The Evolving Saga of Hugh Glass

The Evolving Saga of Hugh Glass

A myth is a story about a being whether it a mortal being or a deity with a history of being told over and over again not always originating from fact. When stories are told many times by a variety of people the factual events have a tendency to be stretched, warped, and cut out. Each story teller has a different perspective on the world which can lead to different versions of the same story. Hugh Glass’ story has evolved into a myth over time after being re-told by countless people. Glass’ story started in 1823 when he was attacked by a bear while on a trapping expedition under the command of Major Henry from the Henry & Ashley firm. After Glass was mauled he was left to die by two of his comrades.[1] The betrayal Glass experienced by Fitzgerald and Bridger has evolved from a factual account of a terrible situation into the driving force of Glass’ individualistic survival which is misled in both the revenge aspect as well as his independent trek back to civilization. Along with these major misconceptions smaller details have been both added and dropped to make the myth more exciting and succinct.

The original story begins with the same details as today’s myth. Glass joins a fur company that departs St. Louis on an expedition to the Rocky Mountains with plans to trap and trade with Natives. The various versions of the story start to part ways on the day of the bear attack. The almanac describes the attack as a result of an unfortunate fruit foraging adventure; Glass and George Harris departed the group in order to find wild fruit. In the midst of their foraging adventure a bear attacked glass and chased Harris back to the river that their comrades were at. Harris turned and fired a shot at the bear followed by an assault from the rest of the crew which ended in the bears death.[2] From this account of the attack many more have developed in order to mold Glass from a man in an unfortunate situation into a hero who fended off a grizzly bear until help arrived. In The Revenant, the most recent version of the Hugh Glass myth, the bear attack was portrayed as a battle scene rather than a massacre.[3] In the evolved version Glass was on a scouting mission when he encountered a mother bear with two cubs; the mother attacked and Glass fought her off while enduring life threatening injuries until Bridger and Fitzgerald came to Glass’ aid and killed the bear.[4] This warped view of reality transforms Glass from a victim to a hero who fought for his life.

The myth of Glass being a man of super human strength is further perpetuated by the circumstances in which he was left by his fellow trappers after the bear attack left him with life threatening injuries. In the original account Glass was transported on a litter that was constructed shortly after the attack and towed toward civilization for three days when Henry, the leader of their company, decided that it was time to let Glass pass away peacefully. He felt guilt for both slowing down the rest of the crew as well as putting Glass through the excruciating pain that the litter pull was causing him.[5] Henry offered up a monetary bonus for two men willing to stay with Glass until he expired at which point they would give him a proper burial and then meet back up with the rest of the company[6].  Fitzgerald and Bridger both accepted the bonus in exchange for their duty to Glass. A week went by and Glass hadn’t died yet; at this point Fitzgerald and Bridger decided it was to dangerous for them to stick around any longer prompting them to return to their company. Fitzgerald, with money on his mind realized they couldn’t return without Glass’ rifle or the company would know Glass wasn’t dead yet. With this on their minds, Fitzgerald and Bridger took the rifle and left while Glass was sleeping. Glass awoke and and found that he had been deserted as well as robbed of his rifle; he wasn’t happy but he did find that he still had possession of his possible sack which contained a razor blade, his kettle, and enough dried buffalo meat to sustain him for several days[7]. As the story was told over time this was a key part that was stretched and warped to create a survival story driven by pure vengeance. In more contemporary versions of the tale there is a dichotomy in the amount of time that Glass was towed on a litter and the amount of space between his point of desertion and civilization. The most prominent distortion of the truth occurs at the actual point of desertion. In the popular culture re-telling Bridger and Fitzgerald are said to have left Glass with literally nothing, they are said to have taken his possible sack, knife, and any food[8].  This robbery leaves Glass with nothing but vengeance and pure grit.

The evolution of the original story continues with Glass’ journey back to civilization from the place he was abandoned. The original story describes his survival in a realistic manner. Glass stays in one spot long enough for his wounds to heal receiving nourishment from a buffalo calf that was slain by a pack of wolves which Glass scared off by starting a fire with the razor blade he was left with and a piece of flint. He then embarks on his journey back to civilization on foot. Along the way Glass encounters a group of Sioux Indians who take pity on him, dressed his wounds, and provided him with more food. Glass left the Sioux on a journey with seven of their men to trade with the Mandan. While en route they were attacked by a rivaling tribe; Glass was rescued by the Mandan while the seven Sioux perished. At this point Glass spent some time with his saviors and then continued on his way to catch up with the crew that had deserted him[9]. In reality Glass summoned tremendous strength and bravery to survive, however, he was also aided by multiple different groups along the way. In other renditions of the story Glass’ journey back to civilization has been morphed into a story of independent survival against all odds. In Hugh Glass: Legendary Trapper in Americas Western Frontier he is said to have obtained his initial nourishment from killing a subdued rattlesnake with a rock and eating its raw flesh followed by a crawl back to civilization since his legs didn’t work one hundred percent. In the midst of this crawl he was received by the Sioux who dressed his wounds but instead of accompanying him on the start of his journey he departed on his own. He traveled to the Cheyenne river, constructed a raft and floated to Fort Kiowa where he found refuge[10].  This version of the story completes the transformation of the Hugh Glass story to a myth.

The mythic Glass is modified from a real person with genuine strengths and weaknesses to a figure with strengths that top that of any man. He is brought to a pedestal from being described as a man who overcame terrible circumstances through bravery, perseverance, and the help of his fellow man to a man who overcame everything that was thrown at him almost entirely by himself driven by vengeance of the men who left him for dead.[11] The story of Hugh Glass started in 1823 and has evolved to the myth we know today through countless different renditions that have exhibited both large and small exaggerations and cuts of facts, both of which are important to understanding the full history of the situation that actually occurred.

 

 

Citations:

“Hugh Glass: Legendary Trapper in America’s Western Frontier.” History Net Where History

Comes Alive World US History Online. Accessed November 10, 2015.

Flagg, Edmund. “History of a Western Trapper.” 1843, 12-23.

“Frontiersman and Survival Expert Hugh Glass.” Adventure Journal RSS. Accessed November 10,

2015.

Myers, John Myers. The Saga of Hugh Glass: Pirate, Pawnee, and Mountain Man. Lincoln:

University of Nebraska Press, 1976.

The Revenant. Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu. 20th Century Fox,2015. Film.

 

[1] Flagg, Edmund. “History of a Western Trapper.” 1843, 12-13.

[2] Flagg, Edmund. “History of a Western Trapper.” 1843, 14-15.

[3] The Revenant. Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu. 20th Century Fox,2015. Film.

[4] “Frontiersman and Survival Expert Hugh Glass.” Adventure Journal RSS. Accessed November 10, 2015.

[5] Flagg, Edmund. “History of a Western Trapper.” 1843, 15.

[6] Flagg, Edmund. “History of a Western Trapper.” 1843, 15.

[7] Flagg, Edmund. “History of a Western Trapper.” 1843, 17.

[8] “Hugh Glass: Legendary Trapper in America’s Western Frontier.” History Net Where History Comes Alive World US History Online. Accessed November 10, 2015.

 take pity on y M “y Trappntier men . Innhis comrades.lic can follow and develop a rapport with the text.vices. warness.of Amer

[9] Flagg, Edmund. “History of a Western Trapper.” 1843, 18-19.

[10] “Hugh Glass: Legendary Trapper in America’s Western Frontier.” History Net Where History Comes Alive World US History Online. Accessed November 10, 2015.

[11] Myers, John Myers. The Saga of Hugh Glass: Pirate, Pawnee, and Mountain Man. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1976.HughGlassBearAttack

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