As a small lad I'd often read a Reader's Digest book called American Folklore. One of the stories that I always remembered was the one about Hugh Glass. An incredible tale of survival in America's old trapping mountain man west.
And can you imagine my surprise when I saw that a movie, at least based on this man's story, is to be released in Jan. of 2016 starring Leonardo Di Caprio and is called The Revenant. Thank you, Phyllis, this will be one I'll read two or three times, no doubt about it.
Hugh Glass was the type of man Robert W. Service would describe as "fit to survive". The rugged Yukon is still considered one of the most dangerous, unforgiving places in the world. Service wrote a poem telling of how the Yukon demanded top caliber men to explore her lands. After learning about Hugh Glass, one would think the poem was about him.
Law of the Yukon by Robert W. Service ~
This is the law of the Yukon, and ever she makes it plain:
"Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane --
Strong for the red rage of battle; sane for I harry them sore;
Send me men girt for the combat, men who are grit to the core;
Swift as the panther in triumph, fierce as the bear in defeat,
Sired of a bulldog parent, steeled in the furnace heat.
Send me the best of your breeding, lend me your chosen ones;
Them will I take to my bosom, them will I call my sons; ...
This is the Law of the Yukon, that only the Strong shall thrive;
That surely the Weak shall perish, and only the Fit survive.
Dissolute, damned and despairful, crippled and palsied and slain,
This is the Law of the Yukon, -- Lo, how she makes it plain!
Yes, the Yukon would have proudly embraced Hugh Glass. He was a loner and a man with a bond to Nature. He knew the laws of Nature and how to thrive. To describe what kind of man Hugh was takes a lot of words. Suffice it to say he was a survivor, one of the toughest frontiersmen of his time and grit to the core.
Hugh was of Scots-Irish descent. His parents migrated from the Irish province of Ulster to North America and settled in Pennsylvania, where Hugh was born sometime around 1780. He became a frontiersman, mountainman, trapper, and explorer of the Upper Missouri River which is now North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, and a man who would face fear with courage and brute strength.
In 1822 Hugh signed up for a fur trading expedition led by General William Henry Ashley. It was a corps of 100 men who were to ascend the Missouri River to its source, forge new paths and set up outposts. They were called 'Ashley's Hundred'. Ashley hired only men of high caliber who could withstand the rugged job ahead of them. They had to be strong, well-armed and able to trap for up to three years.
Besides Hugh Glass, some of the other men Ashley chose included Jedediah Smith, Jim Beckwourth, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Jim Bridger, Joseph Meek, John Fitzgerald, Robert Newell and Kit Carson.
Encounters and battles with the Arikara Indian tribes took the lives of several of Ashley's men. In one attack from a tribe, Hugh received a musket ball in his thigh. Limping around with his own pain he helped the wounded and dying men in his group. In June an attack and the danger of more hostile tribe members ahead had made the troop change direction from the Missouri River ascent and west to the Grand River Valley.
In August 1823 Hugh Glass, Jim Bridger and John Fitzgerald went out looking for game to add more meat to the expedition's larder. Hugh was near the forks of the Grand River in South Dakota when he came upon a she-bear and her cubs. It was a grizzly bear he surprised and she attacked quickly. The rifle he was carrying was knocked out of his hands, so all he had was a knife. The bear was clawing and biting him viciously and he kept stabbing till she dropped on him. His scalp was ripped nearly off, his back was so mauled the ribs were exposed, he was bleeding profusely, had a broken leg, skin on his face, arm and hand was shredded and he had a rip in his throat.
They both lay there badly wounded but still breathing when Bridger and Fitzgerald finally got there in time to shoot the bear in the head, finishing her off. They had to kill the cubs, too. By then Hugh was unconscious. They carried him back to camp as quickly as they could. The shots fired had rung out through the valley, as did Hugh's screams and the fear of hostile Indians hearing all that was a threat they did not take lightly.
Back at camp, Ashley and the other men knew that if the hostile Indians were that close then they had to move out fast and take Hugh with them. None of them wanted to leave Hugh to die alone and without a burial. The men stood around in disbelief, shocked that the "Old Man" was still breathing. Ashley knew they had to get on the move and quickly!
