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The Legendary Hugh Glass

With the success of the movie 'The Revenant' we felt others  may wish to know more about the legendary trapper Hugh Glass, on whom the movie was based.

The Revenant (2015) While exploring the uncharted wilderness in 1823, frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) sustains life-threatening injuries from a brutal bear attack. When a member of his hunting team kills his young son and leaves him for dead, Glass must utilize his survival skills to find a way back to civilization. Grief-stricken and fueled by vengeance, the legendary fur trapper treks through the snowy terrain to track down the man who betrayed him.

Jim Bridger and Hugh Glass
The following is an excerpt from the article “Tracking Jim Bridger” originally published in the 2011 (Volume 5) Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Journal by Jerry Enzler.
Did Bridger Abandon Hugh Glass?

     James Clyman recorded that in 1823, after the Arikara battle, Andrew Henry’s brigade returned to the mouth of the Yellowstone. Enroute, trapper Hugh Glass "could not be rstrand and kept under Subordination … went off of the line of march one afternoon and met with a large grissly Bear … he attemptd to climb a tree but the bear caught him and hauled to the ground tearing and lacerating his body in feareful rate."45
     Daniel Potts confirmed Clyman’s account: "One man who allso tore nearly all to peases by a White Bear and was left by the way without any gun who afterwards recover’d."46
     Clyman and Potts are the only contemporary trappers who recorded their accounts. Other early narratives about Hugh Glass were told by literary writers whose goals were to tell dramatic yarns for newspapers. These hearsay accounts build upon each other and sometimes compete for drama and hyperbole. James Hall wrote in 1825 that two men volunteered to stay with Glass to bury him.47 Philip St. George Cooke wrote in 1830 that a man named Fitzgerald and a youth of seventeen attended Glass.48 George Yount heard the story about this time from his friend Allen who was there, and Yount told a journalist in the 1850s that the volunteers were a man and a youth.49
A professional writer new to the West, Edmund Flagg, wrote in 1839 that Glass was cared for and then left by two of his companions, Fitzgerald and Bridges, until he should recover sufficiently to follow the expedition, or, as was hourly apprehended, should expire of his wounds.50
     Then, in the 1890s, over seventy years after the event, the elderly Joseph LaBarge said that the tradition identified one of the two men as young Jim Bridger, although his interviewer, Hiram Chittenden, raised some doubts.51
Bear stories, such as the Hugh Glass attack, seem to echo one another. Yount’s version, dictated in the 1850s and published in 1923, is similar to James Ohio Pattie’s tale of an 1827 bear encounter, published in 1831. Two men in Pattie’s group stayed with the mauled trapper, receiving one dollar a day each for remaining.
Pattie (1831): The flesh on his hip was torn off.
Yount (1850s): [the bear had] torn the flesh from the lower part of his body.
Pattie: His breath came out from both sides of his windpipe.
Yount: An aperture was made into the windpipe and his breath to exude at the side.
Pattie: leaving two men with him … until he should die, and to bury him decently.
Yount: two of his men … To remain until he should die, decently bury him.52
     Edmund Flagg was the only one to identify “Bridges” as one of the men tending Glass. Flagg graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine and came to St. Louis about 1836. An attorney and journalist, Flagg took charge of the Louisville Literary Newsletter in late 1838. There were already three newspapers in Louisville, and Flagg knew his publication had to attract readers.53
     On September 7, 1839, Flagg published his version of the Hugh Glass story, “Adventures at the Head Waters of the Missouri.” As was customary in articles of this kind, Flagg provided the obligatory claim to authenticity, whether accurate or not, by saying “The facts are furnished us by the rough notes of a very intelligent man, who was himself an adventurer in the same expedition.” Flagg’s article included the statement “It was resolved that Glass should be left with two of his companions, Fitzgerald and Bridges.”54
     Flagg’s account was riddled with inconsistencies. Flagg said that two keelboats and 160 men left St. Louis in March of 1822, when actually one keelboat left April 3 and the other left May 8.55 Flagg said the Yellowstone is a stream equal to the Ohio in volume and extent, which anyone who had seen both rivers would know to be in error.56 Flagg placed Glass’s encounter with the bear on the Cheyenne River, not the Grand as consistently reported by others. He said a purse of $300 was offered not by the company but by a collection of the men.57 Oddly, Flagg claimed that once Andrew Henry’s party left Glass with the two men, it reached the mouth of the Yellowstone that very night. If the fort was actually that close, there would have been no reason to leave Glass at all, for the party could have carried him to the fort within two or three days.
