Hugh Glass Biography

(19th Century American Fur Trapper and Hunter Who Survived a Deadly Grizzly Bear Attack)

Born: 1783

Born In: Scranton, Pennsylvania, United States

Hugh Glass was a 19th century American merchant, frontiersman, fur trapper, and hunter who is known for his inspirational story of survival and forgiveness after being mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his companions. While there is no concrete evidence available, it is widely believed that he was born to Irish or Scots-Irish parents in Pennsylvania. Not much is known about his childhood and early life. He became a sailor and explorer as a young man and was very adventurous. Legend has it that he was captured by a notorious French pirate in the Gulf of Mexico and was forced to work with him. He was later able to escape. This story is not corroborated. There are many popular stories about him but few verifiable accounts. He was later allegedly captured by an Indian tribe called the Pawnee tribe and spent a few years with them. It is said that he learned how to hunt and track from them and became an important member of the tribe. He later left the tribe to join a fur-trading expedition backed by General William Henry Ashley. It was during this expedition that the legendary grizzly bear mauling happened. He survived the attack despite all odds and resumed his career as an explorer before being finally killed during another expedition.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Old Hugh

Died At Age: 50

Born Country: United States

American Men

Died on: 1833

place of death: Williston, North Dakota, United States

U.S. State: Pennsylvania

Cause of Death: Killed

Childhood & Early Life

Hugh Glass was born in c. 1783 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the United States, to Irish or Scots-Irish parents. Nothing is known about his childhood or early life.

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Early Career

Hugh Glass reportedly became a sailor and explorer as a young man. It is said that he was captured by a French pirate called Jean Lafitte in the Gulf of Mexico in 1816. He was then forced to become a pirate himself.

After two years, he allegedly escaped by swimming to shore near present-day Galveston, Texas. He then continued his trips as an explorer.

According to some sources, he was captured by the Pawnee tribe. Even though he was initially meant to be a human sacrifice, he was pardoned and allowed to live with the tribe for many years. During this time, he learned tracking and hunting from the tribesmen and became an important member of the tribe.

In 1821, the Pawnee tribe sent a delegation to meet with the government representatives; Hugh Glass was one of the delegates. The delegation traveled to St. Louis, Missouri. At this juncture, Glass decided to leave the tribe and stay back

General William Henry Ashley’s 1823 Expedition

In 1822, prominent frontiersman and fur trader General William Henry Ashley placed an advertisement in the Missouri Gazette and Public Advertiser calling for a group of 100 men to "ascend the river Missouri" as part of a fur-trading venture. 

Hugh Glass was not among the original group of men who joined. He joined Ashley’s venture in 1823 and met many of the men who had joined the previous year. The group was attacked by Arikara warriors, and Glass was shot in the leg. He eventually recovered and the group continued their journey.

Hugh Glass and the other men went to Fort Kiowa to plan for a further trip. Ashley’s business partner, Andrew Henry, also had joined the group by then. Glass, Henry, and the other men traveled to the Yellowstone River.

While looking for animals to hunt and eat, Hugh Glass disturbed a mother grizzly bear with two cubs. The enraged bear charged at him, bit him, and slashed his flesh, leaving him severely wounded. Despite his injuries, Glass was able to kill the bear with the help of his men.

Hugh Glass was severely wounded and his companions expected him to die soon. Nevertheless, they carried him around for two days. However, carrying him greatly slowed the group’s traveling pace. Thus, Henry asked for two volunteers to stay with Glass until he died. They were asked to bury him and then rejoin the group.

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Two men named John S. Fitzgerald and Bridges volunteered for this duty and stayed back with the injured Glass as the other men moved on. These men, however, didn’t stay with Glass for long. They dumped him in a shallow grave, took his belongings, and left him. They rejoined the other men and incorrectly reported to Ashley that Glass had died.

Despite suffering from grievous injuries that had now become infested with maggots, Hugh Glass survived. He regained consciousness, and upon realizing that he had been abandoned, he was left with no options but to try to travel by himself.

He set his own broken bone and wrapped himself in a bear hide left behind by his companions. He then began crawling back to Fort Kiowa. He survived by eating wild berries and roots.

He used the hill Thunder Butte as a navigational landmark and crawled towards the Cheyenne River. He made a crude raft and floated downstream to Fort Kiowa. After an agonizing journey that took him six weeks, he was finally able to find help.

Hugh Glass recovered from his wounds in a few months and set out to exact revenge on Fitzgerald and Bridges.

He learned that Andrew Henry and the men were now at a new camp at the mouth of the Bighorn River.

Glass was able to find Bridges. However, he decided to spare him as Bridges was very young, probably just a teenager. He forgave Bridges because of his youth.

Later Years

Hugh Glass rejoined Ashley’s company as a fur-trapper and frontiersman. He later learned that Fitzgerald had joined the army. Killing an army man warranted capital punishment, so he decided to spare Fitzgerald as well.

According to some sources, Glass received $300 as compensation for all that he had been through because of Fitzgerald’s behavior.

He undertook a few other expeditions for Ashley. Later, he was employed as a hunter for the US Army garrison at Fort Union.

Personal Life & Family

According to some sources, Hugh Glass was either in a relationship with or married to a Pawnee woman. However, this is not verified information.

He was killed along with two other men in an attack by the Arikara in 1833 in the Yellowstone River area.


Hugh Glass’s life story has been the subject of many books, plays, and films. His character was played by actor Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2015 film The Revenant, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.

See the events in life of Hugh Glass in Chronological Order

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