According to Hiram Allen, a member of General Ashley's brigade, Ashley had men cut some branches to make a litter to carry Hugh on. After two days Hugh was still groaning from the pain of being moved. The distance covered was much too slow and rather than taking the chance of losing all his men to Indian attacks Ashley decided it was best to leave Hugh. There had already been several battles and too many men killed. Hugh was as good as dead Ashley thought, so asked two men to stay with the dying man so the group could move on faster.
Bridger and Fitzgerald volunteered to stay for the death-watch then bury Hugh. They started digging the grave as the group headed out.
What happened next is uncertain. The two young men did stay through the night with Hugh, expecting him to be dead by morning. Morning came and Hugh was still alive. Bridger and Fitzgerald put Hugh in the shallow grave, took his knife, rifle, equipment and outer clothing and left. When they caught up with Ashley they said Hugh was dead and they had to leave quickly when they saw a band of Indians coming.
Now, whether there was the threat of attack by Indians or the two youngsters feared a surprise attack could not be proven, but one thing was certain - Hugh Glass was not dead.
Hugh was not the kind of man who would lay down and die, no, not even after being mauled nearly to death by a grizzly bear.
He came to with a scattering of dirt and dry leaves covering him. After he realized what had happened he crawled out of his grave and looked around to find he had been abandoned and all his stuff stolen. As painful as all his wounds were, he managed to set his broken leg and get himself oriented with directions.
The only threat Bridger and Fitzgerald had now was Hugh Glass.
You might say that in a way Bridger and Fitzgerald saved Hugh's life - for the anger boiling up inside him was strong. There comes a time after horrific pain is inflicted that the nerves of the body react and numbness occurs. For Hugh, the need for revenge was stronger than the pain the bear had given him, so he began his journey, on hands and knees, to find help.
The nearest help was at Fort Kiowa, nearly 250 miles away. Water had been left which was all the young men left him. Hugh could sip a little at a time when he was conscious enough. At one point he saw a rattler close by, coming towards him. Rattlesnakes don't see well at all, they follow their nose and the smell of the blood-caked man must have drawn the snake. Hugh grabbed a sharp rock and killed the rattler, skinned it and chopped the meat fine enough to swallow down his injured throat. Apparently that was enough protein to give him the strength to get up on his hands and knees.
The thought of not making it to safety at the fort never occurred to Hugh - the word impossible was not in his vocabulary. He had lived with the Pawnee people for years and knew how to survive, even if he did have only one good leg and one good arm to depend on now. He had been in worse situations with hostile Indians that would turn a normal man's gut inside out at just the thought.
He faded in and out of consciousness for quite some time as he forced his mangled body to move. In his moments of delirium flashes of near death situations from the past came back to him. Several years earlier Hugh and another trapper had been captured by the Pawnee. It was Hugh's luck that he was not chosen first to be tortured.
He watched as his friend suffered an agonizing death after being shot full of pine needles then set on fire. The smell and heat from his friend's body was almost more than he could bear. The pine needles imbedded in his partner's flesh was bad enough for torture, but the slow burning was a horror for the poor man. His screams seemed to go on and on far too long. Searing human flesh, muscle and organs left a smell in Hugh's memory that he never forgot. When death finally ended his partner's agony it was Hugh's turn. Some sort of calm from he knew not where came over him as he reached inside his pocket for a small pouch then handed it to the chief. When the chief opened the pouch and saw the rare, highly prized powdered Dragon's Blood, Hugh was suddenly taken into the tribe as if he were a long lost son.
When he was lucid again, Hugh shook off the memory of his partner's death and looked for something to focus on for directions.
Thunder Butte, (Wakinyan Pha to the Lakota) in South Dakota rises 2,733 feet above sea level. From the plains it can be seen for miles from any direction. This was an orientation point for Hugh. He began an odyssey that few would believe anyone could accomplish. Surviving on berries and roots for food, sometimes stealing eggs from a nest on the ground he moved along slowly. A few times he found rotten logs crawling with maggots. He lay on the logs so the maggots would eat the rotting flesh on his back, which would aid the healing process.