     Flagg wrote that Fitzgerald turned over Glass’s rifle to Henry to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, but all other accounts said Fitzgerald kept the rifle. According to Flagg, Glass arrived, a ghostlike apparition, at Fort Henry at the mouth of the Yellowstone, when in fact, Henry had abandoned the fort at the mouth of the Yellowstone long before in favor of the Big Horn.58 Flagg reported Glass immediately accepted Henry’s request to courier an express to William Ashley at Council Bluffs, not to find Fitzgerald but simply for another adventure and to collect a reward Henry offered. Flagg described Glass getting into more scrapes and never recovering his rifle nor confronting Fitzgerald. These inconsistencies cast doubt on Flagg’s story and his informant, including the identification of Bridges.59 If these details came from Flagg’s informant, he was not “a very intelligent man, who was himself an adventurer in the same expedition.”
     A review of Flagg’s unpublished papers at the Missouri History Museum reveal that when Flagg arrived in St. Louis, he said he “delivered a letter of introduction from Senator Bell to Gen. Ashley.” But a search of Flagg’s papers does not confirm or describe any such meeting, if it occurred.60 If there was an informant, it probably was not Ashley, nor anyone else well acquainted with Western lands and expeditions, due to the historical and geographic errors. Flagg may simply have asked at taverns and town meetings if anyone knew the name of any young boy who went with the Henry-Ashley expedition in 1822 or 1823. The name Bridges may have come back as an answer, not to the Glass episode, but to a question of who was a youth on the expedition.
     There are several references to men named Bridges on the fur trade frontier. Alpheus Favour, writing in Old Bill Williams, cited receipts that he concluded were signed by James Bridger for carrying an express from the Saline settlements to Fort Osage and back in 1812, and from Arrow Rock to St. Louis and back in 1814. From this evidence, Favour concluded that Jim Bridger was born well before 1804 and that he could write his name.61 But examination of the illustration of the Fort Osage receipt clearly shows the name as James Bridges, not James Bridger. Cecil Alter stated that a graphologist examined the illustration and concluded it said James Bridges, not James Bridger.62
     A preliminary search of the online names index at the Missouri History Museum shows seven men named Bridges in the St. Louis area who may have been youths in 1823: John Bridges who died in 1830; Andrew Bridges listed in the 1840 St. Louis County census; James Bridges who died in 1860; Joseph Bridges who was tried before military commissions and general courts martial in 1863; and three men who died in Civil War military hospitals and camps of St. Louis: G. W. Bridges of Co. F, 14th Illinois; Jackson Bridges of Co. H, 9th Iowa Cav.; and James M. Bridges of Co. F, 18th Missouri.63
     It would be an unlikely coincidence to have a Bridges and a Bridger in the Henry-Ashley Company in 1823. However, it would also be unlikely to have a Fitzpatrick and a Fitzgerald in the same company, yet they were both there.64
     Significantly, Flagg did not specify Jim Bridger as being one of the men who stayed with Hugh Glass. Had he done so, the story would have been more sensational. Bridger’s name was already familiar due to the popularity of Washington Irving’s Adventures of Captain Bonneville, published in 1837, in which his mythic stature was colorfully described.65 Being a literary man with lofty ambitions, Flagg would likely have jumped at such an opportunity, but he did not. Hiram Chittenden’s interviews with the elderly steamboat captain Joseph LaBarge are the only source that gives the name Jim Bridger as one of Glass’s caretakers. Chittenden wrote, “Who the young man was is not known, but the late Captain LaBarge, who remembers the tradition well, says it was James Bridger.”66 Then Chittenden said, “there is no other proof of it than this intangible tradition.”67
     Some historians remained skeptical of the LaBarge tradition, and Chittenden may have been skeptical, too.
     Chittenden interviewed LaBarge in 1896, seventy-three years after the event, and LaBarge died in 1899 at the age of 84. Chittenden’s American Fur Trade was published in 1902 and his LaBarge biography in 1903, so LaBarge’s oral history was available to Chittenden for both publications.
