Overland to the Yellowstone River
After an unsuccessful combined military, fur company and allied Indian campaign against the Arikara, often called Rees for short, in the summer of 1823, Ashley and Henry determined that the Missouri River was no longer a viable route to the Rockies. The cost in lives, time and finances caused by the upper river Indian tribes had become too great. To avoid further conflicts with the tribes along the Missouri, the partners decided to equip two groups of trappers and send them overland to the Rocky Mountains.
A group led by Jedediah Smith would travel west along the White & Cheyenne rivers while the other group, with Andrew Henry in charge, would make haste northwesterly to Fort Henry at the mouth of the Yellowstone. Smith’s goal was to contact the Crow Indians to establish trade and gain knowledge of beaver rich areas. Because his new fort was located in hostile Blackfoot territory, Henry hurried to the fort, concerned for the safety of the small contingent of trappers he left there. Whether Hugh Glass volunteered for the Henry party or was recruited, assignment to this brigade put Glass on a collision course with a grizzly bear and legendary fame.
Horses being in short supply, the men in Henry’s party traveled afoot, leading pack animals. According to trapper Daniel Potts there were thirty men with Henry. However, this figure may have included the thirteen men needed to crew the keel boat Rocky Mountains because beaver man James Clyman reported Henry’s overland party numbered seventeen.
Attack by Mandan and Gros Ventre
Whatever the exact number, the group bound for Fort Henry included Potts and Moses “Black” Harris. Both men provided accounts of an Indian attack on their party in late August. According to Potts, the trappers “where fired on by the Mandans and Groosvants in the dead hour of night,” resulting in two men wounded and two killed. These “Groosvants” were not the Gros Ventre of the Prairie, a part of the Blackfoot Confederation openly hostile to all whites, but the normally friendly Missouri River dwelling Hidatsa. An attack on whites by the Mandan Indians was equally unusual, this assault on Henry’s band being the only recorded incident of hostility towards Euro-Americans in this tribe’s history.
Encounter with Mother Grizzly
By late August or early September of 1823, Henry and his remaining fifteen men were well up the Grand River Valley. Hugh Glass, in his role as a hired hunter, was some distance in front of the group searching for game along the brushy river bottom when he encountered a sow grizzly bear with two cubs. The bear charged Glass and rendered a severe mauling. Hearing Glass’ screams for help, several of the party made their way to Glass and killed the bear.
Once the severity of Glass’ wounds was determined Henry and most of the veteran trappers were sure that Ole Glass would “go under” before morning. Glass, however, was still alive the next day. With roving bands of hostile Indians in the area, Henry determined that the best approach was to stay on the move, so he ordered a litter built and they carried Glass along for the next two days.
The slow pace created double jeopardy since both the men with Henry and the men on the Yellowstone were in greater danger until united. Realizing this, Henry asked for two volunteers to remain with Glass for the few days he had left, give him a proper burial and then travel to the fort. For taking on this dangerous task the volunteers would receive an $80 bonus. This plan allowed Henry’s group to move rapidly across country yet fulfill his Christian-invoked obligation to a member of his company.
The men who agreed to accept Henry’s offer to stay with Glass were experienced woodsman John Fitzgerald and a young man who was on his first venture into uncharted wilderness. The original account of this incident, written by James Hall and published in 1825, does not name either of the two volunteers. However the other three early accounts of the Glass story gave the name of the older man as John Fitzgerald. Only the 1838 article authored by Edmund Flagg provided the name of the younger man as “Bridges.” In his comprehensive history of the Rocky Mountain fur trade, historian Hiram M. Chittenden named James Bridger, then nineteen years of age, as the younger man based primarily on information received from upper Missouri River boat captain Joseph La Barge. Because Chittenden was the first to author a scholarly researched and documented history of this era, many contemporary historians quote Chittenden in naming James Bridger as the second man. Did Jim Bridger abandon Hugh Glass?
