Hugh Glass

Twentieth Century Fox/IMDB

Could you imagine surviving a bear attack and crawling hundreds of miles to safety?

Quick notes:

• When explorer Hugh Glass signed on for a fur-trading expedition, he didn’t consider the mission’s danger

• After being mauled by a grizzly bear, his fellow group members left him for dead

• Glass was determined to survive, and he spent weeks crawling, limping, and floating hundreds of miles back to safety

When a bear severely wounded adventurer Hugh Glass, his fellow explorers left him for dead. However, despite his near-fatal injuries, he was able to survive and crawl hundreds of miles to safety. This is the real story of Hugh Glass, the man behind the breathtaking survival flick The Revenant (2015).

An expedition from Hell

In 1823, adventurer and fur trapper Hugh Glass signed on for an expedition in fur-trading. In a group led by William Henry Ashley, they planned to head to Fort Henry, scouting out the land, animals, and tribes along their route. In March of 1823, the group departed from Saint Louis. While they didn’t expect a simple journey, they couldn’t have anticipated the extent of their abysmal luck.

A few months later, the group was attacked by two groups of Indiansthe Mandans and the Hidatsa. These altercations caught everyone off guard. As a result of poor preparation, Hugh Glass was harmed during the fight. While the crew was rattled, they quickly kept moving on their route. And if they could survive a surprise Indian attack, they could survive anything, right?

A disturbing attack on Glass

By early September, the adventurers had made it through much of the Grand River Valley. Glass, who was hired to hunt, was searching for animals when he ran into a frightening scene—a mother bear and two of her cubs. Before he could react, the massive mother grizzly charged at Glass, mauling him viciously as he cried for help.

 Wikimedia Commons

Thankfully, his group was nearby, and they rushed to kill the humongous bear. However, the damage was done, and it was substantial. With her three-inch claws, the grizzly had caused severe wounds on Glass’ body, including breaking his leg. His injuries were so bad that his buddies were sure he was going to perish quickly.

After he survived the night, Ashley, who feared for the safety of his men, commanded that they build a makeshift gurney and carry him onward. However, after two days of lugging Glass along, Ashley recognized that he was slowing them down.

As a result, Ashley was willing to pay an $80 bonus to any duo of men who were willing to stay behind with Glass, bury him when he passed, and travel onward to the fort alone. Two men, Jim Bridger and John Fitzgerald, volunteered. Easy money, right? Nope. Five days after Ashley left, Glass was still clinging to life.

His trek back to safety

Ultimately, Fitzgerald was able to convince nineteen-year-old Bridger that they had fulfilled their duties and that they needed to flee from the Indian-patrolled area. They dumped Glass beside a spring, stole his materials, and left him to die. Realistically, Glass probably should have died. However, he was a fighter.

If he was going down, he was going down kicking…and seeking revenge.

Using all the strength he had left, Glass began to crawl towards the Mississippi River. How far was his intended destination? Only hundreds of miles. Somehow, Glass was able to keep moving, sustaining himself on insects and small reptiles, as well as stealing half a baby buffalo carcass from a pack of wolves. He slowly regained the strength the bear had taken.

After reaching the Mississippi River, a group of kind Lakota Indians gave him a raft, and he rode it to Fort Kiowa—completing a 250+ mile trip. Glass, grateful to be alive, ultimately forgave the men who abandoned him. Indians killed him in 1833.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

The cutest, silliest bears you will ever see: sun bears! | Science101

Sun bears are a little sweeter than grizzlies.

Mother bear leaves her cubs to drown before fishermen intervene | Science101

After this momma bear abandoned her cubs, a brave fisherman leaped into action.