Little is known of the early life of Hugh Glass. Possibly, he was born in Pennsylvania in the 1780s.
Somehow around 1817, Glass was captured by Jean Lafitte's pirates operating out of Galveston, Texas and was forced into service as a ship's captain.
He and a friend escaped a year later by swimming across two miles to the mainland. They had very little in the way of possessions, beyond what they wore and headed west on foot through the plains. They dodged the Karankawas and the Tonkawas, who were known to be cannibalistic tribes, but were captured by a band of Pawnee in western Kansas. They were known to have burned victims as sacrifices to the gods. They burned Hugh's friend using pine pitch as an accelerant. Legend has it
that at this point he remembered some cinnabar that he had taken from the ship. Cinnabar was highly prized as a die for red war paint. The chief took it as a good omen from the spirits. He spared Hugh's life and adopted him as a son.
Nonetheless, he lived as an Indian for several years and learned how to survive in the wilderness with basic tools. In 1822, fur traders with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company came in contact with the Pawnee and he left the tribe with them, ending up in St. Louis. Here, he answered an ad for hunters.
Hugh Glass left with Henry, a young Jim Bridger, John Fitzgerald, Black Harris, and a few others on August 16 to find the mouth of the Yellowstone River. They only had enough horses to carry supplies, since the Indians had chased off the rest in a previous incident. Four days later the group was attacked by Indians. Two of them, James Anderson and Auguste Neill were killed. By August 23, the survivors had reached the town of Grand River, South Dakota. Hugh was out wandering by himself like he usually did, much to the consternation of Henry.
Unfortunately, Hugh ran into a female grizzly protecting her cubs. Before he could fire a shot, the bear attacked him. His arm and back were quite scraped and mangled by the bear's claws. The back of his scalp was also marked. He finally got off a shot that mauled her but too late to protect himself. The shot alerted two of his friends who put a killing shot into the bear. They didn't think Glass could possible make it. But they tied up his wounds the best they could. Somehow he managed to last the night. The others were now concerned that the injured man would slow them down in dangerous Indian country. Yet “the code of the west” did not allow an injured man to be abandoned. They built a litter and carried him for awhile making slow progress over the next several days. Finally Henry paid two volunteers to stay behind with Glass to bury him when he died. This way at least some of the men would have a chance to survive.
The two men stayed with Hugh for about four days before fear overcame them. Fitzgerald talked Bridger into abandoning Hugh to save themselves. He claimed Hugh was near death anyway. To get his reward, Fitzgerald took Hugh's rifle, ammunition, tomahawk, and other items, in the tradition of white men who took from the dead, to prove to Henry he'd done as he'd been paid. He was also afraid of the Indians, but Bridger didn't like leaving Hugh. He also didn't like failing at a task given to him. However he went along with Fitzgerald, leaving Glass to die.
Hugh did not die. He went in and out of delirium for several days. He finally woke up and was able to drink from a stream they left him by. He also ate some berries and killed a rattlesnake and mashed it into a stew. After several days he gained enough strength to go after the men who abandoned him, though he had to crawl because he was too weak and injured yet to walk. He managed to sustain himself with berries and by digging up roots that he knew, by living with the Indians, were edible. By sheer luck he came upon some wolves eating a buffalo calf they had recently killed. He managed to chase them off so that he could eat the meat. He stayed there several days, eating and regaining his strength. At last, he had recovered enough that he could continue walking instead of crawling.
Eventually he ran into some Sioux Indians. They helped him clean up his torn up back. Indians are usually respectful of someone who is attacked by a bear and survives. They helped him get downstream where he eventually reached Fort Kiowa, where he hoped to reoutfit himself to go after the two men who had abandoned him.
In a couple days, five other men in a dugout canoe were going north to trade. Hugh went with them as far as Mandan village. From there he went overland toward the mouth of the Yellowstone and Henry's fort. Shortly after they set him ashore, his friends were attacked and killed by Arikaras. Hugh barely escaped death himself, when out of nowhere, a Mandan brave rescued him and took him to a nearby fort near modern day Mandan, South Dakota. Hugh rested only briefly before going on his way. He was on foot and carried only a rifle for defense. It was late November by now and there was snow on the ground. He also traveled alone.
When he reached the fort, he found that his former comrades were no longer there. He continued on toward the Big Horn River, where signs pointed they had gone. He reached the place where the Little Big Horn joins the Big Horn. Here he met up with Jim Bridger. He was surprised to see he was a youth of 19. He saw his youth and he saw his fear. He decided to let it go, for Jim had been coaxed into it by Fitzgerald. Hugh decided to take his revenge solely on Fitzgerald, who still had his favorite rifle. But he would have to wait until winter passed.
He stayed at Ashley's new fort on the Little Big Horn. In February, Ashley asked for a volunteer to go to Council Bluffs. Learning that Fitzgerald was there, Hugh volunteered. After nearly getting killed by Indians again, Hugh arrived at Council Bluffs with his dispatch. Here, he learned that Fitzgerald had enlisted in the army and was stationed at Fort Atkinson. Once again, he traveled overland several hundred miles, on foot. Unfortunately, it was for naught, as he could not kill a U.S. soldier. However, the captain of the day arranged for the return of his favorite rifle.
After this, Hugh temporarily abandoned the Rocky Mountain fur business. He hooked up with an expedition going to Santa Fe on the famous Santa Fe trail. He trapped there for some months before the rivers stopped bearing. In the early part of 1825, he was hired by Etienne Provost to trap in Ute territory in Utah. The rivers were rich with beaver and he did well. On a trip on the Snake River, his group was once again attacked by Indians. At least one of his companions was killed. Hugh was shot in the back with an arrow. His friends could not remove it. It was lodged there until he returned to Taos with his pelts. A doctor removed it using whiskey as an anesthetic.
After his minor surgery, Hugh returned to the headwaters of the Missouri in what is now Montana. Like many others he showed up at the mountain man rendezvous that was held each summer to trade furs for goods. At one point Kenneth McKenzie came in and set up Fort Floyd on the mouth of the Yellowstone. He was hoping the capture all the fur trade revenue for his boss, John Jacob Astor, by offering higher prices for pelts. The mountain men were open to breaking the monopoly of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, but they didn't want to give up their rendezvous. So they sent Hugh as their representative to invite McKenzie to send some goods to the rendezvous. McKenzie declined as he had neither men to take the goods or any goods immediately on hand to send.
Hugh Glass continued to trap on his own until 1832, when he went to Tulloch's Fort near the mouth of the Big Horn. Early in 1833, Hugh sent out with Ed Rose and a man named Menard, to trap beaver on the Yellowstone. Hugh's luck finally ran out and he and his friends were ambushed and killed by Arikaras. His prized rifle was never found and assumed taken by the Indians. His body disintegrated where it lay.
It is remarkable how much physical strength, mental fortitude, extreme courage, and perseverance our forefathers had. Today, when the cable goes out, we are stricken. So many such as Hugh Glass are responsible for our country’s place in the world. Their bravery is unrivaled in today’s world.
REF: Pirate, Pawnee, and Mountain Man: The Saga of Hugh Glass, John Myers Myers, Little Brown & Co., Boston, 1963.