Left for Dead
Although his only visible motions were breathing and eye movement, Hugh Glass was still alive five days after the Henry and the rest of the brigade departed. By this time Fitzgerald was certain they were in eminent danger of discovery by Indians. He convinced young Bridger their agreement was fulfilled because they had watched over Glass far longer than Henry or anyone had expected him to live. In fear for their lives and convinced Glass would “go under” any day, the two men settled his pallet next to a flowing spring and headed for the fort at the mouth of the Yellowstone. They also took Glass’ gun, knife, tomahawk and fire making kit, items for which a dead man had no need.
Realizing he had been abandoned, Glass summoned the strength to start crawling back towards the Missouri River, driven by the will to survive and an intense desire for revenge on the two men who deserted him. Glass knew that the supplies, arms and equipment needed for not only for recovery from his wounds, but also to embark on his quest to extract revenge from his cowardly caretakers could be obtained at Brazeau’s trading post. More commonly known as Fort Kiowa, this establishment was located on the Missouri a few miles above the mouth of the White River and far enough downstream from Arikara country to provide a reasonable expectation of safety.
Due to his injuries, travel was tediously slow at first. Glass’ only nourishment came from insects, snakes and whatever eatables he could find on the prairie. A week or so into his painful trek, Glass happened upon wolves in the process of killing a buffalo calf. Waiting until the pack had their fill, he was able to make off with half of the carcass during the night. By remaining encamped until most the buffalo calf meat had been consumed, Glass allowed his body to further heal and gain strength. Somewhat recuperated, Glass was able to significantly increase his rate of travel. Once he reached the Missouri River, he obtained a hide boat from some friendly Lakota Indians and floated downriver to his destination. By mid-October 1823, Hugh Glass limped into Fort Kiowa having covered over 250 miles.
Narrow Escape with Langevin
After weeks of survival on his own, Glass had been at Fort Kiowa only a couple of days when he learned of plans to send a small group of traders to the Mandan villages some 300 miles upriver. Post factor Joseph Brazeau had decided that tensions with the Arikara, who had resettled near the Mandan, were quelled enough to attempt a trading venture. The contingent would consist of five men led by Antione Citoleux, more commonly known by his nickname “Langevin.”
As an “Ashley man,” Glass was allowed to purchase a rifle, shot, powder and other supplies on credit. Expecting to find Fitzgerald and Bridger at Henry’s fort near the mouth of the Yellowstone River, he was anxious to head upriver as soon as possible. When Langevin’s Mackinaw boat pushed off early one mid-October morning, Hugh Glass was the sixth member of the crew.
After six weeks of battling the prevailing northwest winds and the seasonally strong downriver currents, the Fort Kiowa traders were within a day’s travel of the Mandan. The section of the Missouri River just below the village was a large bend or “oxbow.” At this juncture, Glass made a fortunate decision, asking to be put ashore. He reasoned that an overland walk on a direct route to the Mandan village was quicker and less tedious than rowing the boat around the large bend; any saved travel time would bring Hugh face to face with his quarry all the sooner.
Unfortunately for Langevin and his men, Brazeau’s idea that the Rees had taken up the peace trail was wrong. Within a day of Glass’ separation, his traveling companions were attacked by a group of hostile Arikara and every man was killed.
Within a few miles of the Mandan village, Glass was spotted by some Arikara women gathering fire wood who sounded the alarm that a white man approached. A group of warriors quickly rode towards the trapper bent on cutting him down. Two Mandan men observed these events, decided that depriving the Rees of their intended victim would be great fun, and jumped on their ponies. The pair of Mandans got to Glass ahead of the Rees, scooped him up and delivered him to the safety of Tilton’s Post, a Columbia Fur Company trading establishment located near the Mandan village. Fate had again saved Glass from death at the hands of the Arikara.
At Tilton’s trading post, Glass learned of the massacre of Langevin’s party and that the men in this fort had been living for months under a constant Arikara threat. Having escaped two deadly encounters, one has to wonder if Hugh Glass may have momentarily contemplated the many life and death events he had survived over the last six months.
In addition to being mauled by a grizzly and left to die, Glass had been involved in three Indian attacks in which 21 men were killed and 16 wounded. While this number of close calls would give most men pause, Glass’ actions indicate he remained focused on his current situation and his pressing need to reach the mouth of the Yellowstone River. Hugh departed Tilton’s post that night under the cover of darkness and took the added precaution of being ferried to the river bank opposite the Arikara camps.
