ByMark Newton, writer at
Movie Pilot Associate Editor. Email: [email protected]
Mark Newton

One of the longest reoccurring jokes in Hollywood concerns the winning of Oscars and poor old Leonardo DiCaprio. Despite remodeling himself as an impressive actor and taking on a range of challenging and diverse roles, Leo's mantlepiece still conspicuously lacks a statue of a golden bald guy.

However, maybe that's about to change?

With the release of The Revenant at the end of the month, the new frontier western is directed by Birdman's Academy Award winning director, Alejandro González Iñárritu. Having once again teamed up with similarly decorated cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, Gravity, Birdman), The Revenant will tell a grisly tale of wilderness survival set against a hyperrealistic and natural aesthetic. It seems a foregone conclusion that the film will receive Oscar nods overall, and DiCaprio's performance as legendary fur trapper Hugh Glass seems like it could also earn a nomination.

Check out The Revenant trailer below:


But DiCaprio has more than just his acting chops to rely on this Oscar season. The Revenant is also a 'based on a true story' tale, which certainly adds some extra bang to his Oscar chances. As everyone knows, the Academy just loves a dramatic recreation of a historical true story - and few stories are more dramatic and unbelievable as the tale of Hugh Glass.

Hugh Are You?

Sketch of Hugh Glass - accuracy is debatable.
Sketch of Hugh Glass - accuracy is debatable.

Hugh Glass is now considered one of the most legendary frontiersman of the 19th century. However, unlike some of his ilk, he didn't discover some great new plateau or found a successful settlement in the harsh wilderness - he merely refused to die after being mauled by a bear and left for dead.

Glass was born in Pennsylvania to Irish parents in 1780. He worked as an explorer and fur trapper around the Upper Missouri River in and around present-day North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. His most famous feat involves an 1822 expedition to "ascend the river Missouri" and establish a fur trading venture under the control of General William Henry Ashley. The 100 man group subsequently became known as Ashley's Hundred and included several other famous figures from the American frontier, including James Beckwourth, Jedediah Smith and Thomas Fitzpatrick.

Unfortunately, the expedition wasn't a leisurely stroll in the woods. The group had to pass through hostile Arikara territory and there were several clashes between the Native Americans and Ashley's Hundred. Glass was reportedly wounded during one skirmish, but was still able bodied enough to join a team of 13 men (led by Andrew Henry) who broke off from the group to relieve traders at Fort Henry. Meanwhile, the rest of the 100 men continued with the expedition.

Bearly Alive

While scouting ahead of his group for game, Glass surprised a grizzly bear and her two cubs. Before he even had a chance to fire his rifle, he was charged by the enraged bear, picked up and then thrown to the floor. Stunned, the bear was able to rip off a piece of his flesh, which was then thrown to her waiting cubs.

While they were busy feeding, Glass was somehow able to get to his feet, pull out his hunting knife and attack the mother, stabbing it several times while also suffering massive wounds from the bear's claws. With both the bear and Glass near death, Glass was eventually able to finish off the mother with the help of his trapping partners, John Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger.

A monument marking the location of the bear attack.
A monument marking the location of the bear attack.

Now badly mauled and exhausted, the expedition leader, Henry, became convinced Glass could not survive his wounds and asked for volunteers to wait with Glass until he died. Bridger and Fitzgerald, who were only 19 and 23 respectively at the time, stepped forward, while the remaining 10 men continued their mission to Fort Henry. The two men dug Glass's grave, covered him with a bear hide as a shroud and waited for him to die.

However, they later claimed they were ambushed by Arikare and were forced to abandon Glass, taking all his equipment with them. This account is somewhat debated, with others suggesting Bridger and Fitzgerald merely got bored and headed off - believing Glass would die soon anyway. Upon meeting up with the rest of Henry's men, they incorrectly told them Glass had died.

A Grave Mistake

Sometime later, Glass regained consciousness to discover he had been dumped in an unfinished grave without weapons, provisions or equipment. Upon checking his injuries, he realized he had a broken leg, exposed ribs and many festering wounds. As he laid alone and gravely wounded, he was 200 miles (320km) from the nearest friendly settlement at Fort Kiowa.

However, Glass wasn't one to wait around for death. As long as he was conscious, he was at least going to try and make it to safety. He set his own broken leg, wrapped himself in the bear hide and began crawling towards Fort Kiowa. Along the way, he lay his wounded back onto a rotting log, allowing the maggots to eat the dead flesh, therefore preventing gangrene.

Although the Grand River would have provided a much quicker way of reaching Fort Kiowa, Glass was concerned of hostile Native American attacks, and decided to take the longer, and much more arduous, overland route toward the Cheyenne River - all the the time using the prominent Thunder Butte landform to navigate.

This trek to the Cheyenne River, which was conducted mostly while crawling, took Glass six weeks to complete. Along the way, he sustained himself on berries and roots, although on one occasion he was able to drive two wolves away from a recently killed bison calf. However, Glass wasn't alone the entire time. He was also aided by friendly Native Americans who provided him with food and weapons. They also sewed the bear skin into his back, more effectively covering his wounds and making him look like some kind of badass man-bear.

Upon reaching the Cheyenne, Glass fashioned a makeshift raft and covered the remaining distance to Fort Kiowa on the river.

After a long recuperation, Glass then decided a mission of vengeance was the next order of the day. He decided to hunt down Bridger and Fitzgerald in order to gain revenge for being left for dead in the wilderness. He found Bridger near the mouth of the Bighorn River and intended to kill him, but after the young frontiersman begged for his life, Glass ultimately changed his mind. Fitzgerald was next on the list, but when Glass found him, he discovered Fitzgerald had joined the US Army. The penalty for killing a U.S. solider was death, so once again Glass decided to let his former comrade live. However, he did discover Fitzgerald still had his old rifle, which he took back.

Back Into The Fray

Now, fully recovered and satisfied with the amount of vengeance obtained, Glass went back into the frontiersman business. Next he worked on another expedition for Ashley to find a new trapping route. Glass, with four others, set off up the Powder River and soon discovered a camp of 38 native lodges with several natives standing on the shore.

At first glance, they appeared to be friendly Pawnee Indians, and Glass's group went ashore to eat with them. However, during their meeting, Glass actually discovered they were part of the dangerous Arikara nation, the same tribe who had fought several times with Glass in the past. Upon realizing this, the group attempted to quickly escape the camp on their boat, however the Arikara swam after them and both arrived on the opposite shore at around the same time. Two of the five, Marsh and Duton, managed to escape, although two others, More and Chapman were killed. Glass himself managed to escape by hiding behind some rocks. Later he joined a group of Sioux Indians and once again made his way back to Fort Kiowa.

He continued to work as a fur trapper and trader, but unfortunately, his luck eventually ran out. The man who had survived several battles with natives, a bear and the wilderness was eventually killed by the Arikara during a trapping expedition with two others on the Yellowstone River in 1833.

So, that was the amazing and almost unbelievable trek of Hugh Glass as best as historians know it. The actual film will be mostly based on the Michael Punke book, The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, which is loosely based on the real events. With this in mind, we can expect the film to take some creative license with the Hugh Glass story. For one thing, the trailer seems to suggest the role of John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) has been expanded to create a more traditional antagonistic character.

The Revenant is released Christmas Day 2015. Just in time for the Oscars.

Can Hugh Glass win Leo an Oscar?
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