     The LaBarge biography has many exuberant remembrances, such as “He could jump higher … run faster and swim farther than any other lad in town.”68 Just a few pages earlier, LaBarge’s father is said to have been with Ashley’s party when the Arikara attacked and was “the man who cut the cable of one of the keelboats so that it might drift out of range of the fire of the Indians.”69
     But in his history of the fur trade which treats the battle with the Arikaras extensively, Chittenden simply stated, “The anchor of one of the boats was raised and the cable of the other cut, and they thus drifted down out of reach of the villages.”70 He did not mention LaBarge, though he was attempting to identify every man there.
     The answer might be in the preface that Chittenden wrote to his LaBarge book, which he considered a blend of history and biography:
It is hoped that … weaving the story [of the Missouri River] around the biography of [LaBarge] will not detract from its value as historical material … Biography, and even fiction, possess distinct advantages over the ordinary method of historical writing.71
     Dale Morgan, in his 1953 Jedediah Smith, brought to light Flagg’s article:
Heretofore the identification of Bridger as the younger of the two men who stayed with Glass has depended on a verbal tradition reported to Chittenden, vol. II, p 694, but Flagg names him “Bridges.” 72
     With this seemingly independent second source, Morgan concluded it was Bridger. But examining the events as LaBarge might have experienced them will shed more light than considering them in the order in which historians became aware of them. Flagg’s article was first published in Louisville on the Ohio River in September, 1839. It appeared again in the DuBuque Iowa News on the Mississippi River two month later.73 River town newspapers circulated from boat to boat and port to port, and steamboat captain Joseph LaBarge spent considerable time in ports and pilot houses along the Mississippi River system beginning in 1832. So when Chittenden asked about the Hugh Glass incident, LaBarge may have remembered the mention of Bridges in the Flagg article and told Chittenden that “tradition … says it was Jim Bridger.” In other words, it is possible LaBarge’s remembered tradition was of the Flagg article rather than an independent, confirming source.
     The final word on this matter might be that of James Bridger himself, cited for the first time publicly in this article. The unpublished papers of James Butler at the Wisconsin State Historical Society contain an 1886 letter from James Stevenson to Professor Butler, who was gathering information on Jim Bridger’s life. Stevenson had been assistant naturalist when Bridger was scout during Gouverneur K. Warren’s survey of the lower Yellowstone River in 1856 and William F. Raynolds’ survey of the sources of the Missouri and Yellowstone in 1859-1860. Stevenson, employed by the U.S. Geological Survey and actively engaged in scientific research, wrote Butler that he had spent considerable time and engaged in many discussions with Bridger. Stevenson, quite taken with Bridger’s veracity, had “tented and hunted” with Bridger, and was interested in Bridger “almost as an object of Natural History.”
     Butler’s letter asked a series of questions about Bridger. To question number four, Stevenson answered emphatically, “Bridger told me the story of your Glass; but there was no desertion.”74
     Bridger may indeed have been the youth who volunteered to care for Glass and was then talked into leaving him by Fitzgerald, but the sources above show enough doubt to ward off a conclusion.
     Regardless of who was left with Glass, the offense must be examined, and a key indicator of the severity of the act is how Glass subsequently treated each of the two men who had allegedly left him. The first and perhaps most reliable account, by Hall in 1825, said the primary object of [Glass’s] voyage was declared to be the recovery of his arms, and vengeance on the recreant who had robbed and abandoned him.75
     Note that Hall said Glass was after “the recreant,” not “the recreants.” Furthermore, Hall did not write that Glass looked for or had words with the youth, only that Glass arrived at Henry’s establishment. Finding that the trapper he was in pursuit of had gone to Fort Atkinson, Glass readily consented to be the bearer of letters for that post.76
     When Glass finally arrived at Fort Atkinson, he found his old traitorous acquaintance in the garb of a private solder. This shielded the delinquent from chastisement. The commanding officer at the post ordered his rifle to be restored … This appeased the wrath of Hugh Glass, whom my informant left, [while Glass was] astounding, with his wonderful narration, the gaping rank and file of the garrison.77
     It seems Glass was not after revenge on the young boy at all and only mildly vengeful towards the second man. Instead he was taking great pleasure in telling his tale moments after he found the “miscreant” who had abandoned him.