Confronting Bridger at Fort Henry
After leaving a suffering Glass in the care of Fitzgerald and Bridger on the Grand River, Andrew Henry’s brigade had reached Fort Henry in late October. Because the trappers previously stationed at the fort attributed their poor fur harvest to constant harassment by the Blackfoot, Henry decided to relocate trapping operations further south to the Bighorn River Valley. As a result, a second Fort Henry was built near the junction of the Little Bighorn and Bighorn rivers. This new location was about thirty miles south of the larger river’s junction with the Yellowstone River. It was late November when Glass started a long, cold 38-day walk from Tilton’s post to Fort Henry; a trek that took him to an empty fort.
The historical record is silent on how Hugh Glass knew to head for the Bighorn River country when he found Fort Henry deserted. Historians have speculated that a written note was left at the post to alert Ashley and any other downriver company men of the new location should they go to the mouth of the Yellowstone looking for Henry. Whatever the case, based on information from a man identified only as Allen and who was allegedly there, trapper George Yount’s account stated Glass walked into the new Fort Henry on New Year’s Eve, 1823.
Once the shock of seeing a walking, talking man thought to be dead abated, the men at the fort were full of questions, all of which Glass answered. Finally, he had the chance to ask one burning question, “Where are Fitzgerald and Bridger?” After the miles covered and the hardships endured in getting to the place of his anticipated vengeance, one can only imagine the depth of his disappointment when Hugh was told that Fitzgerald had left and only Bridger was at the fort.
From his confrontation with the teenaged trapper, Glass determined the real culprit was Fitzgerald and decided to forgive the younger man. Glass wanted his gun back and Fitzgerald, who still had it, was now on his way to Fort Atkinson, a military fort on the Missouri River.
Returning to Fort Atkinson
The severity of the winter kept Glass at Fort Henry until an opportunity arose for him to head downriver on an official mission for the fur company. Andrew Henry needed to apprise his partner, William Ashley, of the current situation and operational plans for the upcoming spring. Henry determined that the best way to accomplish this was to have a dispatch delivered to Fort Atkinson which could then be forwarded to Ashley in St. Louis. Due to the weather and continued danger from hostile Indians, Henry concluded that five men would be required to accomplish this mission. That Henry was offering extra pay to the men who would undertake this dangerous task probably had little to do with Hugh Glass agreeing to go. Fitzgerald was supposed to be at Fort Atkinson and that would be all the reward Glass needed.
Hugh Glass, Marsh, Chapman, More and Dutton, left Fort Henry on the Big Horn River February 29, 1824, bound for the military post at the Council Bluffs of the Missouri River. Their overland route took them southeast, across the Tongue River to the Powder River, which they followed south until the Powder split into its North and South forks. Following the South Fork took them into a wide valley where they turned southeast and within forty-five miles reached the North Platte River. As the trappers made their way along the North Platte, the spring thaw set in causing the river to resume its flow. At this point, the men constructed “bull boats” of buffalo hides and floated on down the river.
Arikara Encounter on the Platte River
Near the junction of the Laramie River with the North Platte, the skin boats approached a group of Indians encamped along the river. A chief walked down to the shore, making gestures of friendship, speaking in the Pawnee language and inviting the trappers to come ashore. Believing these Indians to be a group of friendly Pawnees, a tribe with whom Glass had once lived, the mountaineers accepted the invitation. Leaving Dutton and all of their rifles with the boats, Glass, Marsh, Chapman, and More followed the chief into the tipi village.
Not long into their parley, Glass overheard an Indian speak in a language that was not Pawnee but Arikara. Realizing they had been duped and were now in a treacherous position, Glass warned his comrades that these Indians were Rees. At the first opportunity, the trappers ran for their lives toward the river. More and Chapman were cut down while Glass and Marsh, going in different directions, managed to reach the hills and hide until dark. Dutton set off downstream at the onset of the fight and eventually encountered Marsh walking along the river. The two men, thinking that Glass had been killed by the Arikara, continued on and reached Fort Atkinson in May without incident.
