Arikara. Their leader, who was known by Glass, declared the tribe to be friendly and invited them in so the men went ashore. While smoking with him in his lodge, Glass noticed their equipment being taken by the residents and realized it was a trap.[14] The men quickly fled but two were killed by the pursuing war party. Glass managed to hide behind some rocks until the Arikara gave up their search, but was separated from the two other survivors. He was relieved to find his knife and flint in his shot pouch and traveled to Fort Kiowa surviving off the land.[14]

Later years and death[edit]

Glass returned to the frontier as a trapper and fur trader. He was later employed as a hunter for the U.S. Army garrison at Fort Union, near Williston, North Dakota.

Hugh Glass was killed along with two of his fellow trappers in early spring of 1833 on the Yellowstone River, in an attack by the Arikara.[15]

In book, film, and television[edit]

Glass' survival odyssey has been recounted in numerous books and dramas. A monument to Glass now stands near the site of his mauling on the southern shore of the present-day Shadehill Reservoir, in Perkins County, South Dakota, at the forks of the Grand River.


  1. ^ Keys, Jim. "Hugh Glass: Mountain Man". The History Herald. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  2. ^ "Hugh Glass, mountain man: 'Revenant' tale intertwines with Montana history". The Montana Standard. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  3. ^ "Biographical Notes: Hugh Glass". Wandering Lizard California. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  4. ^ "Hugh Glass: American frontiersman Biography". Britannica. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  5. ^ "Best served cold: the terrifying true story behind The Revenant". The Telegraph. Retrieved 1 March 2016. 
  6. ^ Todd, Edgeley W (Winter 1955). "James Hall and the Hugh Glass Legend" (PDF). American Quarterly. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 7 (4): 362–370. Retrieved June 17, 2016. 
  7. ^ "Hugh Glass – Fact vs Fiction – The True Story of Hugh Glass". The Real Story of Hugh Glass. Retrieved 2016-01-05. 
  8. ^ a b c d "Biographical Notes – Hugh Glass". Wandering Lizard History. Retrieved 4 October 2015. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Thrapp, Dan L. (1991-08-01). Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography: G-O. U of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0803294190. 
  12. ^ Monumental Mysteries
  13. ^ "Did Jim Bridger Abandon Hugh Glass". Hugh Glass – The Real Story. Museum of the Mountain Man. Retrieved December 18, 2015. 
  14. ^ a b c Dennie, Joseph; Hall, John Elihu (1 January 1825). "The Port Folio". Harrison Hall. 
  15. ^ "Hugh Glass Later Life". Hugh Glass – The Real Story. Museum of the Mountain Man. Retrieved December 18, 2015. 
  16. ^ "Hugh Glass Meets the Bear on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. March 24, 1966. Retrieved September 9, 2015. 
  17. ^ Hilmarsdóttir, Nanna Bryndís. "Of Monsters and Men Biography". Of Monsters and Men. 2011
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Monument Guys (TV Series 2015– )". 
  20. ^ Ben Child. "Leonardo DiCaprio will make his return in The Revenant". the Guardian. 
  21. ^ "Hugh Glass <Merchant>," WoWHead. Accessed Oct. 12, 2016.

The Saga of Hugh Glass, Pirate, Pawnee, and Mountain Man, a book by John Myers Myers, University of Nebraska Press, 1976

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]