Hugh Glass


Glass was born in Pennsylvania in possibly 1780. He was a seafaring man when captured of the coast o Louisiana by the pirate Jean Lafitte. Perhaps in his middle thirties at the time, Hugh and a shipmate literally jumped ship off Galveston bay, swam safely ashore and began an odyssey that ended when they were captured in 1818 by a band of Wolf Head Pawnee Indians in what is now Kansas. His unfortunate companion was burned alive, all regions of his naked body pierced with slivers of pine rich in resin and then torched. The result was an almost instant burst of fire that covered every inch of the victims body at once.

When Glass’s turn came to torched, he reached into a pocket and produced a package of cinnabar, a powder that made a brilliant red war paint. AS the legend has it, the Pawnee chief was so impressed that not only was Glass spared, but he was made a member of the tribe. For several years he lived the life o a tribal group far from any paths or trails in common use by whites. In 1822 Glass’s band of Pawnee were led by its chief to St. Louis to make the acquaintance of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, William Clark. It was here that Glass left the band and sought his future west of the Mississippi river.

Having gained acceptance into “Ashley’s 100″ Hugh established himself as a painstaking,though somewhat independent trapper. He was wounded in a scrap with the Arikara who were ” greatly treacherous. We traded with them as friends but after a great storm of rain and thunder they came at us before light and may were hurt.” He traveled with a group of thirteen men to relive traders at Fort Henry at the mouth of the Yellowstone River, led by Andrew Henry the expedition proceeded up the valley of the Grand River in present day South Dakota, and then crossed the valley o the Yellowstone.

In August 1823, while scouting alone near the forks of the Grand river, Glass surprised a female grizzly with her two cubs. He had been looking for game for the expedition’s food store and was too absorbed in the task to have taken much if any notice of bear sign. The enraged bear was on him before he could fire his rifle. She picked him up and slammed him to the ground. He manged to take hold of his knife and cut the bear repeatedly as she raked him with her claws. Attracted by the sound of the struggle, John Fitzgerald and the 17 year old Jim Bridger came to his aid. They managed to kill the bear but the badly mauled Glass was already unconscious.

When Andrew Henry shortly thereafter arrived on the scene, all present concluded that there was no possibility of Hugh’s survival. The men remembered Hugh as one who would not run from a fight, as a man whose skill and courage had supported them in time of need. They remembered how he had nursed the dying John Gardner, a young Virginian, and who honored Gardner’s request for a message to his family.” My painful duty it is to tell you of the deth of yy son.. He lived a short while after he was shot and asked me to inform you of his sad fate. We brought him to the ship where he soon died . Mr. Smith a young man of our company made a powerful prayer which moved us all greatly and i am persuaded John died in peace..”

Their respect for Glass was tempered by their concern for their dangerous situation. They knew hostile Indians were nearby, and the shots fired in the scuffle with the bear had most likely alerted them to the presence and location of the strangers.

The group was then asked for two volunteers to stay with Glass until he died and then bury him, Bridger and Fitzgerald stepped forward. As the rest of the group moved on, the two men began to dig a grave. Already unnerved by the encounter with a grizzle. the two men, particularly the young Bridger, became increasingly susceptible to a creeping fear. They later declared that their task was interrupted by an attack from a group of Rees, they snatched up Hugh’s rifle, knife, possibles bag, and ran. When they caught up with the others, they reported mistakenly that Glass had died and that they had buried him.

In the meantime Glass had regained consciousness to find himself wrapped in a buffalo robe his panicked companions had used as a shroud. He was alone , with no tools or equipment to use in his coming struggle. One leg was broken, his ribs exposed and his wounds festering. He managed to set his broken leg, wrapped himself in what was to have been his shroud, and began to crawl. His motivation was surviving and revenge. The nearest settlement was Fort kiowa on the Missouri River about 200 miles away.

Just as a grizzly almost took his life, it was possibly a grizzly that saved it. He laid his wounded back on a rotting log and attracted maggots to his dead flesh. Somewhere in his journey, Glass passed out and awakened to find a grizzly licking the maggots out of his wounds.

In six weeks the tortuous crawling, during which he survived on wild berries, roots, snakes and bugs, Glass reached the Cheyenne river. He managed once to scavenge the carcass of a dead buffalo calf after driving two wolves away. He fashioned a crude raft and floated down river. He was aided by friendly Indians who sewed a bear hide to cover his wounds, gave him food and provided him weapons with which to defend himself. He eventually reached the shelter of Ft. Kiowa where he slowly recovered from his ordeal.

With revenge on his mind, Glass set out to find Bridger and Fitzgerald. Near the mouth of the Bighorn River , Glass found Bridger. Recovery from his ordeal had apparently mellowed the old trapper somewhat,because he decided to spare Bridger, perhaps because of his youth. When he found Fitzgerald his desire for revenge was ended by the fact he had joined the Army. The punishment for killing a US soldier was death. He did recover his lost rifle.

A return to trapping , trading and hunting for the garrison at Fort Union took Glass into the Yellowstone River country. He and two companions were killed there in the winter of 1833. The assailants were Arikara Indians, foes of white encroachment into their ancestral homelands. The following April, trappers employed by the American Fur Company encountered a band of Indians who claimed to be friendly Minitaris. One of the trappers recognized Hugh’s rifle in the hands of one of the Indians. He concluded that the band was not who they said, but rather the were the Arikara who had killed Glass and his two companions. According to John M Myers in The Death o the Bravos, the Indians were taken into custody and later executed for the death of Glass.


  1. I recommend Wilderness by Roger Zelazny and Housman. It’s based on Glass’ story and John Colter’s It gets pretty strange going into his hallucinations after the bear attack but I enjoyed it. They were tough as nails!


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