Once again, Hugh Glass was alone in the wilderness, in the midst of hostile Indians, without a rifle, and three or four hundred miles from civilization. Based on the nearly impossible circumstances imposed upon him by Fitzgerald and Bridger, Glass would later confess to a fellow trapper,
"Although I had lost my rifle and all my plunder, I felt quite rich when I found my knife, flint and steel in my shot pouch. These little fixens make a man feel right peart when he is three or four hundred miles from anybody or any place."
Believing that the Arikara roamed the Platte River Valley, Glass thought it prudent to abandon the river and head cross country on a direct route to Fort Kiowa. Because springtime was the buffalo calving season, the prairie thrived with newborns. This fortunate timing of Nature’s abundance allowed Glass to dine regularly on veal and complete the trip to the Missouri River in fine form. At Fort Kiowa he learned that John Fitzgerald had enlisted in the Army and was definitely at Fort Atkinson.
Sometime in June of 1824, Hugh Glass walked into Fort Atkinson. Bent on revenge, he demanded a face-to-face meeting with John Fitzgerald. The US Army, however, had different ideas. As a soldier, Fitzgerald was now government property so the Army was not about to let Hugh Glass have “at him.” After hearing Glass’ story, the captain on duty retrieved Glass’ gun, returned it to him, and advised the mountaineer to forget about Fitzgerald as long as the man remained a member of the US Army.
Overjoyed to be united with his rifle, yet frustrated that he could not extract some satisfaction from Fitzgerald’s hide, Hugh Glass moved on to western Missouri. After a few months of working at various odd jobs, Glass decided to try his luck in a different part of the country and joined a fur company bound for Santa Fe.
Fellow mountain man and friend of Hugh Glass, George Yount provided most of the information on Glass’s life once his dealings at Fort Atkinson concerning the fate of John Fitzgerald were concluded. According to Yount, Glass was paid $300 at the fort to appease his need for vengeance and to compensate him, at least partially, for the hardships that he had endured. He used these funds to travel to the western settlements of Missouri and, in 1824, became a partner in one of the trading ventures to New Mexico. Once in Santa Fe, Glass formed a partnership with a Frenchman named DuBreuil, and the two men went on a trading and trapping venture along the Gila River.
After a year of trapping and trading southwest of Santa Fe with only marginal success, Glass relocated to Taos. He was then hired by Etienne Provost to lead a trapping party into the southern Colorado territory of the Eutaw Indians. While trapping and canoeing down a river, Glass’s group spotted a lone Indian woman along the bank.
The woman was a Shoshone, a tribe at war with the Eutaws at the time, and hostile toward the whites who traded with their enemy. As Glass and his men approached the woman with an offering of beaver meat, their sudden presence startled her and she let out a horrendous yell. The scream alerted Shoshone braves resting nearby and they fired numerous arrows at the mountaineers. The attack resulted in one trapper killed and Glass with an arrowhead embedded in his back. Glass endured the pain of an inflamed wound while the party traveled 700 miles back to Taos. Once there, a fellow trapper using only a straight razor removed the metal arrowhead. After spending several months in Taos allowing the wound to heal and recuperating his health, Hugh Glass joined a group of trappers heading for the beaver grounds of the Yellowstone River country.
While no information has yet been discovered to reveal the regions of the Yellowstone country visited by Glass during the years 1827-28, the story of Phillip Covington’s employment with William Sublette’s rendezvous caravan during that same timeframe proves that Glass attended the 1828 Bear Lake Rendezvous. Due to the monopoly and high prices being charged by Smith, Jackson, and Sublette at this rendezvous, Glass was asked by the free trappers to represent them to Kenneth McKenzie and invite the American Fur Company (AMFC) to send a trade caravan to the 1829 rendezvous. Thus, when Glass left the 1828 rendezvous he was bound for Fort Floyd, an American Fur Company post located near the mouth of the Yellowstone River, to palaver with McKenzie.
