Quest for Revenge

Narrow Escape with Langevin

After weeks of survival on his own, Glass had been at Fort Kiowa only a couple of days when he learned of plans to send a small group of traders to the Mandan villages some 300 miles upriver. Post factor Joseph Brazeau had decided that tensions with the Arikara, who had resettled near the Mandan, were quelled enough to attempt a trading venture.  The contingent would consist of five men led by Antione Citoleux, more commonly known by his nickname “Langevin.”

As an “Ashley man,” Glass was allowed to purchase a rifle, shot, powder and other supplies on credit.  Expecting to find Fitzgerald and Bridger at Henry’s fort near the mouth of the Yellowstone River, he was anxious to head upriver as soon as possible. When Langevin’s Mackinaw boat pushed off early one mid-October morning, Hugh Glass was the sixth member of the crew.  

After six weeks of battling the prevailing northwest winds and the seasonally strong downriver currents, the Fort Kiowa traders were within a day’s travel of the Mandan.  The section of the Missouri River just below the village was a large bend or “oxbow.” At this juncture, Glass made a fortunate decision, asking to be put ashore.  He reasoned that an overland walk on a direct route to the Mandan village was quicker and less tedious than rowing the boat around the large bend; any saved travel time would bring Hugh face to face with his quarry all the sooner.

Unfortunately for Langevin and his men, Brazeau’s idea that the Rees had taken up the peace trail was wrong. Within a day of Glass’ separation, his traveling companions were attacked by a group of hostile Arikara and every man was killed.

Within a few miles of the Mandan village, Glass was spotted by some Arikara women gathering fire wood who sounded the alarm that a white man approached.  A group of warriors quickly rode towards the trapper bent on cutting him down.  Two Mandan men observed these events, decided that depriving the Rees of their intended victim would be great fun, and jumped on their ponies. The pair of Mandans got to Glass ahead of the Rees, scooped him up and delivered him to the safety of Tilton’s Post, a Columbia Fur Company trading establishment located near the Mandan village.  Fate had again saved Glass from death at the hands of the Arikara.

At Tilton’s trading post, Glass learned of the massacre of Langevin’s party and that the men in this fort had been living for months under a constant Arikara threat.  Having escaped two deadly encounters, one has to wonder if Hugh Glass may have momentarily contemplated the many life and death events he had survived over the last six months.

In addition to being mauled by a grizzly and left to die, Glass had been involved in three Indian attacks in which 21 men were killed and 16 wounded.  While this number of close calls would give most men pause, Glass’ actions indicate he remained focused on his current situation and his pressing need to reach the mouth of the Yellowstone River.  Hugh departed Tilton’s post that night under the cover of darkness and took the added precaution of being ferried to the river bank opposite the Arikara camps.

Confronting Bridger at Fort Henry

After leaving a suffering Glass in the care of Fitzgerald and Bridger on the Grand River, Andrew Henry’s brigade had reached Fort Henry in late October.  Because the trappers previously stationed at the fort attributed their poor fur harvest to constant harassment by the Blackfoot, Henry decided to relocate trapping operations further south to the Bighorn River Valley.  As a result, a second Fort Henry was built near the junction of the Little Bighorn and Bighorn rivers.  This new location was about thirty miles south of the larger river’s junction with the Yellowstone River.  It was late November when Glass started a long, cold 38-day walk from Tilton’s post to Fort Henry; a trek that took him to an empty fort.

The historical record is silent on how Hugh Glass knew to head for the Bighorn River country when he found Fort Henry deserted.  Historians have speculated that a written note was left at the post to alert Ashley and any other downriver company men of the new location should they go to the mouth of the Yellowstone looking for Henry. Whatever the case, based on information from a man identified only as Allen and who was allegedly there, trapper George Yount’s account stated Glass walked into the new Fort Henry on New Year’s Eve, 1823.

Once the shock of seeing a walking, talking man thought to be dead abated, the men at the fort were full of questions, all of which Glass answered. Finally, he had the chance to ask one burning question, “Where are Fitzgerald and Bridger?”  After the miles covered and the hardships endured in getting to the place of his anticipated vengeance, one can only imagine the depth of his disappointment when Hugh was told that Fitzgerald had left and only Bridger was at the fort.  

