Hugh Glass has that thing which legends are made of. In the vast expanse of the American frontier, where danger lurked around every corner and death was an ever-present threat, only the most robust and resilient could hope to survive. And among these rugged pioneers, there was perhaps none more legendary than Hugh Glass.
His story of courage and resilience in the face of impossible odds has become the stuff of legend, a testament to the enduring power of the human spirit and the unyielding will to survive.
Who Was Hugh Glass, And What is He Known For?
Behold, morbidders, the tale of a man whose name has become synonymous with survival and resilience. Hugh Glass, the American frontiersman, hunter, merchant, and explorer, was a legend in his own time, and his story continues to captivate the hearts and minds of those who hear it to this day.
Born to Scots-Irish parents in the rugged wilderness of Pennsylvania, Glass was destined for a life of adventure and exploration. He soon became an expert in navigating the treacherous waters of the Upper Missouri River’s watershed, including the present-day states of Montana, the Dakotas, and the Platte River region of Nebraska.
But it was not until the fateful day when a grizzly bear attacked him that Glass’s true mettle was tested. Abandoned for death by his companions, he lay broken and battered on the unforgiving wilderness floor with no food, weapons, or hope of rescue.
Yet, despite the odds stacked against him, Glass refused to surrender to death’s cold embrace. He summoned all his strength and began the long, grueling journey towards Fort Kiowa, South Dakota, a staggering 200 miles (320 km) away. Crawling and stumbling through the rugged terrain, he defied the elements and his limitations, driven by an unyielding will to survive.
His epic feat of endurance and perseverance became the stuff of legend, inspiring countless tales of survival and adventure. Two full-length movies, Man in the Wilderness (1971) and The Revenant (2015), immortalized his story on the silver screen, bringing his heroic journey to life for a new generation of admirers.
Yet, as with all legends, the veracity of Glass’s tale has been questioned over time. It was first published as a work of fiction in 1825 in The Port Folio, a literary journal in Philadelphia, and was later revealed to be the creation of James Hall, the journal’s editor.
No firsthand account by Glass himself exists to verify the story’s accuracy, and it is possible that, over time, the tale has been embellished and distorted.
Despite these doubts, however, the legacy of Hugh Glass lives on, a testament to the human spirit’s enduring power to overcome adversity and triumph over even the most daunting of challenges. His name remains synonymous with courage, perseverance, and the unyielding will to survive, a beacon of hope and inspiration for all who dare to follow in his footsteps.
The Adventurous Beginning of Hugh Glass
Born to Irish immigrants in the rugged wilderness of Pennsylvania, Glass’s early years are shrouded in obscurity, and the details of his life before his infamous bear encounter are largely unknown. Indeed, many stories and legends surrounding his name have been heavily embellished over time, further obscuring the truth of his life and exploits.
But the twists and turns of fate were not yet done with Glass, for he was to encounter even more significant challenges and adventures in the years that followed. In 1816, he found himself the captive of pirates led by the infamous Jean Lafitte, the scourge of the Gulf of Mexico.
Forced to become a pirate himself, Glass endured a harrowing two years under Lafitte’s command until he finally saw his chance and swam to freedom, landing on the shores of Galveston, Texas, where he began a new chapter in his life.
But fate had other plans for Glass, for he soon found himself living among the Pawnee tribe, with whom he spent several years learning their ways and customs. Yet even among the Pawnee, Glass was not safe from danger, and he was eventually caught and brought before the tribe’s leaders.
In a twist of fate, however, he was to find himself accompanying several Pawnee representatives to a historic meeting with American officials in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1821.
The 1823 Expedition of General Ashley
General William Henry Ashley published an ad in the Missouri Gazette and Public Advertiser in 1822 asking for a corps of 100 men to “ascend the river Missouri” as part of a fur-trading expedition.
Many of them, including James Beckwourth, David Jackson, William Sublette, Jim Bridger, Thomas Fitzpatrick, James Clyman, and Jedediah Smith, later gained notoriety as famed mountain men joined the endeavor.
The group of men, along with others, became referred to as “Ashley’s Hundred.” But Glass didn’t join Ashley’s crew until they ascended the Missouri River together the following year. They reunited with many of the men who had joined in 1822 in June 1823, at which point Arikara warriors attacked them.
The survivors fled downstream and called for assistance after Glass appeared to have been shot in the leg.
In a letter to John S. Gardner’s parents, who had lost their son on June 2, 1823, Glass stated:
It is my sorrowful duty to inform you of the passing of your son, who died on June 2 in the early morning at the hands of Indians. He begged me to inform you of his tragic end before passing away shortly after being shot. After he succumbed, we took him aboard the ship.