Glass’s movements during 1829 are not certain, but it can be assumed that he made it to the 1829 Pierre’s Hole rendezvous to report to the free trappers the outcome of his visit with McKenzie. The free trappers’ special envoy may have actually influenced AMFC management because a trading caravan under the leadership of Fontenelle and Dripps was scheduled to attend the 1830 rendezvous. Whatever the specific outcome of Glass’s representation of the free trappers, it appears that he and McKenzie developed a mutually respectful relationship.
By the spring of 1830, Glass was trapping and hunting on the upper Missouri region, and based at the recently constructed Fort Union. According to historian H. M. Chittenden, Glass worked as a hunter for Fort Union and harvested so many bighorn sheep on the hillsides opposite the fort these hills became known as the Glass Bluffs. An 1874 map of the Territory of Montana showed the bluffs near the mouth of the Yellowstone still being identified as “Glass Bluffs.”
The American Fur Company ledger book contained accounts for “Hugh Glass –Freeman,” indicating that he routinely traded at Fort Union during 1831-1833. These same ledgers also showed that Johnson Gardner, another famous free trapper, had migrated to Fort Union during the same time period. Gardner had been with the 1822 Henry/Ashley party and had been an independent Rocky Mountain trapper and trader since that time. Since both men came to the upper Missouri country as Ashley men they were probably friends, and it appears that both of these older trappers had opted for the easier lifestyle afforded by a trading post.
In order to cultivate trade with the Crow Indians, Samuel Tullock was sent in the summer of 1832 to the Yellowstone River to build a new trading post near the mouth of the Big Horn River. Named Fort Cass, the new post was completed by the fall of 1832 and its location was three miles downriver from the junction of the Bighorn and Yellowstone rivers. Not long after its completion, Hugh Glass relocated to Fort Cass as a hunter supplying meat to the new AMFC post.
In the early spring of 1833, Glass accompanied by Edward Rose and Hilain Menard, departed Fort Cass to trap beaver a short way downriver from the fort. As the trappers were crossing the ice of the frozen river, they were ambushed by a large party of Arikara Indians who had been concealed on the opposite bank. All three men were shot, scalped, and plundered. It was these men’s misfortune that an Arikara war party, bent on stealing horses, had been scouting the area around the fort when they spotted the trappers.
Another Ashley man, James P. Beckwourth, provided an account of Hugh Glass’s demise in which he stated that he was at Fort Cass in the spring of 1833 and found the bodies of the three trappers lying on the ice. With the exception of learning that Glass and two men were killed on the Yellowstone River in the spring of 1833, none of the rest of Beckwourth’s story matched any verifiable accounts from the period.
Beckwourth ended his version of the Glass story by describing the burial of the three trappers and the Crow Indians’ deep emotional reaction to the death of these veteran trappers,
We returned together and buried the three men, amid the most terrible scenes that I had ever witnessed. The crying was truly appalling. The three men were well known, and highly esteemed by the Crows. When their bodies were lowered to their last resting-place, numberless fingers were voluntarily chopped off and thrown into the graves; hair and trinkets of every description were also contributed, and the graves were finally filled up.
Some of the Arikara war party who had killed the three trappers had moved on to the headwaters of the Powder River where they encountered a camp of trappers lead by Johnson Gardner. Pretending to be a tribe other than Arikara, the trappers allowed the Indians to warm themselves by their fires. Consequently, the trappers noticed an Indian with old Glass’s rifle and other Indians with possessions known to belong to the other murdered trappers. A fight ensued and two Arikara were captured. Seeing the Arikara with guns and knives known to belong to three of their fellow trappers had put Gardner and his men in a mood for vengeance. Johnson Gardner had the Indians scalped, then burned alive when they could not provide a good explanation for being in possession of accouterments known to belong to Gardner’s fellow trappers.
In 1839, Edmund Flagg provided the record of Johnson Gardner’s demise when he stated that: “Not long afterwards Gardiner himself fell into the hands of the Erickeraws, who inflicted upon him the same dreadful death.”
Article by: Clay Landry
See Sources page for the original accounts of the Hugh Glass story…