Who Was Hugh Glass?
Remember that time Leonardo DiCaprio was in that one movie about a guy who was literally too angry to die? The Revenant is based on a little more than “just give Leonardo DiCaprio his award,” its protagonist Hugh Glass was very much a real dude who was very much too angry to die. So who was Hugh Glass, actually? Hint, he wasn’t actually Leonardo DiCaprio.
Here’s a fun trivia fact, you might know that Glass lived around 1783 to 1833. But did you also know that he was born around modern day Scranton, Pennsylvania? Just for you fans of The Office.
How Many Times Did Hugh Glass Almost Die?
Honestly, who even knows how many times a man too angry to die has almost died. While a lot of Glass’ story is probably mythologized in a super long game of telephone, his reputation for having a severe case of old man strength.
But Glass was also quite the diplomat, because Glass was also a pirate. A former sailor, our angry frontiersman was once a sailor who found himself on the poor end of Jean Lafitte. The history behind Lafitte isn’t important–what is important is that Lafitte was a pirate. After apparently deeming Glass worthy, Lafitte offered Glass a place with the pirate crew. Given that the other option was being on the angry side of a bunch of pirates Glass (probably pragmatically) chose to join them.
While he’s mostly known for his angry bear saga, Glass also spent time with the Pawnee people in the late 1810s to the early 1820s. Allegedly, he wasn’t really there willingly, he was captured and inches from being (again) on the bad end of ritual sacrifice. Glass is said to have scraped by with an offer of vermillion powder to gain favor. So he’s gotten quite a few chances to flex those diplomatic social skills.
Why did Glass end up captured by the Pawnee people? Well for starters probably that whole Manifest Destiny thing. But Glass wasn’t keen on being a pirate forever, and attempted a grand escape that ultimately led to his capture.
All that and we haven’t even gotten to the bear yet.
That Whole Bear Thing
This is what most people google Hugh Glass for, aside from “how accurate was that one movie.” Hint: not very.
By this time, Glass was chilling as a fur trapper. Which means he was spending a lot of time in the outside area, where the world is not very kind to you. Glass did find himself on the sharp end (honestly how many bad ends can one guy end up on in one lifetime?) of a grizzly as a result. Well there’s more context to hit, as he was working with William Henry Ashley (one of those big Manifest Destiny guys) and they found themselves on the run. Because you know, that whole thing where frontiersmen were kind-of-sort of-super encroaching on Native American territory.
Somewhere in the on-the-run timeline, Glass was attacked by a grizzly in present day Lemmon, South Dakota. If you’ve never seen a grizzly bear (even if you have), they could potentially lift like 1,000 pounds. While grizzly bear weight ranges from a couple hundred to 500 pounds depending on whether you’re inland or the coast, suffice to say that even the weakest grizzly could toss any of us around like a ragdoll.
Unfortunately for the bear, Glass had the power of firearms and also friends. But that doesn’t mean Glass won–it’s said that his ribs were exposed from lacerations to his back, and he had a broken leg (maybe an arm too) as well as a punctured throat.
Also known as, Hugh Glass was having a certifiably not good time.
How Angry Was Glass?
The answer was very. Not about the bear, but because of the people who left him behind. If you hadn’t guessed, mountaineering is hard enough when you don’t have a dying dude to take care of. So the expedition chose to leave two to stay with Glass until he died, give him a semi-proper burial, then rejoin. One was named John Fitzgerald, the other was a bright eyed 19 year old kid named Jim Bridger. As if those weren’t the most 1800s frontier names ever.
Except Glass didn’t die, and he lived long enough for Fitzgerald to convince Bridger to leave Glass behind. They also took all of Glass’ gear, after all, a dead man needs no mountaineering equipment. Among that gear was Glass’ rifle.
While most of us would probably gawk at that being a super significant detail, having a nice gun in the 1800s was a super prized possession. So Glass set out on his 6 week journey to what we now know as Chamberlain, South Dakota (it was Fort Kiowa back then). For those keeping track, that’s somewhere over 200 miles from where he was allegedly mauled.
Somewhere along the way, though, Glass seemed to have let go of that anger. At least for Bridger anyway. Also, yeah, Glass did find them. He ended up forgiving Bridger and used the heart to heart to give him some old man wisdom, since Bridger was only 19 at the time of the incident.
Whether or not Glass had the same feelings toward Fitzgerald differ, though it’s generally accepted that Fitzgerald lived and Glass got his gun back. Some versions of the Glass story hold that he also forgave Fitzgerald, but others hold that Fitzgerald had joined the army–essentially making him immune to Glass as that kind of murder would bring a lot of wrath down onto his head.
So How did Glass Actually Die?
Yeah, Glass wasn’t immortal, but his end was far less exciting than the rest of his story. Glass would spend the remainder of his life as a fur trapper, which would often bring him into conflict with the Native American people. In 1833, he was shot and killed in present day Montana.
We suppose that’s probably a bit better than finding another bear?
Want to see more bears? Check them out here.