The Incredible True Story Of The Revenant’s Hugh Glass

Published January 25, 2018
Updated November 30, 2018

Hugh Glass spent six weeks trekking over 200 miles back to his camp after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by his trapping party. Then, he began his revenge.

Hugh Glass Bear Mauling

Wikimedia CommonsHugh Glass escaping a grizzly bear.

The two men who had been ordered to watch over Hugh Glass knew it was hopeless. After single-handedly fighting off a grizzly bear attack no one had expected him to last five minutes, let alone five days, but here he was, lying on the banks of the Grand River, still breathing.

Aside from his labored breaths, the only other visible movement the men could see from Glass was from his eyes. Occasionally he would look around, though there was no way for the men to know if he recognized them or if he needed something.

As he lay there dying, the men became increasingly paranoid, knowing they were encroaching on Arikara Indian land. They didn’t want to risk their lives for someone who was slowly losing his.

Finally, fearing for their lives, the men left Hugh Glass to die, taking his gun, his knife, his tomahawk, and his fire making kit with them – after all, a dead man need no tools.

Of course, Hugh Glass wasn’t dead yet. And he wouldn’t be dead for quite some time.

Fur Traders Meet Indians

Wikimedia CommonsThe fur traders often made peace with the local tribes, though tribes like the Arikara refused to cooperate with the men.

Long before he was left for dead on the side of the Grand River, Hugh Glass was a force to be reckoned with. He’d been born to Irish immigrant parents in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and lived a relatively quiet life with them before being captured by pirates in the Gulf of Mexico.

For two years he served as a pirate under chief Jean Lafitte before escaping to the shores of Galveston, Texas. Once there, he was captured by the Pawnee tribe, with whom he lived for several years, even marrying a Pawnee woman.

In 1822, Glass got word of a fur-trading venture that called for 100 men to “ascend the river Missouri” in order to trade with local Native American tribes. Known as “Ashley’s Hundred,” named so for their commander, General William Henry Ashley, the men trekked up the river and later toward the west to continue trading.

The group made it to Fort Kiowa in South Dakota without issue. There, the team split apart, with Glass and several others setting out west to find the Yellowstone River. It was on this journey that Hugh Glass would have his infamous run-in with a grizzly.

While looking for game, Glass managed to separate himself from the group and accidentally surprised a grizzly bear and her two cubs. The bear charged before he could do anything, lacerating his arms and chest.

During the attack, the bear repeatedly picked him up and dropped him, scratching and biting every bit of him. Eventually, and miraculously, Glass managed to kill the bear using the tools he had on him, and later with some help from his trapping party.

Though he had triumphed, Glass was in terrible condition after the attack. In the few minutes that the bear had had the upper hand, she had severely mauled Glass, leaving him bloody and bruised. Nobody in his trapping party anticipated his survival, yet they strapped him to a makeshift gurney and carried him anyway.

Soon, however, they realized that the added weight was slowing them down – in an area that they very much wanted to get through as quickly as possible.

They were approaching Arikara Indian territory, a group of Native Americans who had expressed hostility toward Ashley’s Hundred in the past, even engaging in fatal fights with several of the men. Glass himself had been shot in one of these fights, and the group was unwilling to entertain even the possibility of another one.

Arikara Warrior

Wikimedia CommonsAn Arikara warrior wearing a headdress made from a bear.

Eventually, the party was forced to split. Most of the able-bodied men traveled ahead, back to the fort, while a man named Fitzgerald and another young boy remained with Glass. They had been ordered to watch over him and bury his body once he died so that the Arikara couldn’t find him.

Of course, Glass was soon abandoned, left to his own devices and forced to survive without so much as a knife.

After his guard had left him, Glass regained consciousness with festering wounds, a broken leg, and wounds that exposed his ribs. Based on his knowledge of his surroundings, he believed he was about 200 miles from Fort Kiowa. After setting his leg on his own and wrapping himself in a bear hide that the men had covered his near-dead body with, he began making his way back to camp, driven by his need to get revenge on Fitzgerald.

Crawling at first, then slowly beginning to walk, Hugh Glass made his way toward the camp. He ate what he could find, mostly berries, roots and insects, but occasionally the remains of buffalo carcasses that had been ravaged by wolves.

Roughly halfway to his destination, he ran into a tribe of Lakota, who were friendly toward the fur traders. There, he managed to bargain his way into a skin boat.

After spending six weeks traveling roughly 250 miles down the river, Glass managed to rejoin Ashley’s Hundred. They weren’t at their original fort as he had believed, but at Fort Atkinson, a new camp at the mouth of the Bighorn River. Once he’d arrived, he re-enlisted in Ashley’s Hundred, hoping to come across Fitzgerald. Indeed he did, after traveling to Nebraska where he heard Fitzgerald was stationed.

According to reports by their fellow officers, upon their reunion, Glass spared Fitzgerald’s life as he would be killed by the army captain for killing another soldier.

Hugh Glass Bear Sculpture

Wikimedia CommonsHugh Glass’ memorial sculpture.

Fitzgerald, in thanks, returned Glass’ rifle, which he had taken from him before leaving him for dead. In exchange, Glass gave him a promise: that should Fitzgerald ever leave the army, Glass would kill him.

As far as anyone knows, Fitzgerald remained a soldier to the day he died.

As for Glass, he remained a part of Ashley’s Hundred for the next ten years. He escaped two separate run-ins with the dreaded Arikara and even another stint alone in the wilderness after becoming separated from his trapping party during an attack.

In 1833, however, Glass finally met the end he’d been evading for so long. While on a trip along the Yellowstone River with two fellow trappers, Hugh Glass found himself under attack by the Arikara once again. This time, he was not so lucky.

Glass’ epic tale was so incredible that it caught the eye of Hollywood, eventually becoming the Oscar-award winning film The Revenant, in which he was played by Leonardo Dicaprio.

Today, a monument stands along the southern shore of the Grand River near the site of Glass’ famous attack, reminding all who pass of the man who took on a grizzly bear and lived to tell the tale.

After reading about Hugh Glass and the real story behind The Revenant, check out the life of Peter Freuchen, another bear-wrestling badass. Then, read about the Montana guy who was attacked by a grizzly bear twice in one day.

Katie Serena
Katie Serena is a New York City-based writer and a staff writer at All That's Interesting.