Hugh Glass (c. 1783 – 1833) was an American frontiersman, fur trapper and trader, hunter, and explorer. He is best known for his story of survival and retribution, after being left for dead by companions when he was mauled by a grizzly bear.
Born in Pennsylvania to Scots-Irish parents , Glass became an explorer of the watershed of the Upper Missouri River, in present-day Montana, the Dakotas, and the Platte River area of Nebraska. His life story has been adapted into two feature-length films: Man in the Wilderness (1971) and The Revenant (2015). They both portray the survival struggle of Glass, who (in the best historical accounts) crawled and stumbled 200 miles (320 km) to Fort Kiowa, South Dakota after being abandoned without supplies or weapons by fellow explorers and fur traders during General Ashley's expedition of 1823.
Despite the story's popularity, its accuracy has been disputed. It was first recorded in 1825 in The Port Folio, a Philadelphia literary journal, as a literary piece and later picked up by various newspapers. Although originally published anonymously, it was later revealed to be the work of James Hall, brother of The Port Folio's editor. There is no writing from Hugh Glass himself to corroborate the veracity of it. Also, it is likely to have been embellished over the years as a legend
Glass and the rest of the Ashley Party eventually returned to Fort Kiowa to regroup for the trip west. Andrew Henry, Ashley's partner had joined the group, and he along with Glass and several others set out overland to the Yellowstone River. Near the forks of the Grand River, near present-day Shadehill Reservoir, Perkins County, South Dakota, while scouting for game for the expedition larder, Glass surprised and disturbed a grizzly bear with two cubs. The bear charged, picked him up, bit and lacerated his flesh, severely wounded him, and forced him to the ground. Glass nevertheless managed to kill the bear with help from his trapping party, but was left badly mauled. The men were convinced Glass would not survive his injuries; nevertheless, they carried Glass on a litter for two days, but doing so greatly slowed the pace of the group's travel.
Henry asked for two volunteers to stay with Glass until he died and then bury him. John S. Fitzgerald (not to be confused with Thomas Fitzpatrick, who had separated from the Henry party with Jedediah Smith to find an overland trail to the Green River country) and a man later identified as "Bridges" stepped forward, and as the rest of the party moved on, began digging his grave. Later, claiming that they were interrupted by attacking Arikara, the pair grabbed the rifle, knife, and other equipment belonging to Glass and took flight. Fitzgerald and "Bridges" later caught up with the party and incorrectly reported to Ashley that Glass had died. There is a debate whether Bridges was actually famed mountain man Jim Bridger.
Despite his injuries, Glass regained consciousness, but found himself abandoned, without weapons or equipment. He had festering wounds, a broken leg, and deep cuts on his back that exposed his bare ribs. Glass lay mutilated and alone, more than 200 miles (320 km) from the nearest American settlement, at Fort Kiowa, on the Missouri River. Glass set the bone of his own leg, wrapped himself in the bear hide his companions had placed over him as a shroud, and began crawling back to Fort Kiowa. To prevent gangrene, Glass allowed maggots to eat the dead, infected flesh in his wounds.
Using Thunder Butte as a navigational landmark, Glass crawled overland south toward the Cheyenne River where he fashioned a crude raft and floated downstream to Fort Kiowa. The journey took him six weeks. He survived mostly on wild berries and roots.
After recovering from his wounds, Glass set out again to find Fitzgerald and Bridger. He eventually traveled to Fort Henry on the Yellowstone River but found it deserted. A note indicated that Andrew Henry and company had relocated to a new camp at the mouth of the Bighorn River. Arriving there, Glass found Bridger, but apparently forgave him because of his youth, and then re-enlisted with Ashley's company.
Glass later learned that Fitzgerald had joined the army and was stationed at Fort Atkinson in present-day Nebraska. He traveled there as well, where Fitzgerald returned his stolen rifle. Glass reportedly spared Fitzgerald's life because he would be killed by the army captain for killing a soldier of the United States Army. However, the captain asked Fitzgerald to return the stolen rifle to Glass, and before departing Glass warned Fitzgerald never to leave the army, or he would still kill him. According to Yount's story, Glass also obtained $300 as compensation.
In the period intervening, between finding Bridger and finding Fitzgerald, Glass and four others were dispatched in February 1824 with mail for Fort Atkinson. They traveled up the Powder River, then across to the Platte River. There they constructed skin boats and traveled down the Platte River to the lower end of the Black Hills. Glass and his party discovered a settlement of 38 lodges of Arikara. Their leader, who was known by Glass, declared the tribe to be friendly and invited them in so the men went ashore. While smoking with him in his lodge, Glass noticed their equipment being taken by the residents and realized it was a trap. The men quickly fled but two were killed by the pursuing war party. Glass managed to hide behind some rocks until the Arikara gave up their search, but was separated from the two other survivors. He was relieved to find his knife and flint in his shot pouch and traveled to Fort Kiowa surviving off the land.
Glass returned to the frontier as a trapper and fur trader. He was later employed as a hunter for the U.S. Army garrison at Fort Union, near Williston, North Dakota.
Glass was killed along with two of his fellow trappers in early spring of 1833 on the Yellowstone River in an attack by the Arikara.
A monument to Glass now stands near the site of his mauling on the southern shore of the present-day Shadehill Reservoir in Perkins County, South Dakota, at the forks of the Grand River.