The True Story Behind The Revenant's Hugh Glass Is Even Bloodier Than The Movie

The true story behind The Revenant has been embellished a little every time it's told. While there isn't much information about the early life of mountain man Hugh Glass - whom the book and movie was based on - his story of survival and revenge has been repeated enough times that it has become twisted. Similar to the survival story of Aaron Ralston depicted in 127 Hours, the cinematic version of The Revenant isn't quite the truth.

What is thought to be the real Revenant story took place when Glass - a fur trapper in the 1820's American frontier - was attacked by a bear, left for dead by two men paid to wait and bury him, and had his favorite rifle stolen. Glass made an unexpected, near-complete recovery and wanted his gun back. That's pretty much all historians agree happened.

Since no one alive was there or wrote anything down, the existence of Glass's story has relied entirely on oral communication, and anyone who's played telephone knows that isn't the most reliable information network. 


  • It's Possible Glass Was A Ruthless Pirate Working Under Jean Lafitte In His Earlier Years

    It's Possible Glass Was A Ruthless Pirate Working Under Jean Lafitte In His Earlier Years
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The life of Hugh Glass before almost becoming bear food is not well documented and, like the rest of his story, what we do know comes entirely from oral accounts. According to one legend, Hugh Glass may have abandoned his two sons and wife in Pennsylvania and become the captain of a ship.

    Allegedly, the ship was attacked by pirates working under Jean Lafitte in 1819, and Glass joined their crew to avoid being murdered. He lived the pirate life for a year, allegedly murdering, kidnapping, and pillaging to stay alive. Along with another pirate, Glass escaped and journeyed toward St. Louis, carefully avoiding hostile tribes of Native Americans along the way. True or not, the tale supported Glass's eventual legend as an extremely hard-to-kill guy.

  • Glass Was Horrifically Mauled By A Bear, Sustaining Injuries That Seemed Almost Impossible To Survive

    Glass Was Horrifically Mauled By A Bear, Sustaining Injuries That Seemed Almost Impossible To Survive
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    After being attacked by Arikara - a Native American tribe - Hugh Glass separated from William Ashley's group and joined up with Andrew Henry, who led 250 US soldiers in attacking the tribe back. Henry's group then traveled towards the Yellowstone River but had to be vigilant for Arikara who wanted revenge. He ordered no unnecessary gunfire and demanded everyone stick together. Not one to follow orders when he had other ideas, Glass wandered off alone - either to hunt or gather berries - and encountered the angry bear that ruined his life.

    The bear charged and tore a chunk out Glass's flesh as he tried to escape up a tree. He managed to get off an unsuccessful shot, and stabbed at the bear with his knife. The bear slashed at him in return, causing deep wounds all over his body including a large hole in his throat. Others from the group finally arrived and shot the bear dead, but the horrible damage to Glass had already been done.

  • Despite Horrific Injuries, Glass Survived His Bear Attack

    Drifting in and out of consciousness after the bear attack, Hugh Glass managed to drink from a stream and eat berries. Slowly, he regained his strength and recovered to the point that he could move around. Glass reportedly managed to catch a rattlesnake and kill it with a rock, surviving on its meat for several days.

    Eventually, he was able to crawl and began making his way toward Fort Kiowa to track down John Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger. Although Glass's actions in The Revenant are partially based on a desire for revenge after they killed his son - who was never proven to exist - historians believe Glass was more motivated by getting his gun back. Accounts of his journey claim he crawled anywhere from 80 to 200 miles over a six week period, regaining his strength as he traveled despite the fact he had a broken leg and horrible injury to his throat.

  • Glass Screamed At A Wolf Pack Until They Abandoned Their Kill So He Could Eat It

    Stories about how Hugh Glass survived after he was abandoned vary greatly. While accounts of how far he traveled, who he met, and what the weather was like differ, Glass definitely did whatever he could in order to live. He ate what he could get and killed whatever he needed to.

    According to one story, he encountered a pack of wolves feasting on a buffalo calf and decided to steal it after waiting until they were full. Glass forced himself to stand and yelled at the wolves until they left. He ate from the carcass for several days until it spoiled. It's said these meals greatly improved his recovery and he was able to travel 10 miles a day.

  • Glass Was Supposedly Captured By Pawnee Who Accepted Him, But Burned His Companion To Death

    After Hugh Glass escaped from the pirate gang he was forced to join, he and a fellow deserter were captured by a tribe of Pawnee as they traveled across the Midwest. Allegedly, Glass was tied up while his companion was stripped naked, bound to a pole, and had slivers of pine wood jammed into his skin which were then set on fire. Realizing he could very well suffer the same fate, Glass decided to honor the chief by bowing and offering him cinnabar, a mineral the Pawnee used to make war paint.

    The chief was apparently so impressed with Glass's behavior, he spared his life and made Glass an honorary Pawnee. Living with the tribe for a while, he learned survival skills such as how to use a tomahawk and lance, and was thought to have obtained the rifle his enemies later stole. There is no evidence that Glass ever had a Pawnee wife or son, as depicted in The Revenant.

  • Glass Was Attacked By Groups Of Native Americans More Than Once

    Despite some friendly Sioux on his journey to retrieve his gun, Hugh Glass had several run-ins with Native Americans that didn't go so well.

    According to one story, after he made it to Fort Kiowa, Glass joined up with a few French traders who were immediately attacked by a group of Ree Indians after he decided to go in another direction. The Ree noticed Glass and came after him, but he was allegedly saved by a Mandan who took him to his village and fed him.

    He later traveled with several other trappers and met a group of Pawnee with whom they intended to trade. Unfortunately, the Pawnee were actually Rickarees and they killed two of Glass's group before the others escaped and separated.