     George Yount also described Glass as not blaming the young boy. On reaching Maj. Henry’s encampment … Glass entered, told his story & recapitulated the wrongs and sufferings & asked for his Camp kettle & his rifle – The Major replied by bringing the recreant boy before him – His camp kettle was there, but the false and dastardly man [Fitzgerald] had gone with Glass’s rifle to Council Bluffs.78
     To the boy Glass supposedly said, as phrased by the Reverend Clark, “Go, my boy – I leave you to the punishment of your own conscience & your God. If they forgive you – then be happy. I have nothing to say to you.” Glass then went to Fort Atkinson where he only addressed the man as he did to the boy.79
     Cooke wrote that Glass reacted in a curiously docile manner when he finally confronted the young man at Henry’s fort. [Glass] leaned upon his rifle; his thoughts took a sudden turn. The more guilty object of his revenge had escaped; the pitiful being before him was perhaps but the unwilling and persuaded accomplice of his much older companion. Glass said to the boy, “you have nothing to fear from me, go – you are free – for your youth I forgive you.” 80
     Flagg, the only one who puts a name to the lad, wrote “Bridges could with difficulty be persuaded to enter his presence.”81 But Flagg gave no account of Glass saying a word to Bridges – no threat, no anger, no request for an explanation.
     Chittenden wrote that Glass knew the trappers had done their duty, and their only fault was taking the rifle and subsequently lying about it: the condition of the unfortunate [Glass] was well-nigh hopeless. There was no surgical aid to be had and it was impossible to move him. Delay of the party might bring disaster to all … In weighing the two principal authorities for this story we are inclined to think that Glass’ sudden relinquishment of his purpose of revenge may have been due to a new light obtained from the two men who deserted him. It was asking a great deal for those two men to expose themselves to destruction for one whose life they doubtless believed was already good as lost … it was only heroic indifference to personal safety that could have induced them to stay.82
     The fact is, none of the men in Henry’s party wanted to wait with the dying man, just as none of the keelboat men in the Arikara attack a few months earlier had wanted to pole their way to the sand bar to rescue their comrades, and no command or threat could make them put themselves into danger. Also at that time, the injured Reed Gibson had told James Clyman to save himself, and Clyman had indeed “run for life.”83
     As John Myers pointed out in The Saga of Hugh Glass, swimmers who go to rescue a drowning man are not criticized when they realize there is nothing they can do for the victim and so save themselves. 84 Only four days previous to Glass’s mauling, the Mandans had attacked Henry’s party of thirteen men, killing two of them and wounding two others.85 How much more vulnerable were only two men guarding a dying one?
     Those caretakers had risked their lives for five days so that the dying man could get a decent burial. But he did not die. How much longer should they be expected to stay, especially if Indians were in the region? Leaving Glass was not their crime. Fitzgerald taking Glass’s rifle and reporting him dead was the unforgivable act.
----- Jerry Enzler is a historian of the West who is completing a new biography of Jim Bridger. He is the founding director of the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, a Smithsonian-affiliated ten acre campus, and has created and scripted more than fifty museum exhibits including “Lewis and Clark’s Excellent Adventure” and “The Rivers of America.” Enzler is a frequent speaker at national forums, and has appeared numerous times on national television. He lives on the Mississippi River in East Dubuque, Illinois.

Article Footnotes

45 James Clyman, Journal of a Mountain Man, Linda Hasseltrom, ed. (Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Co., 1984), 18-19. 46 Daniel T. Potts to Thomas Cochlen, July 7, 1824, quoted in John Myers Myers, The Saga of Hugh Glass: Pirate, Pawnee, and Mountain Man (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1976), 3, 23.
47 James Hall, Letters From the West (Gainesville, FL: Scholar’s Facsimiles and Reprints, 1967), 293-305. It is possible that Hall’s informant was Moses “Black” Harris.
48 Philip St. George Cooke, Scenes and Adventures in the U.S. Army, (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1857), 135-41.
49 George C. Yount, “Chronicles of George C. Yount,” Charles L. Camp, ed., California Historical Quarterly 2 no. 1 (April 1923): 27.
50 Edmund Flagg, Louisville Literary Newsletter, September 7, 1839, 326.
51 Hiram Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West, 2 vols. (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), 2:694.
52 James O. Pattie, The Personal Narrative of James O. Pattie (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, Inc., 1966), 31-32; Yount, “Chronicles,” 26-27. The similarities in language may be significant because Glass is known to have relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico about 1827. A “Glas” is listed with Sylvestre Pratte’s trapping party that year. Pattie was also active in the New Mexico region at this time. Additionally, the 1826-27 brigade led by Pattie included “Louis Dolton.” This may be the same “Dutton” who, along with Hugh Glass, had miraculously escaped from the Arikaras in February 1824. The probability that Pattie and Glass knew one another or that Pattie heard of the bear encounter from Dutton seems plausible. See David Weber, The Taos Trappers (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968), 110-113, 122-123.
