Hugh Glass just won’t die.
Resurrected in spirit 183 years after his murder, the mountain man continues to stoke research into the few crumbs available detailing his grisly life, grizzly mauling and eventual violent death at the hands of Indians.
Earlier this year Glass gained worldwide attention with the release of “The Revenant,” a lushly filmed movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The film dramatized a portion of Glass’ incredible life: when he survived a harrowing grizzly bear attack and vengefully tracked down the men who left him for dead.
Now mountain man researcher and aficionado Clay Landry, of Whitehall, has shed more light on Glass’ real-life demise with publication of an article he wrote for “The Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Journal.”
“I confirm who died with Glass,” Landry said, as well as narrowing down when he died.
There are few references to Glass in historical records. Although literate, he apparently carried no diary. Yet his harrowing tale has inspired 10 books by nine authors that are still in publication. “Hugh Glass Grizzly Survivor” by James D. McLaird is the most recent addition, coming out in May. Two older publications — “Hugh Glass and the Grizzly Bear” by Rufus B. Sage published in 1857, and “Glass and the Bear” by George Frederick Augustus Ruxton, published in 1847 — date much closer to the Glass era.
Now Landry has added his voice to the historical record with the article “Hugh Glass: The Rest of the Story,” which was printed this fall.
“Actually, I correct history with that article,” said Landry, who helped prepare members of the cast of “The Revenant” in the ways of the fur trapping age to ensure authenticity.
Killed in 1833
At some time during the winter of 1833, Glass and his two companions set out from a small fur trading post built about three miles east of the confluence of the Yellowstone and Bighorn rivers, known as Fort Cass — about 60 miles northeast of present-day Billings.
At the time, Glass was employed as a hunter for the fort. Accompanying him were two men with the last names of Rose and Menard. All three were killed in an Indian attack.
“They scalped them and left part of the Scalps of each tied to poles on the grounds of the murder…,” according to a letter written by John F.A. Sanford, an Indian agent, in a July 1833 letter to William Clark, superintendent of Indian Affairs. Landry includes the excerpt in his article.
This is the same Clark so well known for his exploration of the West with Meriwether Lewis between 1803 and 1806. The same Clark who essentially paved the way for folks like Glass and the fur companies that employed him.
According to Landry’s research, the men accompanying Glass when he was ambushed by members of the Arikara Tribe were Hilain Menard and Colin Rose.
“In the past, historians guessed who he died with,” Landry said. “That’s always been the byline for that.”
The story is all the more remarkable because Glass’ life remains largely obscured by the passage of time because there are only scattered written accounts that mention the legendary trapper. Landry confirmed the full names of Menard and Rose from entries in the American Fur Company’s Upper Missouri Outfit accounting ledgers. Microfiche copies of the ledgers are stored in the Montana Historical Society’s archives in Helena.
“As luck would have it at the bottom of the ledger page they had an entry for Colin and Menard — killed by Ree Indians,” Landry said.
“A hand-written notation made on the credit side of Menard’s account book page states, ‘Killed by the Rees near Fort Cass Spring 1833,’” Landry wrote in his article. “The word ‘Rees’ was mountaineer slang for the Arikara tribe.”
“It was the coolest thing I’ve ever found,” Landry said. “I wanted to kiss the clerk who put the note at the bottom of that ledger page.”
Previous accounts had speculated that Rose may have been Edward Rose, a mulatto who lived with the Crow. Landry said the ledger entry disproves that account, which was repeated by trappers of the time such as James Beckwourth.
“He was famous for embellishing stories,” Landry said.
The three trappers were buried on a nearby knoll overlooking the river valley. No archaeological survey has ever been made to locate Fort Cass or the mountain men’s burial site, both of which are likely located on private property.
“If we could find Glass’ grave we could memorialize him like we should, and prove that Beckwourth told another whopper,” Landry said.
It seems sad that the last accounting of Glass is a ledger showing he owed $544.50, a large sum but not unheard of for the time, according to Landry.
“Each fur company wanted to keep the trappers in debt to them because that was assurance that the trapper — especially the free trappers — would be trading all of his fur to them,” Landry said. “The debts were large because the goods the trapper was buying from the company were charged to him at ‘mountain prices,’ that is usually 1,000 percent more than the cost in the settlements.”
Landry said he has seen ledger entries where some free trappers had run up their account to several thousand dollars.
“When this happened they were usually getting extra trade goods to trade with the Indians as a method to bring in more fur without having to trap it themselves,” he said.
In comparison to Glass, Menard owed $16.47 while Rose was indebted to the company for $17.58, Landry’s research showed.
“It was not uncommon for veteran trappers to run up sizable debts with the fur companies,” Landry said. “With beaver at $4 to $5 a pound it would take about 90 to 100 good Crow country beaver to cover most of what he owed. So I am sure that he was thinking that a good spring hunt would yield enough beaver to pay off his account with AMFC.”
What comes around
Landry has spent a lot of time contemplating Glass’ unusual life, especially in the past year.
“You know what the irony of the whole story is?” said the retired banker. “The first time Glass appears in the historical record he’s with Ashley,” William Henry Ashley, who was leading a group of 70 trappers up the Missouri River. While camped near an Arikara village in June 2, 1823, the trappers were attacked by the Indians. Fourteen trappers died and 10 were wounded, including Glass, who was shot in the leg.
“Ashley’s list of men wounded in this conflict is the first historical record of Hugh Glass as a member of the Henry/Ashley Company,” Landry wrote. Andrew Henry was Ashley’s partner in the venture.
In retaliation for the Indian assault, an Army force accompanied by trappers attacked and burned the Arikara village. Without a village, the rootless tribe spread out across the territory.
Because of the attack on the group of trappers, Ashley and Henry agreed to split the force of 70 men and travel overland rather than up the Missouri where more, possibly hostile, Indian tribes would be encountered.
“And that’s why Glass was in a position to be mauled by a grizzly bear,” Landry said, a mauling that was so horrific that two of his companions — who had volunteered for extra pay to stay behind and bury him when he died — left him for dead.
The fact that members of the same Arikara Tribe were responsible for Glass’ death is “just plumb bad luck,” Landry said. Yet Glass’ bad luck has also added to the legend that has helped resurrect the trapper and his incredible story of survival for nearly two centuries.
“I’ve always been fascinated with these guys,” Landry said, ever since he first viewed the Charlie Russell painting of bison climbing a bluff above the Missouri River titled “When the Land Belonged to God.” Trappers, he said, were some of the first whites to see the country like Russell depicted in that stunning painting.
Landry said he told script writers for “The Revenant” that Glass’ story was amazing without adding cinematic changes.
“I told them, ‘Just tell the guy’s life story.’ It’s fascinating in its own right.”