Mountain Man Hugh Glass: The History of the Revenant

The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke
Book / Ebook

noun rev·e·nant \ˈre-və-ˌnän, -nənt\

: one that returns after death or a long absence
-Miriam Webster

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 19th 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

Articles on Hugh Glass

Gale, R. L. (2010). Hugh Glass. American National Biography (From Oxford University Press)

Peterson, N. M. (2000). Hugh glass’ crawl into legend. Wild West, 13(1), 28.

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.


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