53 Edmund Flagg papers, Missouri History Museum, St. Louis. The next year, he “entered” the bar and soon had calling cards which read “Edmund Flagg, attorney and counselor at law, 105 Chestnut St. Basement, Planters House, St. Louis.”
54 Flagg, Louisville Literary Newsletter.
55 Dale L. Morgan, Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1964), 28-29.
56 The Yellowstone River’s volume is about 13,800 cubic feet per second and its length is 692 miles, which is 5 percent and 70 percent, respectively, of the Ohio River’s volume and length.
57 A payment to the volunteers who tended Glass is referenced by several sources. Hall said Henry offered “an extravagant reward.” Yount reported Henry offered 400 dollars to any two men who stayed behind while Cooke stated eighty dollars was subscribed to those who remained with Glass. Flagg maintained that a “purse of $300 was made up by the rest of the party” which seems unlikely as that amount of money would more likely come from a company partisan such as Henry. Compare these claims to Pattie’s, which said that the wounded man’s attendants were offered one dollar per day.
58 Morgan, Smith, 101.
59 Flagg, Louisville Literary Newsletter.
60 Edmund Flagg papers.
61 Alpheus Favour, Old Bill Williams (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962), 50. Based only on Favour’s conclusion, Beau Jacques in “The Bridger Myth: Old Gabe Did Not Desert Hugh Glass,” Muzzleloader (November/December 1992): 35-37 also suggested this proved Bridger could read and write and that Bridger was too old to have been the young man in the Glass episode. This is not a valid argument.
62 J. Cecil Alter, James Bridger: Trapper, Frontiersman, Scout and Guide (Columbus, OH: Long’s College Book Co., 1951), 550. Even if the 1812 and 1814 documents did read “James Bridger,” it would be more likely that this was James Bridger’s father, also named James according to Dodge.
63 The source for these seven men with a “Bridges” surname – listed here in alphabetical order – include: 1) Andrew Bridges, 1840 Missouri State Census of St. Louis County, Dennis Northcott & Joanna Dee, comps. (St. Louis: Missouri History Museum, 2001), 1; 2) G. W. Bridges, Co. F, 14th Illinois, died March 18, 1862, Missouri Republican, March 24, 1862; 3) Jackson Bridges, Co. H, 9th Iowa Cav., died January 5, 1864, Missouri Republican, January 11, 1864; 4) James Bridges, died 1860, St. Louis County Coroner’s Records, 1826-1873, Dennis Northcott, comp. (St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society, 1997), 1; 5) James M. Bridges, Co. F, 18th Missouri, died March 7, 1862, Missouri Republican, March 9, 1862; 6) John Bridges, died 1830, St. Louis County Coroner’s Records, 1826-1873, Dennis Northcott, comp. (St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society, 1997), 1; 7) Joseph Bridges, “Name Index to Soldiers and Citizens Tried Before Military Commissions and General Courts Martial, Department of the Missouri, 1861-1864,” November 16, 1863, Dennis Northcott, comp. Retrieved on April 7, 2011 from http://genealogy.mohistory.org/genealogy/names.
64 Morgan, Smith, 94, 97.
65 Washington Irving, The Adventures of Captain Bonneville: Digested from his Journal (Santa Barbara, CA: The Narrative Press, 2001), 62-67.
66 Chittenden, American Fur Trade, 2:694.
67 Ibid.
68 Hiram Martin Chittenden, History of Steamboat Navigation on the Missouri River: Life and Adventures of Joseph LaBarge (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1903), 15.
69 Ibid., 5.
70 Chittenden, American Fur Trade, 1:268.
71 Chittenden, LaBarge, xiii-xiv.
72 Morgan, Smith, 391 n2.
73 Ibid.
74 James Stevenson to James D. Butler, February 28, 1886, James D. Butler papers/correspondence, 1882-1905, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison.
75 Hall, Letters, 300.
76 Ibid., 304-06.
77 Ibid.
78 Yount, Chronicles, 29.
79 Ibid.
80 Cooke, Scenes and Adventures, 139.
81 Flagg, Louisville Literary Newsletter.
82 Chittenden, American Fur Trade, 2:693-94.
83 Clyman, Journal, 12-13.
84 Myers, Hugh Glass, 129.
85 Morgan, Smith, 104.
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