Hugh was old as far as his fellow mountain men of the day. He was in his early 40s. Bridger was only 19 and Fitzgerald 23 and already considered to be more than capable of being on the expedition. But, Hugh was tall and powerful, not a man to run from a fight, man or bear. His fellow trappers called him "Old Man", but with respect and admiration.
It took him six weeks of grueling effort to crawl as far as the Missouri River. The need for revenge ever on his mind kept him going. Did he rely on a Higher Power to guide and protect him? Only Hugh knew the answer to that, yet one must admit after hearing his story that some higher power drove him on.
When he reached the river he followed it downstream along the banks. The journey from his grave to the river started out in inches, then feet, yards and finally he had been making about two miles a day. Then he came upon a band of Sioux.
Just the mention of Sioux Indians caused terror in the minds of most men. Hugh, as mangled and physically weak as he was, had no room for fear in him - he had a mission to accomplish.
Again that knowledge of succeeding kept him alive. Somehow the Sioux saw something in this man that they should oblige. They tended his wounds and attached a bear skin to his back to keep it clean and free of flies. They then took him the rest of the way to Fort Kiowa. Just the kindness and camaraderie with the Sioux must have given Hugh even more encouragement and strength.
Once at Fort Kiowa, Hugh did not languish or bask in an atmosphere of comfort and nursing. It took him just a few days to regain enough mobility and strength to get up on his feet and on with life. He signed up with a French group to go upriver in a boat to some Mandan villages where they could re-establish a trade route.
On October 15, 1823 Hugh and the six Frenchmen in the pirogue came upon a village the Mandans had let the Rees settle in. The Rees were a band that was part of the hostile Arikara. Hugh and the interpreter Toussaint Charbonneau were the only ones of the party who reached the Mandans safely. Charbonneau had gone ahead to the Mandan village and Hugh had gone ashore to hunt. With a new rifle in his hands he was nearly back to normal, although still hobbling a little. When he saw the Rees attack and kill the men on the boat Hugh headed for cover, but was not gaining ground fast enough.
Still, it was not Hugh's time to die. Two Mandan warriors came in quickly on horseback and grabbed Hugh up, taking him to safety at Fort Tilton. It was a small fort situated between the Mandans and the Rees.
It was November 20th and Hugh was now closer to the mouth of Yellowstone River where he could find the fort of Henry Ashley. The traders at Fort Tilton were aghast when Hugh told them his story and even more amazed when Hugh told them he intended to go on alone. The Rees kept the fort pretty much hemmed in, so the only help the traders could give Hugh was to take him across the river to the east where there was less chance of running into the Rees.
Leaving Fort Tilton, Hugh still had 250 miles to go to reach Henry's Fort at the mouth of the Yellowstone. Going on alone was dangerous, but Hugh was accustomed to that.
Going in a northwest direction, Hugh came face to face with arctic winds that could numb the body and soul. He needed to rely on every skill he had to find enough food to nourish his body. Slushy river bottom and gale-swept buttes slowed him down a little, but he kept on going. Close to a month had passed when at the confluence of the Yellowstone he spotted Fort Henry. He tied two logs together with bark and rafted across to the other bank.
Once again Hugh was thwarted and cheated of finding Bridger and Fitzgerald. As he got closer to the fort he realized there was no sign of life. Ashley and his men had deserted the place. Hugh was a tracker, though, and it did not take him long to find out which direction they took. When he found telltale signs, Hugh followed, heading south upriver on the Yellowstone.
Hugh tracked Ashley's group to the mouth of Bighorn River where a new fort had been built. No one opened the gate for him to bid him welcome. All the men were inside with the warmth of the fire and the contents of the New Year's Eve keg inside them.
When he walked through the door the men could only stare at what they must have thought was an apparition of the trapper that had been left dead and buried. They could only stare at the emaciated, haggard spirit that looked like a walking corpse carrying a rifle.
A sudden terror seized them until the "corpse" introduced himself. With shocked disbelief they were frozen for a moment, then realized it really was the "Old Man" - Hugh Glass. Fear and tension left them and a mood of celebration broke out with one question after another directed at him. They all began to relax, except for one man.