From his confrontation with the teenaged trapper, Glass determined the real culprit was Fitzgerald and decided to forgive the younger man.  Glass wanted his gun back and Fitzgerald, who still had it, was now on his way to Fort Atkinson, a military fort on the Missouri River.

Returning to Fort Atkinson

The severity of the winter kept Glass at Fort Henry until an opportunity arose for him to head downriver on an official mission for the fur company.  Andrew Henry needed to apprise his partner, William Ashley, of the current situation and operational plans for the upcoming spring.  Henry determined that the best way to accomplish this was to have a dispatch delivered to Fort Atkinson which could then be forwarded to Ashley in St. Louis. Due to the weather and continued danger from hostile Indians, Henry concluded that five men would be required to accomplish this mission.  That Henry was offering extra pay to the men who would undertake this dangerous task probably had little to do with Hugh Glass agreeing to go.  Fitzgerald was supposed to be at Fort Atkinson and that would be all the reward Glass needed.

Hugh Glass, Marsh, Chapman, More and Dutton, left Fort Henry on the Big Horn River February 29, 1824, bound for the military post at the Council Bluffs of the Missouri River.  Their overland route took them southeast, across the Tongue River to the Powder River, which they followed south until the Powder split into its North and South forks.  Following the South Fork took them into a wide valley where they turned southeast and within forty-five miles reached the North Platte River.  As the trappers made their way along the North Platte, the spring thaw set in causing the river to resume its flow.  At this point, the men constructed “bull boats” of buffalo hides and floated on down the river.

Arikara Encounter on the Platte River

Near the junction of the Laramie River with the North Platte, the skin boats approached a group of Indians encamped along the river.  A chief walked down to the shore, making gestures of friendship, speaking in the Pawnee language and inviting the trappers to come ashore.  Believing these Indians to be a group of friendly Pawnees, a tribe with whom Glass had once lived, the mountaineers accepted the invitation. Leaving Dutton and all of their rifles with the boats, Glass, Marsh, Chapman, and More followed the chief into the tipi village.

Not long into their parley, Glass overheard an Indian speak in a language that was not Pawnee but Arikara.  Realizing they had been duped and were now in a treacherous position, Glass warned his comrades that these Indians were Rees.  At the first opportunity, the trappers ran for their lives toward the river.  More and Chapman were cut down while Glass and Marsh, going in different directions, managed to reach the hills and hide until dark.  Dutton set off downstream at the onset of the fight and eventually encountered Marsh walking along the river.  The two men, thinking that Glass had been killed by the Arikara, continued on and reached Fort Atkinson in May without incident.

Once again, Hugh Glass was alone in the wilderness, in the midst of hostile Indians, without a rifle, and three or four hundred miles from civilization.  Based on the nearly impossible circumstances imposed upon him by Fitzgerald and Bridger, Glass would later confess to a fellow trapper,

Although I had lost my rifle and all my plunder, I felt quite rich when I found my knife, flint and steel in my shot pouch. These little fixens make a man feel right peart when he is three or four hundred miles from anybody or any place.

Believing that the Arikara roamed the Platte River Valley, Glass thought it prudent to abandon the river and head cross country on a direct route to Fort Kiowa.  Because springtime was the buffalo calving season, the prairie thrived with newborns.  This fortunate timing of Nature’s abundance allowed Glass to dine regularly on veal and complete the trip to the Missouri River in fine form.  At Fort Kiowa he learned that John Fitzgerald had enlisted in the Army and was definitely at Fort Atkinson.  

Finding Fitzgerald

Sometime in June of 1824, Hugh Glass walked into Fort Atkinson. Bent on revenge, he demanded a face-to-face meeting with John Fitzgerald.  The US Army, however, had different ideas.  As a soldier, Fitzgerald was now government property so the Army was not about to let Hugh Glass have “at him.”  After hearing Glass’ story, the captain on duty retrieved Glass’ gun, returned it to him, and advised the mountaineer to forget about Fitzgerald as long as the man remained a member of the US Army.

Overjoyed to be united with his rifle, yet frustrated that he could not extract some satisfaction from Fitzgerald’s hide, Hugh Glass moved on to western Missouri.  After a few months of working at various odd jobs, Glass decided to try his luck in a different part of the country and joined a fur company bound for Santa Fe.

Article By: Clay Landry

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See Sources page for the original accounts of the Hugh Glass story…