Hugh Glass was a man of mystery and legend. We know that he actually lived and we know the legend that grew up around him, but we don't know how much of the legend is fact and how much is fiction. As with all good legends there are many variations to the narrative, but the following outline will give the reader the basic elements of this incredible story.
Hugh Glass is believed to have been born sometime around 1783 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Irish immigrants. He went to sea at an early age and proved to be a good seaman. As a young man he was captured by pirates operating under the command of Jean Lafitte off of the southern coast of Texas around 1816. He was forced to become a pirate and participated in a number of acts of piracy, but sometime in 1818 he escaped by swimming two miles to shore near present day Galveston, Texas. He avoided contact with the local Karankawa Indians who were hostile to the pirates that operated off their shore and began walking north without map, supplies, or weapons.
He managed to live off of the land and moved far inland before being captured by Pawnee Indians. The Pawnee adopted him and taught him a great deal about living in the wilderness. During his stay with the Pawnee he was in at least one fight wherein he killed several enemy Kansas warriors and captured a very modern Hawken rifle. Later he used the rifle to kill a grizzly bear and won the name "Ta-Ka-Kur'uks" (White Bear or Grizzly) as a result. Glass took an Indian wife and lived with the Pawnee until sometime in 1821 when the Pawnee were invited to send a delegation to St. Louis to meet with United States authorities. Glass accompanied the Pawnee delegates to St. Louis where he remained and took up life as a "white man.".
In 1822 Glass joined William Ashley's newly formed Rocky Mountain Fur Company and early in 1823 headed up the Missouri River along with a number of men who were to become famous participants in the fur trade including: Andrew Henry, Jeddediah Smith, Ed Rose, Thomas Fitzpatrick, James Beckworth, William Sublette, Moses Carson, and Jim Bridger. On May 31, 1823 the party stopped at an Arikara village where Ashley traded gunpowder for horses. That evening one of the trappers was killed in an argument over an Indian woman. The next morning the Ashley party was attacked by the Arikara and lost several men before escaping down the river. Hugh Glass was recognized by two of the Arikara who had met him while he was living with the Pawnee. Glass killed one of them and the other escaped. During the escape Glass was shot in the leg.
Following their escape Ashley sent word back down river to inform the authorities of the Arikara attack and Colonel Henry Leavenworth responded from Fort Atkinson with 240 troopers. In August Leavenworth's force, reinforced with fur trappers and a very large number of Sioux Indians, attacked the Arikara. After an indecisive battle, during which one of the Arikara leaders was killed, a peace was negotiated and the attack terminated to the disgust of the trappers and the Sioux who wanted to wipe out the entire Arikara village. That night the Arikara abandoned the village and escaped. The next morning Colonel Leavenworth's force returned to Fort Atkinson and two Missouri Fur Company trappers, Angus McDonald and William Gordon burned the village.
After the burning of the Arikara village Andrew Henry and fourteen others, including Glass, parted company with Ashley and struck off on their own toward the Yellowstone River. Hugh Glass frequently traveled separately and always made camp apart from the rest of the party even through Henry disapproved. One morning Glass was picking berries away from the main party when he was confronted by a female grizzly bear with cubs. The grizzly attacked and Glass fired point blank with his .54 caliber Hawken. The bear continued its charge and closed on Glass before he could escape. He used his knife and eventually was able to kill the bear but not before it had nearly done him in. Henry's party heard his cries for help and found him bleeding from massive wounds all over his body. They sewed him up as best they could, but felt that he would surely die within a day or two. Two men - Jim Bridger and John Fitzgerald - were designated to stay with him until he died and give him a decent burial.
Fitzgerald was extremely worried that hostile Indians would find them and, after waiting beside a comatose Glass for five days, convinced the younger Bridger that they must leave at once. Because they were certain that he would die, Bridger and Fitzgerald took Glass's Hawken, his pistol, his knife and all of his other supplies and they left him lying next to his freshly dug grave. Glass did not die. Instead he recovered sufficiently to discover that he had been abandoned, He set his broken leg and angrily took stock of his situation. Even though the nearest civilization was Fort Kiowa which was about three hundred miles away he began crawling toward it. He ate whatever he could find including insects, berries and dead animal carcasses. At one point he was able to beat off a pack of wolves from a freshly killed buffalo calf. He traveled as much as he could by water but had to be careful that he was not seen by hostile Indians. He cared for his wounds as best he could using Indian herbal remedies, but he was unable to reach the wounds on his back where he could feel maggots eating his flesh.