Jim Bridger hung back, frozen in fear and shock. Sure as death is a part of life, Bridger must have been thinking his time had come. As Hugh answered all the questions, told of his journey of over 1,000 miles to find his betrayers and seek revenge, Bridger felt shame engulf him. When Hugh turned to the young man, the look on Bridger's face was so pitiful that Hugh could not cock his rifle. Even though it was Fitzgerald who had goaded Bridger into leaving Hugh in the grave with nothing, Bridger knew he had done the "Old Man" wrong and it showed on his face. Hugh could not even force himself to take the young man's life. Hugh knew in his heart that Bridger's punishment would come from his own thoughts of shame and guilt that would last a lifetime. Deep sorrow and guilt for putting a friend in such serious danger could age a man quicker than anything and Jim Bridger must have aged a good many years in those few moments when he and Hugh locked eyes on each other.
Now, John Fitzgerald was older than Bridger and more cunning. Where was he now? Hugh still had some revenge boiling in him and was not about to let Fitzgerald get off scot-free. It was Fitzgerald who wanted to leave Hugh in the grave still breathing and helpless and it was Fitzgerald who would pay for that and all the hardship it caused Hugh. Another sin committed was that Fitzgerald also had Hugh's treasured rifle.
Hugh was told that Fitzgerald left Ashley's group in November with two other trappers. They may have even passed right by Hugh as he was making his way upriver, for Fitzgerald was on his way downriver at the time - more than likely at Fort Atkinson now.
The end of February came and Hugh was back on the trail again.
Hugh went along with four other trappers, Dutton, Moore, Chapman and Marsh who were headed south to the Platte River. They built a boat and started off for the Missouri and Fort Atkinson. They stopped at a Pawnee camp at the mouth of Laramie River so they could barter for food. Dutton stayed in the boat with the guns.
Hugh was looking forward to seeing his old friends, the Pawnees. Now, we all know by now that Hugh was a lot smarter than he looked. When they reached a group they would parley with, Hugh quickly caught a few inflection of words the Indians spoke that spelled danger and he yelled "Rickarees!" - the trappers ran to the river, swimming as fast as they could. Once on the other side, Hugh hunkered down behind some rocks. Moore and Chapman were caught and killed. The others were nowhere to be seen. When darkness would conceal him, Hugh managed to escape. He was 400 miles west of the Missouri, alone again and without a rifle.
Dutton and Marsh had made it to Fort Atkinson in May. They reported that they had been attacked by the Rees and that Glass, Chapman and Moore had been killed.
Well, it was quite obvious that Hugh Glass had nine lives when he walked into Fort Kiowa in early June. Then he headed for Fort Atkinson and Fitzgerald. He told his story to the Army commanders and demanded Fitzgerald's head and the return of his rifle.
Since Fitzgerald was now an enlisted soldier in the army, Hugh's demand was declined. A civilian could not execute a soldier he was told. The only bit of satisfaction Hugh got about his enemy is that Fitzgerald was shamed in front of the commanders and other soldiers. The soldiers took up a collection to give Hugh and his cherished rifle was given back to him. The solid weight of that special rifle was finally back where it belonged, in the hands of its rightful owner.
One would think that after all Hugh Glass had experienced and suffered that he would have found a peaceful place to settle and live his life out in quiet retirement. Nope ! It was not in him to sit back in a rocker with his memories.
He returned to the frontier ten years after he was left for dead. The Fort Union Trading Post hired him as a hunter for the garrison. For nine more years Hugh was back in his element as a trapper, free and on his own terms. He always was an independent soul, grit to the core.
In 1833 Hugh again faced an attack by the Arikara tribe. He and two other trappers were killed by the Arikara on the Yellowstone River. Hugh Glass died the way a man of his caliber would have wanted and where he felt he belonged - in Nature.***
A monument to Hugh Glass was placed near the site where the grizzly attacked him on the southern shore of Shadehill Reservoir at the Grand River forks.
An average adult female Grizzly bear weighs 290 - 400 pounds (130 - 180 kg) and is 6.50 feet (198 cm) long. The claws on an adult Grizzly are four inches long.
Dragon's blood is the crimson red sap of the dragon tree. The tree is unusual and looks like an open umbrella. The only place in the world where it grows is on four small islands, the Socotra archipelago, in the Indian Ocean. The islands are about 150 miles east of the Horn of Africa.