Hugh Glass: Life Story

Hugh Glass

If any man was ever endowed with nine lives it was Hugh Glass. He made his name as a mountain man, but legend has it that he may once have been a sailor; perhaps even a pirate. According to George Yount, who knew him well, Glass once sailed on a ship that was overtaken by Jean Lafitte, and chose to sign on as a pirate rather than be executed. On a moonless night in Galveston Bay, Glass and a companion slipped over the side and swam for shore, then headed northeast through Indian country. They got as far as Kansas before getting captured by Pawnee. Watching his friend tortured and burned alive, Glass realized his only hope lay in maintaining complete control of his emotions. The Chief, impressed by his show of bravery, and perhaps by some gifts Glass offered, decided to adopt him. The years of learning Indian ways would later stand him in good stead.
When the chief traveled to St. Louis to meet with the agent for his tribe, Glass was taken along, and there he stayed, until 1823, when Majors Ashley and Henry organized their second expedition to the mountains for beaver. Glass, by now in his forties, was older by far than most of his companions, but his skills as an outdoorsman make him a man to be depended on in trouble. Early in the expedition the party had a major encounter with the Arikara, and Glass was one of the few who escaped unscathed.
He was something of a loner though, which proved to be his undoing one early fall day when he was out ahead of the rest of the group, and surprised a she grizzly and two cubs. He got off a shot to the heart before she was on him, but it wasn't enough. His cries alerted the rest, who came running. One man brought down the bear, while another was run into the river by a half grown cub.
Old Glass was fearfully mauled. His companions made him as comfortable as possible and waited for him to die, but he took his time about it. In a few days, with the patient no better or worse, a decision had to be made. They were in Indian Country, the year's wages depended on the success of the hunt, and the season was disappearing under their noses. Major Henry, knowing he was probably condemning others to a similar fate, asked for volunteers to stay with Glass, give him a decent burial when he died, then catch up with the party. Jim Bridger, a raw newcomer to the mountains, stepped forth. Fitzpatrick, an older man, reluctantly joined him. Both were promised a healthy bonus for their bravery.
Glass hung on for days, with Fitzgerald noting more and more Indian sign, and growing more uneasy by the moment. Eventually, he persuaded Bridger that since Glass was obviously doomed, they ought to make a run for it, and tell the Major he had indeed died. But the Major would expect his gear to be returned, so they took his gun, powder, flint, and knife, and stole away.
Perhaps it was the desire for revenge that kept the old man alive. He had water nearby, and found some berries. Finally he got strong enough to crawl, and began inching his way down river, eating what he could find; rattlesnake, berries, roots, and part of a buffalo calf killed by wolves. He had been walking upright for a time when Sioux befriended him and took him to Ft Kiowa, near present day Chamberlain S.D. But the trappers had been and gone, so he hitched a ride on a supply boat which was headed in their direction.
Glass was once again off on his own when the boat was attacked by Arikara. He and Toussaint Charbonneau, who had deserted shortly before, were the only survivors.
In late December he caught up with his companions at Ft. Henry, situated on the confluence of the Bighorn and Yellowstone Rivers. He accosted Bridger and gave him a severe tongue lashing, but decided to let him live. It seems to have been a defining moment in Bridger's career, perhaps the making of the legendary man, for from that time on, Bridger's primary concern was the welfare of any man in his charge.
Fitzgerald had gone downriver. Major Henry needed to get a message to him, and Glass volunteered for the mission, along with four others. They were soon attacked by Arikara, and Glass, again off on his own, escaped, though he witnessed the slaughter of two companions. Again, he fell in with friendly Sioux, got to Ft. Kiowa in June, and learned Fitzgerald had moved on to Ft. Atkinson. Arriving there, he found the other two survivors of his party, as well as Fitzgerald, who was now a soldier. Deeming it unwise to kill a member of the U.S. Army, Glass let the man off with a round of profanity describing his ancestry, and headed out on the Santa Fe Trail, where he spent several years trapping in New Mexico and getting into numerous scrapes. Once he traveled seven hundred miles with an arrow in his back before finding a fellow trapper to remove it.
Old Glass turned up at the Bear Lake rendezvous in 1828, and was chosen to represent the free trappers by meeting with their competition, the Columbia Fur Company. He spent the rest of his life in the vicinity of Ft. Floyd (later Ft. Union) trapping along the Yellowstone. One frigid day in the winter of 1832-1833, his luck ran out when he and his partner were killed and scalped by his old enemy, the Arikara.