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.
Article by: Clay Landry
See Sources page for the original accounts of the Hugh Glass story…