The Monument to Hugh Glass

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Perhaps the most memorable scene from the 2015 movie The Revenant was Hugh Glass, played by actor Leonardo DiCaprio, being attacked by a grizzly bear. It was arguably one of the most realistic depiction of bear attack in movies till date. Had it not been based on a real incident critics would have argued that it was impossible for Glass to have survived an attack of that magnitude and then crawl hundreds of miles through the forest to safety.

Hugh Glass was a fur trapper, one of the hard-driving mountain men of the early 19th-century American West, who trapped beavers for their fur and sold them to hat makers in the US and Europe. It was a highly lucrative but dangerous trade where men like Glass had to live and hunt among the mountains for years at a time. The mountaineers were daring and rebellious men in their twenties and thirties who learned how to survive in the wild with limited supplies, a rifle and a few tools. But Hugh Glass’ survival against the odds was a story so amazing that it became legend even among the mountaineers themselves.

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Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass and a sketch of the real Hugh Glass

In 1823, Hugh Glass was part of a fur-trading expedition led by General William Henry Ashley, traveling up the Missouri River. Somewhere along the banks of the river, in South Dakota, the expedition was attacked by Arikara warriors, forcing the men to split into two groups. One group of which Glass was part, chose to travel overland towards the Yellowstone River.

Near the forks of the Grand River, near present-day Lemmon, Glass was scouting for the party, ahead from the rest of the group, when he surprised a grizzly bear and her two cubs. Before he could fire his rifle, the bear pounced upon him and severely mauled Glass. Hearing his cries, his companions rushed to help and shot the bear down. According to some accounts, Glass killed the bear alone with his knife.

Glass was lacerated all over his back, his scalp was ripped, his throat punctured and leg broken. His companions were convinced that Glass would be dead by the next morning. But when Glass was still alive the next day, his companions built a litter and carried him along for the next two days.

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Hugh Glass being attacked by a grizzly bear, in 1823, from an early newspaper illustration, dated June 3, 1823. Photo credit: Wikimedia

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“Caught Off Guard” by Artist David Wright. Photo credit: hughglass.org

With roving bands of hostile Indians in the area, the party was in a hurry to get to Yellowstone but Glass was slowing them down. So the party leaders decided that two men should stay with Glass until he died, and then give him a proper Christian burial. John Fitzgerald and the much younger Jim Bridger volunteered to stay behind.

The pair watched over Glass for three days, and with each passing day they grew restless as their fellow trappers were getting farther and farther away from them. Finally Fitzgerald convinced Bridger to abandon Glass. The two men placed Glass is a shallow grave, grabbed the rifle, knife, and other equipment belonging to Glass, and took flight. Bridger and Fitzgerald later caught up with the party and lied that Glass had died.

Although gravely injured, Glass regained his strength and started crawling and walking towards the nearest American settlement, at Fort Kiowa, on the Missouri River, driven solely by the will to survive and exact revenge on the two men who abandoned him. For survival, he ate wild berries, roots, insects, and snakes. On one occasion, he was able to drive two wolves from a killed bison calf and feast on the raw meat. Glass was later aided by friendly Native Americans who sewed a bear hide to his back to cover the exposed wounds and provided him with food and weapons.

THE REVENANT Copyright © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. THE REVENANT Motion Picture Copyright © 2016 Regency Entertainment (USA), Inc. and Monarchy Enterprises S.a.r.l. All rights reserved.Not for sale or duplication.

A still from the movie The Revenant.

After six weeks of ordeal, Glass reached Fort Kiowa where he stayed for several weeks recovering from his wounds. Once his wounds healed, Glass set out again to find Fitzgerald and Bridger. He eventually caught up with them, but instead of the bloody battle as depicted in the movie’s climax, Glass forgave them both. It is said that Glass forgave Bridger because of his youth, but Fitzgerald had joined the army and was untouchable. Killing Fitzgerald, then a soldier, would have resulted in his own death.

Glass returned to the frontier as a trapper and fur trader. He died a violent death ten year later on the Yellowstone River, in an attack by the Arikara.

Glass’s extraordinary story of survival has been recounted in numerous books and dramas over the years, and his legend has grown with each new version. According to one story, Glass allowed maggots to eat the dead, infected flesh in his wounds to prevent gangrene, and according to another, once a huge grizzly bear licked his maggot-infested wounds and saved him from further infection and death. The distance of his journey itself swelled from 80 miles to 100 miles to 200 miles.

There are now two monuments dedicated to Hugh Glass. One stands near the site of his mauling on the southern shore of the present-day Shadehill Reservoir, in Perkins County, South Dakota, at the forks of the Grand River. The other, a metal sculpture depicting a grizzly bear attacking Hugh Glass, is in the small town of Lemmon, in South Dakota. The second monument was unveiled in August 2015, in anticipation of the release of the film "The Revenant.”

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Photo credit: www.travelsouthdakota.com

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Photo credit: homesteading-guide.com

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Photo credit: www.sdpb.org

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Photo credit: www.dglobe.com

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Photo credit: www.johnlopezstudio.com

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Photo credit: www.johnlopezstudio.com

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Photo credit: www.johnlopezstudio.com

Sources: hughglass.org / Wikipedia / Telegraph

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