True survivorman: the tale of Hugh Glass

True survivorman: the tale of Hugh Glass

There are many survival shows on television today, like Survivorman, Naked and Afraid, and Man vs. Wild, just to name some of the more popular ones. Many hours may be spent watching crafty individuals in very difficult situations using their skills and surroundings to stay alive. These experts teach viewers how to start a fire, build or find shelter, hunt or trap food, utilize plant life in different ways, and perform many other useful actions that can save one’s life, should the need ever arise. However, a man most of us have never heard of, Hugh Glass, makes television outdoor experts like Les Stroud and Bear Grylls look like first-year boy scouts.

Hugh Glass was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1783. He abandoned his life at sea—as a bona fide pirate—to travel to the West and make a living as a scout and fur trapper. In 1822, already living in the western wilderness for some time, Glass responded to an advertisement posted by General William Ashley and Andrew Henry of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.The ad appeared in the Missouri Gazette and Public Adviser, and called for a group of men to lead an expedition up the Missouri River as part of a fur trading venture. The entire group braving this trip would later be known as “Ashley’s Hundred.” Glass and a party of 13 other men, led by Andrew Henry, traveled up the Missouri River as far as the Grand River, where they continued their trek on land. That is where this incredible story of survival begins.

Scouting ahead of the other trappers about 12 miles south of Lemmon, South Dakota, Glass stumbled upon a mother grizzly and her two cubs. Before he could grab for his rifle, the mother attacked. Armed with only a knife, he fought back and killed the bear, but was left mauled and unconscious. Henry and his crew, hearing Glass’s screams, came running to help but arrived too late. Seeing the condition he was in, Henry doubted Glass would survive, so he ordered two men to watch over him until his death and then bury him. The two volunteers, John Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger, were in the midst of digging a grave when they were attacked by a group of Arikara Indians. Fitzgerald and Bridger grabbed Glass’s gun, knife, and other equipment, fled to the safety of their group, and proceeded to falsely report Glass expired.

Glass awoke only to find himself left for dead without any weapons or equipment. He set his own broken leg, and to keep gangrene from setting in he laid his mutilated back, bearing wounds so severe that his ribs were exposed, on a rotting log so that maggots could eat the dead flesh. He then made a shroud from the bear hide and started crawling south towards the Cheyenne River. After weeks of surviving on berries and roots, then crawling 200 miles with a broken leg and injured back—even building a raft to float himself down the river—Glass arrived at Fort Kiowa.

During his recovery at Fort Kiowa he spoke of how seeking revenge on the two men who left him to die was what kept him pressing on. Once fully recovered from his injuries, Glass sought to exact his revenge on Bridger and Fitzgerald. He found Bridger at a trading post near the Yellowstone River but spared him because of his youth, Bridger being only nineteen years of age. Fitzgerald joined the US Army to prevent Glass from enacting retribution upon him, since the charge for killing a soldier at that time was death.

Glass would return to the frontier as a trapper and fur trader. In 1833 he was employed as a hunter for the garrison at Fort Union. One day he and two fellow trappers were attacked by the Arikara Indians near the present-day town of Shadehill, South Dakota. The other men were killed along with Glass, who would finally meet his end at the age of 50. A monument to him is located on the shores of the Shadehill Reservoir.

Les Stroud and Bear Grylls might be able to start fires with an Egyptian bow saw and build a hut with shrubs. However, I doubt that even those experts would be able to survive stranded alone with no gear and wounded to the extent of bones being exposed for over two months.
Personally, I would have never made it past the grizzly.

  • Paul Matala
  • Paul is both a student of constitutional philosophy and lover of sports.

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