We were all deeply moved by Mr. Smith’s prayer, a young member of our organization, and I believe John passed away peacefully. His remains were interred alongside others close to the camp, and a log served as a tomb marker. We will send his belongings to you.
The tribesmen are quite cunning. We conducted friendly trade with them, but after a severe downpour and thunderclap, they attacked us before dawn, inflicting tremendous harm on many of us. I got shot in the leg myself. Master Ashley is required to remain in this area until the traitors receive the proper punishment.
Glass and the rest of the Ashley Party ultimately returned to Fort Kiowa to reassemble before heading west. Ashley’s companion, Andrew Henry, had joined the group. Together with Glass and a few others, they traveled overland to the Yellowstone River.
What Happened to Hugh Glass?
Glass surprised and disturbed a mother grizzly bear with two cubs while searching for wildlife for the expedition’s larder near the forks of the Grand River, close to the modern Shadehill Reservoir, Perkins County, South Dakota. He was gravely injured as the bear charged, snatched him up, bit, slashed, and tore at his flesh before dropping him to the ground.
Glass was severely mauled, yet he could still kill the bear with the aid of his trapping party. The guys knew Glass wouldn’t survive his wounds, but they carried him on a litter for two days, considerably slowing down the group’s progress.
Henry called for two volunteers to care for Glass until he passed away and bury him. After the rest of the party moved on, John S. Fitzgerald and a man later identified as “Bridges” stepped forward and started digging his grave.
Afterward, alleging that Arikara had interrupted them by fighting her, the two seized Glass’s weapon, knife, and other equipment and fled. Later, Fitzgerald and “Bridges” caught up with the group and informed Ashley—in error—that Glass had passed away. Whether Bridges was indeed renowned mountaineer James Bridger is up for discussion.
Glass regained consciousness despite his wounds but discovered himself alone and without any supplies. He had shattered bones in his leg, festering wounds, and large slashes on his back that showed his ribs.
At than 200 miles (320 km) from the closest American settlement at Fort Kiowa on the Missouri River, Glass lay disfigured and abandoned. Glass set his own leg’s bone, covered himself in the bear hide his friends had used as a shroud, and started to crawl back to Fort Kiowa.
Glass allowed maggots to devour the dead, contaminated flesh in his wounds to avoid developing gangrene.
Glass crawled overland southward until the Cheyenne River, where he constructed a rudimentary raft and sailed downriver to Fort Kiowa, using Thunder Butte as a reference for navigation. He traveled for six weeks. He primarily subsisted on roots and berries from the outdoors.
The Hunt for Fitzgerald and Bridges
Glass resumed his search for Fitzgerald and “Bridges” after healing his wounds. The Yellowstone River’s Fort Henry was desolate when he eventually traveled there. According to a note, Andrew Henry and crew had moved to a new camp at the mouth of the Bighorn River.
Glass discovered “Bridges” when he arrived, but due to his youth, it seemed he forgave him. After that, Glass reenlisted in Ashley’s company.
Glass later discovered that Fitzgerald had enlisted and was assigned to Fort Atkinson in the modern state of Nebraska. Glass supposedly spared Fitzgerald’s life because the army captain would have murdered him for murdering a US Army soldier.
The captain instructed Fitzgerald to give Glass his stolen gun back, and before leaving, Glass gave Fitzgerald a stern warning not to quit the army, or he would still kill him. Yount claims that Glass also received $300 in compensation. Fitzgerald remained in the army till his death.
The Final Mission and Death of Hugh Glass
Between the discovery of “Bridges” and the discovery of Fitzgerald, Glass and four other people were sent in February 1824 with mail for Fort Atkinson. After crossing the Platte River, they proceeded up the Powder River.
From there, they built bull boat skin boats and proceeded to the lower Black Hills through the Platte River. Glass and his team came across a community of 38 Arikara lodges. The men landed after their leader, Glass, declared the tribe friendly and invited them to enter.
Glass recognized it was a trap when he saw the inhabitants stealing their equipment while smoking with him in his lodge. The soldiers swiftly escaped, but the pursuing war party killed two. Glass could hide until the Arikara gave up looking for him, but he was separated from the other two survivors.
He journeyed to Fort Kiowa, living off the land, and was relieved to discover his knife and flint in his shot bag.
As a trapper and fur trader, Glass returned to the frontier. Afterward, he was hired as a hunter by the American Army garrison at Fort Union, which lies close to Williston, North Dakota.
Early in 1833, an Arikara attack on the Yellowstone River claimed the lives of Glass and two other trappers.
In Perkins County, South Dakota, at the Grand River forks, where Glass was mauled, a memorial to him now stands close by. It is located on the southern bank of what is now Shadehill Reservoir. A free camping and picnic spot run by the state is close by at the Hugh Glass Lakeside Use Area.
RIP Hugh Glass.
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