The film, “The Revenant,” is an epic tale on a personal scale. It’s based on the true story of Hugh Glass, who while hunting beaver on the Missouri River is attacked by a bear, left for dead by fur trappers and finds the strength to crawl 200 miles in pursuit of his faithless friends.
It was 1971, when I first learned about this event. My mom and dad loaded up the station wagon with us kid’s and we drove to Brookings, Oregon and Red’s Drive-in to see the movie, “Man in the Wilderness,” starring Richard Harris as ‘Zachary Bass,’ and John Huston as ‘Captain Henry.’
But what few people know is that Hugh Glass’ story has a parallel to one of the most important explorers of Del Norte County, California’s history. Glass was not only a contemporary of Jedediah Smith, but the two were a part of the same expedition when each was brutally mauled by a Grizzly.
In 1822, Smith and Glass responded to an advertisement in the Missouri Gazette and Public Advertiser placed by General William Henry Ashley, which called for 100 men as part of a fur-trading venture. Many other soon-to-be famous mountain men also joined, including James Beckwourth, Thomas Fitzpatrick, David Jackson, John Fitzgerald, William Sublette and Jim Bridger.
In August 1823, near the forks of the Grand River in present-day Perkins County, South Dakota, while scouting for game, Glass surprised a grizzly bear with two cubs. The bear charged, picked him up, and threw him to the ground.
Glass managed to kill the bear with help from his trapping partners, Fitzgerald and Bridger, but was left badly mauled and unconscious. Ashley, who was also with them, became convinced he would not survive his injuries.
He then asked the pair stay with Glass until he died, and then bury him. And as the rest of the party moved on, they began digging his grave.
They were interrupted by attacking Arikara, and grabbing Glass’s rifle, knife, and other equipment, ran for their lives. Both men later caught up with the party and incorrectly reported to Ashley that Glass had died.
Glass, however regained consciousness only to find himself abandoned, and without his rifle or equipment. By this time had festering wounds, a broken leg, and cuts on his back that exposed his fractured ribs.
Glass set his own leg; wrapped himself in the bear hide Bridger and Fitzgerald had placed over him as a shroud, and began crawling. He headed south toward the Cheyenne River, where he fashioned a crude raft and floated downstream to Fort Kiowa.
It took him six weeks.
During that time, he survived on wild berries and roots and was even able to drive two wolves away from a downed bison calf, and feast on the meat. Glass was eventually aided by friendly Indians who sewed a bear hide to his back to cover the exposed wounds and provided him with food and weapons.
After recovering, Glass set out again to find Fitzgerald and Bridger. He eventually traveled to Fort Henry on the Yellowstone River, but found it deserted.
A note indicated that the company had relocated to a new camp at the mouth of the Bighorn River. Arriving there, Glass found Bridger, forgave him and re-enlisted with Ashley’s company.
In early 1824, Glass, along with four others, were sent to find a new trapping route, by going up the Powder River, then across and down the Platte River to the bluffs. Near the junction with the Laramie River, they discovered a settlement of some 38 lodges.
Initially, they thought them to be Pawnees, but after going ashore they realized they were Arikara. The men quickly got in their boat and paddled for the far shore, with the ensuing chase ending with both parties landing at the same time.
Two of the men, Marsh and Dutton, escaped, however E. More and A. Chapman, were quickly overtaken and killed. That May, Dutton and Marsh reached Fort Atkinson, where they reported that Moore, Chapman and Glass were all dead.
Glass, though had managed to hide, laying low until after dark, where he slipped away, falling in with a party of Sioux, traveling to Fort Kiowa. From there he descended the river to Council Bluffs, where he was reunited with Dutton and More.
Glass later learned that Fitzgerald had joined the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Atkinson in present-day Nebraska. He traveled there, where Fitzgerald returned his rifle.
Glass was eventually killed by the Arikara along the Yellowstone River in the winter of 1833.
In the fall of the same year that Glass was mauled and left for dead, Smith and16 men traveled downriver to Fort Kiowa to make their way overland to the Rocky Mountains. While looking for the Crow tribe to obtain fresh horses and get westward directions, Smith was attacked by a grizzly bear.
By the time the attack ended, Smith’s ribs were broken and his scalp and ear were nearly ripped off. He had to convince his friend, Jim Clyman, to sew it back on while giving him directions.
For the rest of his life, Smith wore his hair long to cover the large scar that remained from his eyebrow to his ear. On May 18, 1828, Smith and his party entered what would eventually become Del Norte County, setting up camp along Klamath River.